Sunday, November 9, 2014

With Gold Medal paperbacks, you could tell a book by its cover

From Just a Pile of Old Comics

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lord Peter is to Miss Marple what Scream is to Friday the 13th

I finally got around to reading Whose Body?, first of the Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books. At the time, I did not realize it was the debut, partially because the copyright for some reason did not have the original date of publication. Nor would I have guessed that this was the character's introduction had I not later read it on Wikipedia.

It does not feel like an initial effort. The personalities, the relationships, and the back stories are all completely thought out. It seems like a perfectly representative book in the series.

What did strike me as unusual was the contrast between this story and the conventional Edwardian detective novel. (I realize, of course, that the novels I am thinking up were not actually Edwardian. However, like the adventures of Bertie and Jeeves, they usually had a distinctly Edwardian feel.)

Lord Peter, by comparison, has a distinctly postmodern field. Whose Body? is to the standard Golden-Age detective novel what Scream is to the Friday the 13th series. It mostly follows the rules of the genre, but self-consciously and only as long as they could be reconciled with the way the world actually works.

Wimsey plays the role of Edwardian twit with amused self-awareness, as does Bunter, his perfect gentlemen's gentleman. It is strongly suggested that this role-playing is, in part, therapeutic. Wimsey left the war severely shell shocked and was still suffering relapses in 1923. Bunter, who had been Wimsey's batman during the war, had taken the job as valet in order to help his commanding officer recover. The scene where he takes Wimsey back to bed after a relapse is remarkable for its tenderness.

Bunter is also notable for his talent for forensics, which brings up another distinction of the series. Unlike most mystery writers of the time, Sayers was genuinely interested in the science of detection. (even more notable in The Documents in the Case).

The real world intrusions continued even after the cases ended. Sayers made Wimsey painfully aware of the consequences of his actions. In 1923, catching a killer meant sending him to the gallows which meant that most of the novels ended with a private trauma for the hero.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Starring Dick Briefer (and a tiny Frankenstein Monster)

An offbeat tale from Prize #30, shortly before reforming and becoming a Nazi fighter.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Frankenstein as Moby Dick

[pulling up some favorite moments with Frankie to wrap up the month]

A nice example of Briefer's pathos-laden take on the monster in the 50s. Briefer's wonderful economy, sense of composition and ability to suggest motion are all on display here. The scenes of the mad old whaler are memorable and the ship is depicted with obvious love.

On top of all that, this story sets up one of Frankie's last great adventures.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Frankenstein meets Frankenstein

[pulling up some favorite moments with Frankie to wrap up the month]

Dick Briefer always had fun playing with the line between the merely dark and the truly grotesque. In the Mippyville stories, he normally pulled back before things got quite as potentially gruesome as this 1946 tale.

Briefer also enjoyed parodying popular culture figures from Bing Crosby to Inner Sanctum host Raymond. Boris Karloff fit right in.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Frankenstein meets high society -- Like Capra on Acid

[pulling up some favorite moments with Frankie to wrap up the month]

Like Namor, Frankie started out as a superpowered enemy of mankind whose hatred was, if not justified, then at least understandable. Briefer often implied that some people could be just as monstrous as the title character.

There are echoes of Lady for a Day here (if the film had been set in hell*). Even for a product of the depression, this portrayal of high society is remarkably dark.

* Coincidentally, Pocketful of Miracles is often shown in hell.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Frankenstein meets Job (no, really)

[pulling up some favorite moments with Frankie to wrap up the month]

You never knew what you'd get in a Golden Age story, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. The freedom of working in a medium where the rules were still being written was too much for many creators and the resulting stories were often unreadable.

But when you got someone with enough artistic talent and narrative imagination to take advantage of that freedom, someone like an Eisner or a Cole or a Briefer, the results could be exhilarating.

From Prize Comics 31, 1943.