‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover - Installment the Third, in Which Questions Arise and Problems Are Solved


3940193696_427a4674bb‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover

K. Patrick Glover is the writer of the upcoming webcomic The Invisible Skein, which is being illustrated by Amanda Hayes, and the first chapter of the story is set to appear on the web on December 14th.

‘Four Color Memories’ is a column about the comics of our youth, full of nostalgia for the days when heroes were heroes and villains were villains, before the Avengers were DARK and before the Lanterns were BLACK.

To see a directory of previous installments of the column, please click here!

In this week’s column we go take a look back at the mystery comic of yesteryear, a genre filled with detectives, dames, and high-stakes drama!

Installment The Second,

In Which Questions Arise and Problems Are Solved

The art of the mystery, much like the art of magic, is in misdirection.

You do something big and flashy over here, so the reader doesn’t notice the small, telling detail over there. It’s a concept wonderfully illustrated in a movie called The Prestige, a mystery about magic. It’s also a film of special interest to comic fans as it stars Wolverine and Batman (or more accurately, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale).

It tells the tale of two competing stage magicians at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the staggering lengths they’ll go to to outdo each other. It contains mysteries within mysteries, many you don’t even realize are there until their solutions unfold before you. It is, for someone who loves such things, an absolute delight.

And I must confess, dear reader, I do love such things.

I have had two overarching obsessions in my life, comic books and mysteries (well, three if you count girls, but this isn’t that sort of column.) Over the years, I was always thrilled when those genres came together, and always wished they would do so with greater frequency and success. It’s a wish that has been fulfilled in recent years with writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, and Greg Rucka bringing a definite hard boiled sensibility into mainstream comics.

It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 70s it was difficult to find any Four Color characters actually doing any detecting, with the occasional exception of Batman. I say occasional because most of Batman’s adventures at the time were pretty standard super hero fare, but a gem dropped through every now and then. Gene Colan was doing some pretty good, Noiry stuff on Daredevil. Then there was a fantastic Sherlock Holmes comic that DC put out, but it only ran one issue, a victim of the DC Implosion (on which I’ll talk more about in a few weeks).

Once in awhile, I’d discover costumed heroes solving crimes in other media. I can remember coming home from school every day and sitting in the living room with my father, listening to reruns of The Shadow on the local public radio station. What made that even cooler was the small stack of Shadow comics I had. Creepy little stories by Denny O’Neil and Michael Kaluta that I read over and over.

They led me to the library where I found paperback reprints of the old pulp novels. The Shadow, Doc Savage, The Spider. They all fed my imagination and my obsessions. That led me to the comic store, where I spent hours searching through back issue bins, looking for other super detectives. That’s when I discovered the Elongated Man, hiding in the back up pages of Detective Comics, chasing down clues with his twitching nose.

Of course being in an actual comic store led me past the big two and into the realm of independent comics. Some of the earliest indy books I got my hands on were Jon Sable Freelance, and Grim Jack, both published by First Comics. Sable was more adventure than mystery, I suppose, but the feel was right and Mike Grell’s wonderful artwork was different than anything else I had discovered. Grim Jack had all the trappings of science fiction, but at its core it was very much a mystery in the Raymond Chandler style, right down to the femme fatales.

Then I found Ms. Tree. Yeah, I know, the title’s ridiculous, but this was actual private eye comic written by Max Allan Collins. You know, the novelist. The guy who went on the write The Road To Perdition. This guy knows his genre and Ms. Tree clicked on all cylinders.

After that, I found the Detectives, Inc books by Don McGregor and Marshall Rogers. Yes, the Marshall Rogers who drew the best Batman ever. There was even a sequel mini series, drawn by Gene Colan, which was beautiful stuff. Pacific put out a great, Noir mini called Somerset Holmes by Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson. And Vortex published Kelvin Mace, a brilliant spoof of the private eye story.

Later, DC published a set of mini series by Don McGregor and Gene Colan about a private eye named Nathaniel Dusk. Very much inspired by the works of Raymond Chandler, the two series were possibly the best attempt at bringing the hard boiled detective to the four color stage. Colan’s style meshed wonderfully with the tone of the stories and his innovative technique of applying color directly over the pencils and skipping the inking stage altogether gave the books a unique atmosphere that still stands out today.

I think those books directly set the stage for a modern revival of The Shadow by Howard Chaykin and a masterpiece of mystery and philosophy called The Question, by Denny O’Neil and Denys Cowan, both published by DC. In fact, to tie things together, DC eventually published The Question Quarterly, which featured a back up story starring Ms. Tree. How’s that for serendipity?

Normally this is the point where I would segue into some mild anecdote to close out the article but we’re going to do something a little different today. You may have noticed that I mentioned Gene Colan’s name a lot in the article above. That’s because, along with doing astounding work on books from Captain America to Howard The Duck, Gene, more than anybody, defined the visual style for mysteries in comic form. In all the books above as well as defining runs on Batman in the eighties, Gene did amazing things.

In May of last year, Gene was hospitalized with problems stemming from liver failure. Despite decades of almost constant work in the field, Gene had no health insurance. The good news is that he’s doing better, he’s out of the hospital and he’s even making personal appearances. As you can imagine, though, the bills are still there.

The comic industry can be good at taking care of it’s own. Auctions have been held, fund raiser’s given and donations collected. Marvel is publishing a beautiful looking book in February called The Invincible Gene Colan. Details on that can be found at http://thecliffordmethod.blogspot.com/2009/11/invincible-gene-colanorder-now.html Proceeds for sales on the book go to Gene. If you’d prefer to donate directly, information on how to do that can be found at  http://javiersblog.blogspot.com/2008/05/please-help-comics-great-gene-colan.html. The post is from 2008 but I believe the donation information is still valid.

Now, this is where I tell you how to get your hands on the stories I’ve been talking about. Unfortunately, if you want to read most of the stories above, you’re going to have to hunt for back issues at your local shop. A few remain in print. IDW has issued some nice trades of Jon Sable Freelance and Grim Jack. But nobody seems to be beating down the doors for a Ms. Tree collection, or Nathaniel Dusk, or even Detectives, Inc. Which is a real shame. They’d look real nice on my shelf, next to the new Vertigo Crime graphic novels. Maybe we should write some letters, what do you think?

Until next time,

K. Patrick Glover

Ancillary matters

You all know, by now, that the lovely Amanda Hayes and I are working on a web comic called The Invisible Skein. It launches on December 14th at http://www.theinvisibleskein.com We hope you like it. (Instead of the weekly promo poster, here’s Amanda dressed as Tank Girl for Halloween.)

I can be found in other places around the net, notably at my blog, http://kpatrickglover.wordpress.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kpatrickglover

Related posts:

  1. ‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover - Installment the Second, in Which Fear and Loathing is Entirely Appropriate
  2. ‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover - Installment The First, In Which Parameters Are Set
  3. View Spider Woman the Motion Comic Episode 1 for Free, With No Region Restrictions
  4. News: Jock to Take over Art Duties on DC’s Detective Comics Series
  5. Diamond Distribution’s Top 20 Publishers, Top 300 Comics, and Top 300 TPBs & GNs for October 2009


One Response to “‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover - Installment the Third, in Which Questions Arise and Problems Are Solved”
  1. Mr. McGregor just kindly pointed out on Facebook that Detectives Inc is available in a collected edition now, and can be ordered here


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