Sunday, February 7, 2010

Rip Kirby: The First Modern Detective: Complete Comic Strips 1946-1948

Writer: Alex Raymond, Artist: Alex Raymond
Published by IDW 2009

One of the highlights of comic publishing in recent years has been IDW’s American Comics Library , which has been providing beautiful, quality reprints of some of the best newspaper strips.

A newer addition to the line is Rip Kirby, Alex Raymond’s post-war comic featuring the adventures of Remington ‘Rip’ Kirby, a private eye and the further thing imaginable from the works that made Raymond famous, Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim. Kirby if firmly grounded in the realities of late 40s America. He is a modern hero, as the titles says, and not a fantasy character - though, to be honest, he is still pretty fantastic. A war hero and athlete, he is also a gifted scientist, and with the help of his trusted valet, Desmond, he is always fashionably turned out. He’s not a tough guy, but he is always as tough as the situation requires. Besides Des, the recurrent characters are restricted to, at least in this volume, Honey Dorian, a beautiful blonde fashion model, and love interest, and Pagan Lee, a bad girl turned movie star and a rival for Rip’s affections. Not that he would ever cheat, but just having the one girl might seem a bit too domestic.

As an author Raymond’s hand at detective fiction improves a great deal over the period covered in this volume. An early story involves a thug who gets his hand on the formula for a bacteriological weapon and intends to bring the world governments to their knees. Raymond is talented enough to keep his readers interested, but not enough to lift the story above the silliness of the basic plot. The only good thing about it is that it introduces Pagan. Fortunately, there aren’t many missteps. Even when the villains lean towards the strange and eccentric, he usually keeps the stories grounded in more serious themes, such as blackmail, counterfeiting, black-market babies. The four main characters are all entertaining enough, but what you see is what you get and there is little in the way of complexities and few surprises. (Actually, I can only think of one, involving Honey, but I won’t spoil it here.) Artistically, it is easy to see why Raymond is so highly regarded. He came at this strip at the height of his powers, and every page is beautiful. One thing I particularly liked is that each story is given a title. I assume this is something Raymond himself provided, but I think it would have been a good idea to provide them with other American Comics Library collections as well.

1 comment:

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