Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dan Turner, HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE in Color! "The Corpse in Lower 9" (1952)


From Crime Smashers #9, dated March 1952, comes this thrilling tale of bumpery in Tinseltown. Once again, this one was scanned for comicbookplus by "freddyfly." And once again, it's art by Max Plaisted. Sorry, Mojo.








Friday, December 7, 2018

Forgotten Books: DARK VALLEY DESTINY, The Life of Robert E. Howard, by L. Sprague de Camp, et al. (1983)


L. Sprague de Camp has long been a controversial fellow in Robert E. Howard circles. On the one hand, it was likely his pioneering efforts with Gnome Press and Lancer books that brought REH into the public consciousness and made him the industry he is today. On the other, de Camp inserted himself so far into the Conan mythos that some fans still feel violated. 

Dark Valley Destiny continues that tradition, giving us much to admire and a fair amount to loathe. The book is both impressive and annoying. Captivating and repulsive. It broke new ground, then trampled some of into the mud. 

By the time the book came out in 1983, my Howardmania had waned. I'd already read de Camp's brief Howard bio The Miscast Barbarian, and Glenn Lord's bio-bibliography The Last Celt, so I left this one on the shelf until the mood struck me, which was just a couple of weeks ago - after reading Don Herron's Famous Someday (reviewed HERE). Thus, these are the impressions not of a wide-eyed and passionate REH afficiando, but of a jaded armchair barbarian who's been there and back again. 

So. In case you haven't heard, when Robert E. Howard was told his mother was dying, he went to his room and typed out a quick suicide poem, then got into his car and but a bullet through his brain. He was 30 years old. That's where Dark Valley Destiny begins. De Camp and his co-authors then propose to investigate what brought him to that fate. And that's what they do.

The book is a biography, of course, but it's also sort of a murder mystery. With the whodunnit already known, the authors set out to discover the why. And that's part of the problem. Rather than simply exploring and illuminating Howard's life, they come up with a theory, then do their damndest to frame every moment as if leading inevitably  to this "Dark Valley" destiny.  (Dark Valley, you should know, is the not-really-so-dark Texas valley where Howard was born.)

On the plus side, I have to admire the de Camp gang for daring to take this undertaking, and spending five years to complete it. In the process, they talked with many people who knew Howard's father, a couple who knew his mother, and a few who knew REH himself. Without their efforts, most of these memories would be lost. The authors also gathered much informaton about Texas and the places the Howard family lived, giving us a good picture of their world.  

On the minus side, none of those people interviewed knew Howard's mother well, and very few knew REH as more than a vague and unsettling presence. Most of the hard information about Howard comes from his letters (not always reliable) and his semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, written in 1928 (and finally published, in a frustratingly limited edition, in 1989).

After exhausting what few hard facts they have, the authors filter in vague impressions, dimly-recalled rumors and guesswork to paint a picture of Howard's relationship with his mother. Undaunted, they plow ahead with page after page of assumption and supposition, supported by lengthy digressions into psychobabble.

It's all cleverly crafted, of course. Beginning with clues or tidbits gleaned from letters or interviews, they launch into authoritative discourse on common traits of this or that pschological condition, and circle back to REH, purporting to explain his thought patterns and behavior. At first, such ideas are qualified with phrases like, if we suppose that . . . and Robert surely would have . . .  But as the chapters roll on, they harken back to these earlier theories with, supposing, as we do, that . . . and his mother must have . . .   Eventually, these suppositions are taken as fact, and used as evidence to support further assumptions, all leading to the moment when Howard blows his brains out. 

Perhaps the best part of the book - dang near the only part based entirely on first-hand testimony - detailed the brief romance between REH and Novalyne Price, later related in her own book, One Who Walked Alone (1986).

The authors' all-important theory is nothing surprising. Howard was the "boy in the bubble," so coddled by his mother that he couldn't get a firm grip on reality, and was forced to retreat into a fantasy world. and unable to get a firm grip on reality. While his half-mad mother encouraged his dependence on her, his father gave up on them both and made himself as scarce as possible. This lead REH to idealize death as an escape from the trials and terrors of life. Ho hum. 

The authors provide many footnotes telling us where the "facts" came from, but in many cases they're lacking. We are, for instance, told that Howard was breast fed until he was four. How do they know that? Based on a photograph of Howard as a skinny kid, they decide he must have suffered from tuberculosis or rheumatic fever. They even wax psychological on whether or not REH had his bowels under control, and how suppressed he was by the Victorian stigma attached to masturbation. I kid you not.

More than anything, Dark Valley Destiny left me feeling sad. I'm pretty sure I won't be reading it again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

EVERETT RAYMOND KINSTLER Fights Crime! (1951-52)


More spectacular inside front covers from Avon comics, previewing the issue's contents, as found on comicbookplus. Find these addictive? No worries. There are many more to come. 



Tuesday, December 4, 2018

CHARLIE CHAN and Carmine Infantino solve "The Hit and Run Murder Case" (1948)


Some forgotten master wrote it, Carmine Infantino drew it, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby did the cover, the Prize comics company published it the Jun-Jul 1948 issue of Charlie Chan (#1), and freddyfly uploaded it to comicbookplus. Heroes all.  I posted another story from the same issue HERE.