Monday, January 14, 2013

Seduction of The Innocent by Max Allan Collins


So Doctor Fredric Wertham finally gets his.

Max Allan Collins’ sleek new novel Seduction of The Innocent takes us back to the days when Wertham and the United States Congress were trying to win public approval by insisting that certain suspense and horror comic books were actually training manuals for all sorts of violence and perversion.  Did Batman and Robin sleep in the same bed?

Werthman was an allegedly respectable psychiatrist whose book Seduction of The Innocent won him fame and most likely moderate fortune. He appears in Collins' novel as Dr. Werner Frederick, a lightweight egotist lusting for celebrity.

I suppose that this is my favorite of the Jack and Maggie Starr adventures because of the theme. I was just old enough to buy EC comics on the news stands and I have a dim memory of them suddenly disappearing from the store where I bought comics and science fiction magazines.  The Starr family is involved in Dr. Frederick's campaign because their distribution company is about to purchase one of the offending comic book companies from a  turbulent man named Bob Price.

For me Price is the most memorable character in the novel. He is determined to testify--as a volunteer no less--before the Senate Committee despite Jack, Maggie, his business partner and anybody else who has ever had contact with him begging him not to. You find yourself begging him not to along with everybody else. He's about to commit business suicide but nobody can stop him. He will bluster and rant his way into buffoonery or worse. I could see the late Jack Carson playing him beautifully.

Meanwhile Jack Starr, being among other things a private detective, begins to do a background check on Frederick hoping to come up with a way to diminish his power. A particularly clever turn as things turn out.

As usual, Collins is spot on in bringing back the Fifties, especially the Fifties of New York and some of its tonier spots and characters. He has a lot of fun with the personalities and the shows and the obsessions of the era. 

There's a particularly suspenseful scene early on in a chi chi restaurant where a celebrity (just ask him) holds forth with a microphone as he interviews other celebrities in his private booth.  He traps Maggie into an ugly interrogation. The scene works well as drama but also as a satire on early TV--you think reality shows are cheap to produce; stash some yo-yo in a restaurant booth with a microphone and have him fill a half hour.  The change in your pocket will pay the freight.

But the thrust of the novel is how corrupt the entire investigation into comic books was.  From a clownish shrink to grandstanding Senators to a national press eager to play scolding minister. Collins mixes this with a really tight fair-clue mystery, a private detective story (is there just a bit of Shell Scott in Jack Starr?) and the kind of superior storytelling that mark every Collins book. 

A final note on the interior illustrations by Terry Beatty. These capture the mood and era of the novel perfectly. Beatty is among the very best illustrators of our time and his homage to the original EC drawings is magnificent.

Five stars for the Starrs.


Carolyn Hart said...

As always Max Allan Collins hits the right note. He is a wonderful writer and this book sounds fabulous. Thanks, Ed, for reviewing it. Carolyn Hart

Mathew Paust said...

That cover alone will stay with me awhile.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I found Wertham's argument against the EC brand of horror comics questionable and I hope to read Collins' book for a fresh perspective on the issue. It's certainly a novel idea to base your new mystery around the war on comic-books.