The late period of comic's Golden Age (and the beginning of their Silver Age) was a fascinating time. Comic's popularity was at a height it will likely never again equal and many of the themes and motifs that still drive interest in comic books were saw a movement from a primitive state to their classical form. The popularity and explosion of creativity were both a blessing and a problem, however. The rise of horror comics as an alternative to super hero and detective comics brought the attention of the nation's parents and, more importantly, politicians to the industry. The result was a series of bans and self-imposed regulations that briefly stagnated the industry and stunted the growth of the art form. It is around these events that the narrative of Max Allan Collin's Seduction of the Innocent is built.
Informed readers will probably note that the novel's title is the same as the title of the famous pop psychology book by Fredric Wertham that argued that reading comics increased juvenile delinquency. In the place of Wertham, Collin's novel has the fictional Dr. Werner Frederick, and his critical book Ravage the Lambs. Along with Frederick, the novel has various other luminaries of the period that have been fictionalized but are still recognizable. These characters are constantly engaged in discussion of real-life stars, politicians and events—enough so that some people would likely characterize the book as historical fiction.
Despite its dedication to historical accuracy, Seduction of the Innocent is primarily a hard-boiled detective novel, a genre Collin's does better than almost any of his contemporaries. Here, the protagonist is not a private eye or a cop but, instead, a co-owner of a newspaper syndicate who specializes in investigating whatever the company needs investigated. This is apparently the third book featuring Jack Starr and his young step-mother Maggie, but it is the first one I had stumbled across. Finishing the book then finding out it was part of a trilogy hit me with a bit of mixed emotion. I hate jumping in to the middle of an established series and don't do it as a rule, but I really loved the two main characters and I'm excited to have two more books to read. For those that are wondering, I think this is a great place to start as I never felt like I was missing any back-story or relationship knowledge as I read the book.
More importantly, the book is wonderful. Collin's captures the period perfectly from the details in the surroundings to the rhythm of the language. Jack is a great protagonist, one that could easily be imagine being portrayed on film be Bogart, or maybe Mitchum. Collin's has updated the genre conventions a bit to squeeze out the misogyny and marginalize stereotypes, but, otherwise this feels like it could have been pulled out of a pile of pulp paperbacks on the dusty shelves of a used bookstore.
Seduction of the Innocent features some amazing art in the style of the period by Terry Beatty. I was first introduced to Collins through his Ms. Tree graphic novels and Beatty's illustrations gave me a bit of the nostalgia glow whenever they would appear.
To discuss the plot too much would be a spoilery sin, but the way it follows then strays from the actual events of the time, moves from historical fiction to clever interpretation, makes for a familiar tale that still seems surprisingly fresh. I couldn't possibly recommend the book more to fans of the genre or classic comics.