Review by C.J. Bunce
The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in a new four-issue comic book series by writer and artist Cynthia von Buhler. A new addition to Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime works, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926. Incredibly enough only the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real. Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is then hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on him. The blend of the true and the fabricated is smoothly drawn together into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.
Yes, Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism. Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (appearing in the comic) who conducted séances in the nude (who knew the 1920s had such characters?). When Houdini’s mother was summoned, communicating through the medium in the form of a letter, Houdini was quickly able to see the fraud as an image of a cross appeared and the language was written in English. Houdini’s mother was Jewish and spoke no English.
Von Buhler writes and illustrates both her heroine Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess as fascinating women of the 1920s. Von Buhler’s artistic style is perfectly suited for the story–her women look like they emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema–she uses pen and ink with a watercolor method that makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper. And her renderings of Harry and Bess Houdini look like their photographs.
Von Buhler includes a link to references that back-up the factual elements of her story, and there are surprising. The real Houdini also employed H.P. Lovecraft in his attempts to debunk spirituality, but the writer hasn’t made an appearance in the series yet. Readers will encounter reference to another famous author of the day in addition to Doyle.
Check out these sample pages from the first two issues:
At times a bit grotesque and freakish (this was after all more than 50 years after the P.T. Barnum’s version of shock entertainment was introduced), the story’s realism keeps the story intriguing and provocative. Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini is a good fit and an interesting read for fans of both the various Hard Case Crime comic book series and the Hard Case Crime pulp novels.
For mature readers only, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini, Issues #1 and #2, are available at comic book shops now, with Issue #3 due out in February and the final issue available in March. You can also pre-order the complete trade edition of the story now here at Amazon.