Review by C.J. Bunce
We first previewed the new series back in January here at borg.com. The Minky Woodcock story The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini is as much a showcase of the creator’s various talents as a mash-up of great story concepts. Cynthia von Buhler is an artist, performer, playwright, and author. Her fictionalized tale of the last days of Houdini draws a bit from the modern mainstream shock drama (think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), her unique provocative art style (fans of Stjepan Šejić will love it), her affinity for crime noir, and her own investigation into the death of a relative in the 1930s. The result is a new, crafty, shrewd, and fiery private detective, the fictional Minky Woodcock, a character who proves she can hold her own against Arthur Conan Doyle, and would make a good lead in an ongoing noir series (in fact a follow-up story is in the works for next year, with Minky investigating the mysterious poisoning death of Ziegfeld Girl Olive Thomas). The complete The Man Who Handcuffed Houdini is now available in a colorful hardcover edition from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.
The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in von Buhler’s story (she both wrote and illustrated the story). The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926. Incredibly enough 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 later hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on the magician (a purported philanderer). The blend of the true and the fabricated is artfully drawn into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.
The new hardcover compilation edition includes the main cover artwork and variants for the four issues of the series. Von Buhler balances realism with the surreal. Her choice of color has the nostalgic flair of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series, her images of real people (like Houdini) are spot-on, and she particularly excels at skintones, which appear almost photo-real in contrast to the book’s comic page designs.
Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism. Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (a key character in von Buhler’s book) 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, so he proceeded to demonstrate the spiritualists were frauds.
Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess are both fascinating women of the 1920s. All of von Buhler’s characters have the appropriate costumes, hair, and makeup–appearing to have emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema. Her pen and ink with a watercolor method makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper. Von Buhler includes a link to references that back-up the factual elements of her story, and they are surprising. An afterword provides background on von Buhler’s related talents, including the real-life investigation that spring-boarded her into crime scene recreation.
This one’s for adults only–the story has sex, nudity, and a few bizarre and grotesque concepts derived from the lives of the actual 1920s characters portrayed.
A truly unique story and presentation for nostalgia and noir fans and Houdini and magic enthusiasts, get your copy of Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini now (at a discount off cover price) here at Amazon.