New York City, 1948: a birthday party for the publisher of the most popular comic book super heroes of the day, Wonder Guy.
Guests include savvy ex-striptease artist Maggie Starr, who heads her late husband's newspaper circuit, which includes the comics; her stepson, VP, and occasional private detective Jack Starr; Wonder Guy's original creators, who bear chips on their shoulders for getting cheated out of some of the profits; and Donny Harrelson, the publisher, who weaves drunkenly through the guests --- before he drops dead on the floor.
This opening to Max Allan Collins' novel, A Killing in Comics concludes, and then takes readers, in Jack's point of view, through the classic "who done it," case, with a few twists. These include a film noir moments here (Jack tempting information out of Harrelson's secretary, Honey), and some comic book art there. Terry Beatty, who illustrated the Batman comics, combines his art with Collins' prose. Even adults can get picture books.
The characters remain devious. Jack discovers they each have a motive to kill Donny. Collins' tight and witty prose is, like I mentioned, similar to film noir, and it keeps the tension throughout. It remains filled with short lines of dialogue, sarcasm, use of nicknames like"Jackie," and femme fatales who wear red nail polish and negligees with company. The conclusion spins from an unexpected climax (introduced, of course, with comic book panels), where the killer's identity seems obvious, yet clever.
Collins wrote another graphic novel, Road to Perdition, among others. However, A Killing in Comics marks my introduction to his work. I could not stop this one, and I wanted to pick up something else once I admitted I finished. This book remains unique, in my opinion, and I am hungry for more.