Saturday 18 July 2009

True Crime, True Fantasy

This week, we begin with a historic look at an unsolved crime from the early days of Hollywood.

Famous Players, by writer/illustrator Rick Geary (born: 1946), examines the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor (1872-1922).

The multi-talented Taylor (born: William Cunningham Deane-Tanner) began his career as an actor but gradually worked his way up the ranks and became a director and producer.

It must be noted that his filmography contains an interesting Maritime connection. He directed the first of the two theatrical film adaptations of Anne of Green Gables. As of this writing, the film, released in 1919, is considered to be "lost" without any prints left in existence. The second theatrical Anne of Green Gables film adaptation was released in 1934.

As for the crime, in a nutshell, a servant found Taylor's bullet-punctured body on the floor of his bungalow on the morning of February 2, 1922. As we modern people would expect from that era, the police did an absolute crappy job at protecting the crime scene. Curious neighbors arrived before the police did and weren't told to leave. Some of Taylor's business associates removed items that were never to be seen again. Such bad police work explains why his murder was never solved!

Despite such police stupidity, the case was still investigated and numerous people were considered as suspects. Among the suspects was Mary Miles Minter, a 20-year-old actress Taylor had been romantically involved with. Incidentally, she played the lead in Taylor's Anne of Green Gables.

Eventually, the case was closed but remained unsolved.

Famous Players is a history book using sequential images as its means of communication.

It covers the case in a fact-based informative way. Geary presents the story in a manner similar to how photojournalist would cover a news event except that he's presenting history and, perhaps, could be identified as a sequential journalist. He even provides a map representing Los Angeles of that era.

To examine the case from all known angles and possibilities, Geary clustered the information in logical but non-linear ways. As an example, the dead body's discovery is described in the second chapter but Chapter 4 focuses on what's known about Taylor's life.

Famous Players is a very interesting graphic novel that will likely appeal to the tastes of, not counting general comic fans, people interested in either film history or true crime.

Next book on this week's list is the category of fantasy.

All-Star Superman Volume One, by writer Grant Morrison (born: 1960) and illustrator Frank Quitely (born: 1968), reprints the first half of the 12-issue comic series All-Star Superman (January 2006-October 2008).

It has an easy-going, relatively light overall story with somewhat self-contained chapters (which were originally the individual issues).

Lex Luthor pulls criminal strings from jail in a way that poisons Superman. While keeping his health problems to himself, the Man of Steel reveals his true identity to Lois Lane"¦. and gives her an ultimate birthday gift. Although All-Star Superman Volume One is a beautiful and entertaining book, it does have a few flaws.

The first problem is the inclusion of Samson and Atlas. Even if the presence of the two characters were totally unnecessary, they would be at least tolerable if their scenes didn't have the worst pieces of dialogue in the entire book.

Example: "I swear by the everlasting snows of Olympus, Lois Lane, you're practically dripping allure in yon clinging garment." - Atlas

Its second problem is how Lex Luthor is presented. He comes across as a big joke and constantly reminded me of Stewie from Family Guy. Therefore, even within the parameters of fantasy, I couldn't at all take him seriously.

Famous Players: 3/3, Publisher: NBM, Available: August 2009.

All-Star Superman Volume One: 2/3, Publisher: DC Comics.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009.