The Seduction of the Innocent Max Allan Collins

Yes, this is a novel. But there are pictures in it and it’s about comics, and we make the rules around here, Sonny Jim. Seduction of the Innocent is the third book in a series of hard-boiled crime novels set in the comics industry of the early 50s. I can assure you that no previous knowledge of the series is required to enjoy the book however, as I only found out about it myself thirty seconds ago via Wikipedia.

Set around the time of the senate hearings sparked by social crusader Frederick Wertham’s anti-comics screed Seduction of the Innocent (here Ravage of the Lambs by Werner Frederick), Collin’s Seduction of the Innocent sees comics syndicate troubleshooter Jack Starr tangling with gangsters, hood, and all of the other neccessary pulp tropes as he sets out to solve a murder that threatens the whole comics industry. This isn’t as odd as it sounds however, as most of the cast are based on real-life counterparts, and the early comics industry was stocked to the ceiling with crazies, gangsters and hustlers (Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow is a great potted history of this period).

The writing is zippy and never feels like parody, and captures a bygone age of comics well. There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance that comes from the non-copyright-infringing (and libel-avoiding) renaming of characters and people from the time, but it fades quickly. If you like crime novels, this is a well-written and playful one that just happens to feature one of the more notorious parts of comics history prominently. If you’d like a more historically accurate take on the period, David Hadju’s The Ten-Cent Plague is a fascinating read around the subject.