- Posted by Johanna on January 21, 2006 at 3:31 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Milton Caniff
- PUBLISHER: Checker Book Publishing Group; $14.95 US
Checker Books continues its reprint projects with a classic adventure strip. Caniff began Steve Canyon in 1947 after a successful run on Terry and the Pirates. With this new strip, he kept the copyright, and it ran until his death in 1988.
(I vaguely remember reading the late days of this strip in the 80s, far from its glory days, when to me it was just another non-funny comic strip, like Apartment 3-G. That was a long time before I’d begun to understand the colorful history of the form or heard of the wonders of the great adventure strips. Reading this collection was eye-opening.)
(It was also post-Vietnam, when the character of a veteran airman who always supported the military was somewhat suspicious instead of the adventurous he-man he is here.)
After the war, Steve Canyon starts his own air transport company. The first storyline, “Copperhead”, begins with a smart-aleck secretary setting a snappy mood. Copper Calhoun, “the she-wolf of the stock market”, wants to hire Canyon’s firm for an expedition. Steve plays hard-to-get, though, turning the situation into a question of whether he’ll accept her as a client.
Canyon’s a slick operator, an all-American top-of-the-world type with a new era opening in front of him. Confident in his abilities and his morals, he’s larger-than-life and self-assured. Regardless of the situation, this flyboy hero always does the right thing and never has to settle. And there’s always an attractive woman around who falls for him, regardless of her other loyalties.
The world is his oyster, even if he sleeps in his office while waiting for the next job. When he goes to meet Copper, she has her bully-boys try to beat him up. He shakes them off, of course, even though it was all a test to ensure that he was the right guy for her job. By the end of the sequence, she’s bandaging his wounds, restoring the gender status quo.
Even though she has the money, he’s the one deciding whether or not she’ll use it and how. He dictates the terms of their deal, and he always knows best, saving her when she doesn’t realize men paying attention to her are only after her money.
With the help of his loyal crew, all war veterans, fists frequently do the talking. There’s plenty of dramatic action in foreign locales, all with a sense of humor. There’s one particularly great Sunday page where each crew member gets a panel montage showing his life’s dreams that sets out their characters quickly and effectively.
Post-war, the emphasis for most is money — how to make it or steal it or protect it — when they aren’t concerned with spies or protecting American interests. After the Copperhead storyline, Steve finds himself involved with Delta, a stowaway who’s hooked up with some scam artists trying to take possession of an oil well. That leads him to rich coot Happy Easter, who wants to fly over Arabia. While there, he gets ensnared with shady Madame Lynx. After a cholera epidemic, Dr. Wilderness saves the day, and he escorts her to set up clinics in other exotic areas.
The connection between all these stories, beyond Canyon and his crew, is the presence of high-spirited dames with plenty of snappy patter. They’re all very competent, accomplished, gorgeous women, and as soon as they meet Steve, all they want is to go to dinner or dancing or walking in the moonlight with him.
This is a wonderful glimpse into another world, filled with all kinds of people, all quickly established through just the right dialogue in distinct voices. As for the art… you either know the Caniff reputation, and you don’t need me to try and describe it, or you don’t, and you’re better off experiencing it directly.
All of the strips are reprinted in black and white. Putting four daily strips on a page means they’re reproduced at roughly the same size of today’s strips. That can make text-heavy panels hard to read, and some of the art detail is lost at the smaller size. The heavy paper gives the book a substantial feel, and the small reproduction size does allow for a lot of content in these 148 pages. As a result, the book is a substantial read.
At the publisher’s web site, there’s a Caniff biography and sample pages.