Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Comic Review: Houdini the Handcuff King

Another random comic book I checked out from my local library but I have discovered that libraries are excellent places to grab a random book, much better than bookstores or the internet (I tend to enjoy random stuff from my library more than random stuff I find on the internet anyway). It's a fairly short story, chronologically it covers only a day in Houdini's life so it makes for a quick read, also because it's more of a MG comic than an YA comic.

Houdini the Handcuff King by  Jason Lutes & Nick Bertozzi
Summary: It's the early 20th century and the great Harry Houdini prepares for yet another of his crazy escapes, jumping off a bridge in Boston into a near-freezing river while handcuffed. But how does he do it? How does he gather such large crowds to watch him do these dangerous things? Just how does he pull off these stunts and come out alive?

The Good: The story is well paced and doesn't go on for either too long or too short a time, an especially good thing for younger audiences. The story is mostly historical, with some guesses at how Houdini pulled off his stunts, and has some nice notes in the back of the book explaining a few things (like how all the men in the early 20th century wore hats) that the book didn't have a chance to touch on. It's a quick read, educational in an interesting way and manages to tell a complete story in the space it has.

The Bad: There's a nice piece about Houdini at the beginning of the book that gives his history and raises the question, why does this book focus on this particular day in his career? It wasn't towards the beginning, end or height of his career, this wasn't his most elaborate or dangerous stunt and nothing strange happened during it. So why this day out of any other day the authors could have chosen? Perhaps it was just to show an ordinary show of Houdini's, one that left some time for them to show other parts of his life as well, but it still feels like an odd choice. There has to be a reason to tell a story, something has to happen/change during it, and that just didn't seem to happen.

The Art: The art isn't as elaborate as many other cartoons but it actually has a good deal of detail (just look at the crowd scenes). And, even though the cover of the book is in gray-scale the art is actually done in all shades of blue (not for any particular reason as far as I can tell) but it is a nice change. Occasionally it was hard to figure out which panel to read next* but plenty of comics have that problem, although of course that does mean the comic could have been a bit better organized.

So, while it's not my favorite comic book so far this year (which is more because there are some comics I just adore) it's a good one that I probably would have also enjoyed in middle school and I'm glad my library has books like this. Even if all their kids/teens comics are in the teen section of the library (the teen section in the adult section, not the teen section in the kids section, it's all a bit confusing) I still really like that they have such a wide variety and I can only hope that people manage to find the books they want.

*when there are two panels on the same level next to each I read the one on the left first and then the one on the right (reversed if it's manga of course) and then I read the next one down the page. Sometimes the pages had this set-up but you were supposed to read the panel on the left first and then read the one beneath it and then go to the next column on the right hand side. Normally I don't have a problem with this when I read webcomics (99% of which are read Western style) so I don't think this problem was my fault.

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