When it comes to historic figures begging to have their stories committed to pulp, Harry Houdini ranks near the top of the list. The most renowned escape artist in the world, possibly of all time, he spent the latter years of his life debunking hoaxers who attempted to bilk unknowing rubes out of hard-earned coin with cheap parlor tricks they passed off as magic.
But what happens when he runs into people who aren’t faking?
In a nutshell, that’s the story that Todd Hunt and Sean Von Gorman have crafted. Originally released in a small, limited printing, this November will bring the return of Harry to the shelves, this time in a much wider release, thanks to the support of some comic industry veterans and the folks at ALTERNA comics.
The story alone is reason to buy the book, as Houdini traipses across half the planet, battling charlatans, the possessed, and crazed cults. In many ways, the story itself seems and artifact of another age. There is a simplicity to it that is extremely refreshing. Bad guys are bad guys, and the heroic Houdini wastes no time in dispatching them, pausing only to deliver quips the likes of which are rarely seen outside the pages of a well-crafted Spider-Man book.
Todd Hunt seems to have really done his research on this book. Houdini’s Jewish roots are often considered a historical footnote, but the elements of Kaballic mysticism that are sprinkled liberally through the pages hint at a larger mythology being explored. If the last few panels in the book are any indication, this mythology will play a large role in future installments.
The only flaw that I could find in the story was the extensive piece of expository prose near the end which, had it been translated into panels, would likely have helped make the story flow a bit more smoothly over its course.
Characterization is perhaps the one truly weak point here. Houdini, while boisterous and delightful, does not seem fully realized as a human being. There are a couple of moments where we get to see the exposed man beneath the tough veneer, but they are too few, particularly when given the fine expressive facial work being offered up by Sean Von Gorman.
Von Gorman really shines doing period work like this. His ruddy pencil-work lends itself tremendously well to the tone being struck in the story. The books looks old, finding a fine symmetry between the words and the art that combine to create a cheerily immersive experience and give the work a real sense of temporal place.
If this is a book that flew under your radar on its first run, be sure to give it a look this time around. You won’t be disappointed. The Secret Adventures of Harry Houdini is a throwback in all the right ways. It hearkens to the age of pulp storytelling, blending history, magic, conspiracy into a savory stew of graphic goodness. Check it out.