Magazine Review: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine July 2016

Magazine Review: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine July 2016 edited by Janet Hutchings

Frederick Dannay, who along with Manfred B. Lee wrote the Ellery Queen mystery stories, was asked by Mercury Press to be the editor of a new magazine that would print a higher class of detective stories than the general run of pulps, with the first issue of EQMM coming out in 1941.  At first it was a reprint magazine, featuring classic tales by writers like Agatha Christie and Cornell Woolrich.  But by the seventh issue, new stories began to appear, and one, “The Bow Street Runner” by Samuel Duff, was that author’s first professional sale.

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine July 2016

Over the years, Mr. Dannay sought out new writers to appear in “The Department of First Stories”, many of whom went on to great success.  His successors have carried on that tradition, and as part of the magazine’s 75th Anniversary celebration, the July issue #898 features new stories by authors who got their start in EQMM.

“The Staff of Asclepius” by Stephen Saylor features his Roman sleuth Gordianus the Finder.  This one is set in his youth, when Gordianus and a friend were on a trip to see the Seven Wonders of the World.  They winter in Rhodes, home of the fabled Colossus.  During their enforced idleness, Gordianus learns of a shipping magnate named Rhosander who has suffered several bouts of illness, then miraculously recovered due to wacky cures he dreamed of in the temple of the healing god.  Perhaps these episodes are the symptoms of some underlying illness…but they could also be slow poison.  The illustration has male rear nudity, which is germane to the story.

“Department of First Stories: A History” by Marvin Lachman reveals the material I cited at the beginning of this review, but in much, much more detail, including a list of some of the most famous writers to debut in the magazine and their accomplishments.

“The Granite Kitchen” by David Morrell is a monologue to a real estate agent by a woman selling her home.  She’s obsessed with making her homes just so, always moving on to a bigger project once she has it right.  And either she has the unluckiest bunch of family and friends I have ever seen, or….  Chilling.

“Blog Bytes” by Bill Crider is a regular column of mystery-related internet sites; this time focusing on fans of the Ellery Queen stories.

“The Jury Box” by Steve Steinbock is a more traditional book review column.  Among other works, this month it mentions several novels starring famous writers as the detectives, including A Riot Most Uncouth by Daniel Friedman, which I reviewed a while back.

“Get Them Out” by Nancy Pickard has a homeless man kicked out of a shelter for making a disturbance.  The new janitor at an apartment building offers him a place to sleep in the basement, but his motives may not be altruistic.  Ends on an ambiguous note.

“Black Monday” by John H. Sherman is a first story.  Howard, a lab technician at a hospital, has been having problems with alcohol and painkiller addiction, and has missing time.  His dreams of swimming have gone dark, and he can’t remember what he did last night.

“The Red Tattoo” by Percy Spurlark Parker is a noirish tale featuring Las Vegas private eye Trevor Oaks.  He’s hired to find a man’s missing identical twin; the only clue is that the twin was seen in LV with a woman who had a red tattoo.

“The Hangman” by David Dean is the story of a cops-and-robbers game gone south, and the years later sequel.  Depressing.

“Flight” by Trina Corey is set in a nursing home during the Vietnam War era (I suspect to avoid easy fixes by technology.)  Rachel is crippled by multiple sclerosis, unable to speak or write.  Perhaps that’s why a murderer has taken to coming into her room at night to gloat, knowing that she can’t tell anyone.  But Rachel still has her mind, and there’s a young nurse that hasn’t lost her ability to care yet, and maybe there’s a way to stop the killer.

“The Man from Away” by Brendan DuBois takes place in New Hampshire and Boston.  People tell Amos Wilson he’s too gullible, that his estranged wife is a gold digger he’s better off without.  But when she is accidentally killed by tourists who then vanish, Amos feels obligated to do something about it.  He may be long-suffering, but he’s not stupid.  Satisfying.

“Consuming Passion” by Martin Edwards is about two old friends, one a master chef, the other a restaurant critic, having dinner together.  It does not end well.

“The Peter Rabbit Killers” by Laura Benedict closes out the issue with a little girl whose mother has an obsession with cleanliness, and a neighbor girl who is bullying and not at all clean.   Another creepy tale.

Overall, a strong issue with many fine stories.  I liked “Flight” the best, while “Black Monday” and “The Hangman” were less well done.  This issue is certainly worth picking up while the anniversary celebration is still on.

Comic Book Tribute: 2000 AD

Yesterday was the 37th anniversary of 2000 AD, a weekly British science fiction comic paper.

2000 AD

Back in the 1970s, the British comics market was doing quite well.  There were many weekly papers, divided into children’s, boys’ and girls’ categories.  Some then divided down into genres, such as comedy, war or sports.  A science fiction movie fad convinced an editor at IPC that an SF-themed weekly comic for boys would sell well.

Given the vagaries of the British comics industry, which had titles failing all the time to be incorporated into more popular weeklies, the new book was named 2000 AD as there was little chance of it reaching that far future date.  Previous experience had taught the team of Pat Mills and John Wagner that teens responded well to anti-authoritarian attitudes and authoritarian characters, even though their parents and the moral guardians deplored the former.

In keeping with the science fiction/future theme, the issues were called “progs” and the ostensible editor of the magazine, Tharg, was an alien from Betelgeuse who employed robots to write and draw the stories.   The first prog led off with a revamped version of the classic Dan Dare series, plus M.A.C.H.-1 (a super-powered secret agent with a computer in his head that regulated his powers and sometimes took control),  Flesh (time traveling cowboys herding dinosaurs), Invasion 1999 (Communazi invaders called Volgans take over Britain) and Harlem Heroes (an all-black team playing the futuristic sport of jetball.)

That last one was unusual for having black leads at a time when most comics shied away from them; it was later explained as not being a deliberately progressive choice so much as really being fans of the Harlem Globetrotters.

But what really set 2000 AD apart was a strip that didn’t start until the second issue due to needing more pre-production tweaking, Judge Dredd.  This futuristic Dirty Harry with an element of black comedy quickly became the flagship character of the book, appearing in nearly every issue.

The comics tended to be quite violent, and this has continued for the most part to the present day.  As it was a boys’ paper female characters were rare and marginalized in the early days.  Once female readers, bored by the rather soppy girls’ comics of the time, started coming in, this caused a running feud in the letters page with many male fans complaining that girls were invading their special space.

Things have gotten better on the sexism front since, although traces of laddishness still crop up in the current stories.  Due to the different censorship laws in Britain, female toplessness does happen from time to time–parents be advised.

Many now-famous British writers and artists got their first big break from 2000 AD, including Brian Bolland and Alan Moore.  There’s plenty of great art and snappy writing to be found in the various stories, along with some clinkers.

Despite some rough times, especially in the late 1990s, 2000 AD has managed to survive the collapse of the British comics industry and continues to publish weekly.  May they have many zarjaz years to come!

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