I first heard of the Filipina superheroine Darna many years ago, through a brief glimpse of one of the four Darna movies starring the well-known Filipina actor (and now politician) Vilma Santos. I couldn’t honestly tell you which movie it was, and I never got around to tracking down any of the films, or the 1977 TV series, either. So, as iconic as Darna is in Philippine popular culture, I never knew much about her.
I originally thought of her as a sort of Filipina Wonder Woman, a super-powered foe of criminals and evil. But really, she’s more of a Filipina equivalent to Captain Marvel: a super-powered warrior from the planet Marte, who can change places with a young orphan girl named Narda (her “Billy Batson”), whenever Narda calls out her name.
I know this, because I recently came across Darna’s origin story, in Pilipino Komiks, May 1950. The story is written by her creator, Mars Ravelo, and drawn by Nestor Redondo, who went on to work for DC and Marvel in the 1970s and ’80s. The cover that accompanies the scan I found is dated May 27, 1950, but Wikipedia tells me that Narda’s first appearance was in Pilipino Komiks on May 13, 1950. So either this is a mismatched cover, or this May 27 story is to backfill her introduction in a previous issue.
Here’s another story from The Unseen, a pre-Code horror comic that I mentioned a few posts back. Wealthy stockbroker Mark Denton is murdered by his wife and her lover. But when his spirit arrives at the river between this world and the next, the ferryman grants him a boon: to return to this world and exact vengeance!
The story’s idea was novel enough that I felt like sharing it, and since it’s public domain, it wasn’t too hard to find online. But then I had another idea!
I fell into the habit a while back of listening to old radio plays while folding laundry. One episode is just the right length for a load, and they are really a lot of fun. So why not adapt this story into a script for a radio play? Not only is that a medium more suitable for a blog, but I’d also been reading another comic collection: Charlton Comics’ thriller anthology series The Mysterious Traveller. And guess what? The Mysterious Traveler is also an old radio show!
While browsing in a comic book store not too long ago, I picked up a remaindered collection1 of Pre-Code horror comics: several issues of The Unseen (published by Standard Comics) from 1952-1953. Overall, The Unseen isn’t up to the level of an EC Comic; but it was still a fun read.
In addition to the graphic art stories, each issue included a straight-text tale, as well. Most of them were pretty forgettable, but I did find one devil’s-bargain tale that I thought was rather cute, so I transcribed it.
The frustrated straight-man to a famous comedian longs for a serious acting career. He sees his chance in a new Broadway production of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. But perhaps he should have waited for a play with a happier ending….
The story’s author is one Irwin Shapiro, who according to the The Grand Comics Database was a comics editor at Pines (the publication house that published Standard Comics) from 1949 to about 1953 (reference here). He seems to have written several straight-text stories for various Standard Comics titles. He may or may not be this Irwin Shapiro, a translator and children’s book author who also adapted several classic literary works for Pendulum Press—a series which eventually evolved into Marvel Classics Illustrated.
Nothing from Standard Comics shows up for the children’s book author either in Wikipedia or in the Grand Comics Database, but it’s still an interesting coincidence.
Pre-Code Classics: The Unseen Volume 1, PS Artbooks, 2017 ↩
Illustration from the original publication, illustrator unknown.
Source: Comic Book Plus
One of the pleasures of reading M.R. James, for me, is the way that his stories inspire me to research. Literary or biblical allusions that I’m not familiar with; elements within the stories that “follow the rules of folklore” in a new and unfamiliar way: I consider delving into the underpinnings and inspirations of a James story to be as enjoyable as the “pleasing terrors” that the tales provide. So this book positively called out to me when I discovered it.
Patrick Murphy teaches medieval literature at Miami University, Ohio, and has published extensively not only on some of the same subjects that interested James, but also on James’s engagement with these subjects in his ghost stories. This book is an exploration of the links between James’s fiction and his scholarly life: his research, his interests, his likely anxieties.
I’ve finished loading up a first round of books to my virtual Multo bookshelf. These are all the books that were in my current spreadsheet that had book covers online at the Open Library. The bookshelf template I’m using can load the covers from the Open Library ID. Handy!
Next comes the rest of the spreadsheet: books for which I have to generate a cover image. Then, I have to finish populating the spreadsheet, with the remaining entries from 2012 and 2011.
It’s not like I don’t have enough to do, but… I’ve decided to build a virtual bookshelf to display all the books that I’ve ever mentioned here on Multo. The project has started, as you can see if you follow the link above. It will take a while before I get the shelf completely populated, but I think it’s already looking quite good.
The idea is that I’ve been blogging for a long time, and the book mentions are scattered haphazardly throughout the years. This bookshelf page will be a sort of library, where you can browse Multo’s collection of books, pick them up (click on them) and “read the back covers,” so to speak. Each book description includes links to the original Multo post(s).
The Honjin Murders
by Seishi Yokomizo, translated by Louise Heal Kawai
Originally published 1946, English translation published 2019
I picked this up while browsing in one of my favorite bookstores, not knowing anything about it. I was simply intrigued by the idea of a classic period murder mystery transposed to Japan. What I discovered was a well-crafted story with a really unexpected ending, and an almost 4th-wall breaking homage to Western Golden Age detective fiction and the locked-room mystery.
Author Seishi Yokomizo started out writing historical fiction (especially historical detective fiction, à la Judge Dee), before breaking into the puzzle-based murder mystery genre with The Honjin Murders in 1946. The novel won the first Mystery Writers of Japan award when it appeared, and The Guardian named the 2019 English translation one of the best crime novels of the year. It’s the first of seventy-seven novels featuring the private detective Kosuke Kindaichi. Yokomizo’s success provided a model for many Japanese mystery authors who came after him.
It’s strange that it took over seven decades before someone decided to start translating the Kindaichi series, but I’m glad that they did. And I hope they translate more of Yokomizo’s work, too.
In 1937, Kenzo Ichiyanagi, the oldest son of a prominent family, marries Katsuko Kubo, the orphaned niece of a lower class but wealthy farmer. The night after the wedding, the couple are found dead, brutally mutilated by a katana kept in their bedroom. Their two-room house was completely locked, with no footprints leading up to it. Katsuko’s heartbroken uncle Ginzo calls in his protégé, the scruffy but up-and-coming private detective Kosuke Kindaichi, to help solve the crime.
For a few years now, I’ve been happily devouring Tony Medawar’s anthology series Bodies from the Library, which presents lost and forgotten, previously unpublished, or never-anthologized stories and radio plays by well-known Golden Age mystery writers. So I was excited to discover that Medawar has branched out, with a new anthology called Ghosts from the Library, featuring more lost works from Golden Age masters of mystery — only these stories are supernatural! My two favorite genres, combined!
Much like the recent Agatha Christie collection The Last Seance (which I reviewed here), the stories in Ghosts from the Library are a mix of truly supernatural tales, and mysteries that only appear supernatural until solved. There are also a few mysteries with naturalistic solutions, but that retain the suggestion of “true” supernatural phenomena, a variation that I don’t recall from the Christie collection.
As always, Medawar adds some notes about the author and the story after each piece, which I find helpful when I’m not familiar with the writer in question, and interesting even if I am.