Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins
I was working for a rare book dealer when I came across a volume of the 1955 U.S. Congress Committee on the Judiciary Volume of Juvenile Delinquency: Comic Books, Motion Pictures, Obscene and Pornographic Materials, and Television Programs. It was a volume (some 1,000 pages) of committee transcriptions dealing with how these monstrosities will infect American youth like some horrible drug. It sought to curb the temptation set up by the comic industry by making crime and evil so damn seductive. For impact, there are transcripts from purveyors, priests, parents, and victims.
My favorite bit comes from the Code of Comics Magazine Association of America (adopted 26 Oct. 1954):
“The comic-book medium, having come of age on the American cultural scene, must measure up to its responsibilities…
To make a positive contribution to contemporary life , the industry must seek new areas for developing sound, wholesome entertainment.”
Of course transcipts continue to allude to an American tradition of decency and fairness. Since most of these Senators are from Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas, and this is pre-60’s Civil Rights, I was never sure whose vision of American tradition they wanted preserved. I can make good solid guesses though.
Anyway, when I saw that Max Allan Collins was releasing his third Jack and Maggie Starr novel through Hard Case Crime I was pretty damned thrilled. When it was revealed that it would be a fictional attack on Dr. Frederick Wertham (the McCarthy of Comic Books) I was down-right ecstatic. Wertham firmly believed that he could save the world from the savagery of comic-books and did his best to see the industry crippled. He would save The Children by waging a war on a magazine stands of filth threatening to destroy a generation of adolescents. So, an imaginary comeuppence at the hands of master story teller Max Allan Collins seemed like the best possible way to spend a few hours.
And it was.
Collins’ original fiction is a blast and I cannot speak enough about my love of his work. Quarry and Ms Tree are two of my all time favorite characters. His CSI tie-in novels are better than the shows. Hell, I even read the novelization of Waterworld because his name was on it. But his historical fiction rises above ’em all. I find them so in-depth, well researched, and well-crafted, that I wish history teachers took such care and love for the eras they talk about. Sure, I know that this is fiction. I’m not pretending much of this is real, but I know that he creates such a gorgeous overview of the time that it drips with realism.
The most shocking part though, is the care that Collins takes to create Dr. Werner Frederick (the fictionalized Wertham) as a victim. Collins recognizes that in order to have a true crime the reader must give at least one care about the victim’s untimely death: Otherwise, most of the comic community would probably cheer, applaud, and stop reading midway through. Collins’ job, to make a victim of an industry’s greatest nemesis (until Tipper Gore of course) is nigh impossible. Especially considering that whenever the Starrs are on the page all attention turns to them (I’m convinced he could write a Russian play with just these two bantering and I’d read it). Not only does Frederick’s death need to mean something, but it should also seem more important than the charisma of the protagonists. It is the moment when Dr. Frederick is in his inner-city office confronting a boy with a knife that Collins wields his power as an author. It is a moment which highlights the fact that as misguided and destructive as Wertham was, he was still human.
Seduction of the Innocent is an absolute must-read for a fan of comic history, wise-cracking investigators, and fans of historical fiction.