IDW Publishing; $49.99

Before World War II, artist Alex Raymond had made his name by establishing a strong following on three popular newspaper strips, Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, and Secret Agent X-9. Raymond’s stint on Flash Gordon inspired many artists, including Al Williamson, and it set an early benchmark for the adventure strip. When the war came along, though, the artist volunteered and was shipped out to the Pacific theater.

After he completed his military service, he expected to pick up where he left off on Flash Gordon, but King Features Syndicate has signed his replacement, Austin Briggs, to a contract that was scheduled to run until July 1948.

Based on the contents of Rip Kirby – Volume One from IDW Publishing’s imprint The Library of American Comics, that turned out to be a very good thing. He got a new assignment and solid contract from the syndicate to develop a new strip, Rip Kirby, which had been created by editor Ward Greene.

Like the artist, the title character Rip Kirby was newly returned from the war. An ex-Marine Rip Kirby was also a writer, scientist, and amateur detective.

Both the character and the artist hit the ground running. The first daily ends with a gun shot. The second one ends with a beautiful dead woman falling into Kirby’s arms, and things start from there. Kirby is aided by his girlfriend “Honey” Dorian and his assistant, Desmond, a former burglar, as he plunges into the case.

He is acting, of course, against the wishes of the police when he gets involved. That’s about the only standard issue private eye cliché readily apparent. Kirby is more of the Sherlock Holmes mode than of the Mike Hammer variety (although he’s certainly not afraid to use his fists, if that’s what’s called for). He prefers deductive reasoning to violence, wears glasses, smokes a pipe, and certainly appears to be a moneyed man-about-town.

And yet this strip grew in popularity and influence almost immediately. When you start reading it, there’s no mystery as to why. It’s just simply brilliant stuff. Raymond had already defined himself as an artist’s artist, but this strip has everything: great storytelling, wonderful characters, and stunning art.

As usual, Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell have done an outstanding job (we’re ready for the second volume right now if not sooner). The introductions by Brian Walker and Tom Roberts have a lot of information to put things in context and they’re definitely worth reading as well.

For would-be practitioners of the comic strip arts and for fans of the craft at its best, this book is a treasure not to be missed.

–J.C. Vaughn