by Milton Caniff
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Format: Hardcover, partial color, $49.99
Subjects: Comic books, strips, etc.
Reviewed by: Kat Kan
Caniff's run on the Terry and the Pirates comic strip lasted from 1934 through 1946; both my husband and I grew up reading George Wunder's version of the strip. Terry and the Pirates was full of rip-snorting adventure of the manly, two-fisted kind. In the earliest years, adventurer Pat Ryan teamed with young teenager Terry Lee and their sidekick/partner Connie (George Webster Confucius), a young Chinese man, in exploits that pitted them against Chinese pirates, a French pirate leader, mountain bandits, wily kidnappers, and such dangerous women as the pirate Dragon Lady, wealthy heiress Normandie Drake, and adventuress Burma - and all this in just the first volume, covering the strip from its beginning in 1934 through 1936. IDW's The Library of American Comics project is reprinting Caniff's complete run of the strip. In this first volume, the early Sunday color comics have been collected and presented first; until Fall 1936, the Sunday comics had a completely different storyline from the black and white daily strips.
Caniff's art in these early years was somewhat rough compared to what he did in Steve Canyon (beginning in 1947). Backgrounds in the panels ranged from very roughly sketched to nonexistent; also, Terry looks like he can't be more than 11 or 12 years old in the early strips. What might bother more people, however, is the less than politically correct broken English spoken by the (mostly) Asian characters. The thing to remember is that when Caniff wrote these early strips, such characterization was considered to be the norm - I recall watching lots of old movies on television when I was growing up that included lots of such characters. And let us not forget the nasty stereotyping of the Japanese in World War II era movies. Reading the stories, however, people should see that Connie is more than mere comic relief, and the Dragon Lady is more than a slinky femme fatale with a Chinese accent.
The stories in this volume are fun, with the heroes slamming from one tight situation into another. In the color Sunday strips, Pat and Terry arrive in China, only to become prisoners of pirates led by the Dragon Lady. After escaping from her clutches, the heroes try to help a fellow American airplane passenger; Chinese bandits hijack the plane and take everyone prisoner, and they all end up as prisoners of the Dragon Lady again. This time, they then become prisoners of the very large, very loud red-haired Cap'n Blaze and his bandits. In the black and white daily strips, Terry and Pat have come to China on a treasure hunt; they have a map left to Terry by his grandfather. After many perils and adventures to rival the much-later Indiana Jones movies, Pat and Terry go on a sea voyage aboard an ocean liner, where they meet rich heiress Normandie Drake. And there's much more, two years' worth of comic strips.
Terry and the Pirates might appeal more to nostalgic adults who remember reading the strips in the newspapers, but there's enough action to attract younger readers who will meet Terry and his friends and enemies for the first time.