From the stack: The Saga of the Bloody Benders

December 5, 2007

I’m so crazy about Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder series (NBM). The Saga of the Bloody Benders is the latest, and it upholds the excellent standard that Geary has set.

I do find them kind of difficult to review, and I think that’s because Geary makes what he does seem so effortless. I know it can’t be; the books are meticulously researched and wonderfully drawn. But the chapters of history Geary chooses are so engrossingly grisly that it’s hard to imagine how they wouldn’t make a good comic.

In this case, his subject is a murderous family of Kansas settlers who set up shop in a relatively bustling byway. Unwary travelers check in to the Benders’ grocery and restaurant, never to be seen again. Even after their reign of profitable terror is ended, mysteries remain, and Geary spends a good half of the book examining the rumors and theory that swirled around the crimes.

Geary uses the crimes to articulate qualities about their era, which deepens the pleasures of the comics. There’s a subplot in The Murder Room by P.D. James about how certain crimes could only have taken place in their given historical era and setting, and Geary seems to be an adherent to that philosophy.

While I love comics like Action Philosophers (Evil Twin) that make use of the outlandish possibilities of cartooning to educate, I’m equally taken with Geary’s straightforward approach. He resists the urge to embellish or put words in people’s mouths, and he doesn’t need to. The facts in evidence and the way he presents them are gripping enough that they don’t need flourishes.