It’s sometimes a little tricky to recommend a particular birthday book when the creator’s body of work is so strong overall, and that’s the case with Rick Geary. I could go with Dark Horse’s hardcover collection of the charming The Adventures of Blanche, but I first became familiar with his work in the context of his excellent true-crime comics, so I’ll dip into that well.
But even with that set of boundaries, which one should I choose? They’re all good, and they don’t need to be read in any particular order. I could throw the titles into a hat and pick one at random, but one volume has managed to inch ahead in my mental Geary library: The Saga of the Bloody Benders.
Geary’s approach to true crime has always got some added value to it, as he takes the time to explore historical and cultural circumstances that either influenced or provided context for the atrocity in question. This tale of an opportunistic family of cutthroats in Kansas is no exception. And there’s just something creepy about such a nest of vipers occupying those wide open spaces (even wider and more open then than now) in the midst of so much homesteader optimism.
A distinguishing characteristic of The Bloody Benders is that I feel like it netted more effusive critical attention than Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder books had up to that point. The quality of the reviews was as admiring as always, but the number of them was higher, which was gratifying to see. Here’s a representative snippet from Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon:
“The story stays with you. Something about the way Geary delineates the proportions of the living area gives the recurring crimes a horrifying intimacy, and when the nature of what’s going on is revealed as the narrative progresses the thoroughness with which the Benders cleave to murder and atrocity astonishes.”
The book also made the Young Adult Library Services Association’s 2008 list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.