by Drew Mollo I’ve been a fan of Harry Houdini for years, even writing my college thesis and the symbolism he represented to the masses. So this could not have been a comic more in my wheelhouse if it tried.
The more you read about Houdini, the more you realize modern day illusionists can barely compare to the showmanship and absolute creativity this man represented. No matter how many chains they padlocked, handcuffs they bound his limbs with, whatever environment he found himself a voluntary victim of, he always managed to find a way to overcome everything. Even if you know how he did some of his tricks, there performances of his that people still can’t explain to this day. The Secret Adventures of Houdini by Todd Hunt and Sean Von Gorman depicts this perfectly summarizes it best in their first few pages with the phrase, “That what they have just witnessed can only be explained as pure magic.”
The first of many things to praise about this book is how well-researched the material is. I actually just recently finished reading yet another Houdini biography a few days before I read this, and I was extremely impressed at the historical accuracy to the timeline and characters involved in Houdini’s life. Important figures in his legendary career are scattered throughout the story and even with Hunt and Von Gorman's creative exaggerations, they manage to seem grounded reality. It reminded me of the strange, yet well-researched worlds of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or Pride, Prejudice and Zombies (both of which I recommend). It’s clear that not only did they do their homework but they enjoyed every second of it.
We start on the stage as Houdini marvels another crowd and after dealing with some intense forms of publicity, our main character is hit with news that would dramatically change his life forever. Years later, the man who could walk through walls is now a man of reason and logic; an active investigator into frauds and tricksters involved in Spiritualism and other levels of the supernatural. One night our gumshoe ghostbuster interrupts a ritual that’s everything but a trick and as the story advances and hints at doom for our iconic hero, he flashes that performer grin that almost winks at the reader and flips the tables on everything.
Todd Hunt and Sean Von Gorman have created an entertaining and creative masterpiece that reads like an old pulp magazine. Harry is perfectly depicted as a vaudevillian mix of Mister Miracle and Dick Tracy with a hint of Deadpool. The story never stops moving as Hunt keeps the one-liners flowing comfortably with the historical references laid out like Easter eggs for me to chuckle at as I read along. The story has that old fashioned, campy feel that reminded me of the movies like The Man From Beyond or The Master Mystery that Houdini would eventually star in around this time.
The comic is brought to life by Von Gorman’s brilliant artwork which really seals that classic pulp magazine feel. The black and white art is filled with almost watercolor-like shading, which not only reminds us of the world before Technicolor, but also gives the story the classic black v. white metaphorical perspective that helps highlight Houdini's struggle. It gives me such a sense of nostalgia that I half-expected other classic pulp characters to swoop in for an assist, much like the Shadow made a notable cameo in the earlier issues of The Rocketeer.
The story ends with an interesting a cliffhanger. The epilogue on these last few pages reminded me of the multiple ends of movies like Clue but these tantalizing plot points won’t be left behind like opened handcuffs. The teaser image for part 2 of the story is rather exciting and if the second issue is as much fun as the first, you better believe I’m not going to let it slip through my fingers.
TL;DR: Even as a Houdini buff I was excited by both the realism and imagination of this story about the legendary showman. Not to be missed.
The Secret Adventures of Houdini is written by Todd Hunt with art by Sean Von Gorman. Published by Alterna Comics, ask for it at your local comic book shop or, support Spandexless by purchasing through our .
A review copy of The Secret Adventures of Houdini was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creators.
Drew Mollo has been following comics since his childhood and his eventual investment into buying and collecting comics has been one of the best and yet most expensive decisions he ever made. He’s that guy that everyone seems to know with a B.A in Ancient History and an M.S. in Publishing. Since he basically treats his comics a giant loaning library and reviews/recommends books for friends anyway, he thought writing his reviews down would be awesome. He spends his spare time writing, drawing, acting and baking and lives the crazy life one would expect from a true Ghostbuster.