Detectives Inc, by Don McGregor, Marshall Rogers, and Gene Colan
IDW Publishing, 2009
Review by Malcolm Deeley
This book is a thirtieth anniversary hardcover collection of a comic book series that quietly
changed the landscape of what the graphic storytelling medium could do and achieve:
I say "quietly"... which seems incongruous when I consider that the stories in the book deal
with subjects like gang warfare, violence in many forms, sexuality, and the sometimes
destructive complexities of relationships. They are quiet only in the sense that they have not
received the notice that seminal works should receive. I hope that this beautiful anniversary
hardcover succeeds in changing that.
As we learn in one of the many fascinating text/historical pieces that frame and enhance the
stories in the book, the ongoing story of private investigators (don't call them "private eyes")
Ted Denning and Bob Rainier began in a 1969 story called "All That is Left is Anger", privately
produced by a young McGregor, along with artist Alex Simmons. From the glimpses of that
original story seen in the new hardcover, it was a gritty, aware, powerfully challenging piece.
Qualities that would abound in the Eclipse's first mass market production of a Detectives Inc.
tale: "A Remembrance of Threatening Green".
By the time the title page seen above appears in the book itself, a great deal has
happened. The title itself breaks the mold of so many conventional detective
stories -- there's a kind of mysterious poetry in it -- a meaning which will only
become clear far later in story. Life and death have been played out with shocking
intensity in the pages preceding.
Above is the opening page of the book. When I first read this in 1980, I realized one thing
above all: "comic books" had grown up. Marshall Rogers' densely layered images go far
beyond "illustrations" -- they are a cinematic plunge into the real world. Denning and
Rainier emerge from a battered car and move right into an unrelenting environment
where it is lives that have been battered, and consequences are scattered everywhere.
Balancing their movement through the dangerous shadows and corners of Fort Apache in
the Bronx is an intercut scene of remarkable, quiet contemplation -- a woman who is
about to be murdered, reliving memories of passion in her life. The layered presentation
of these moments in time will continue through scenes of fierce intensity, which
culminate literally in the same panel of the story that sees the woman run over by vehicle
that has chased her in the rain through a deserted Long Island parking lot, and also sees
a brutal gang leader shot. I was breathless at that point in the story, wracked by its
force...and things had only begun.
The story continues to dig deep, with perception and awareness, into the lives of the men
and women it portrays. Ruth Hamilton, a midwife who was the same-sex partner of the
murdered woman and who hires Denning and Rainier to investigate her lover's death, is
the first lesbian character I had seen portrayed in comics with humanity and depth. The
consequences of love, the complexity of human connection, continue to be explored
through her desire to learn the truth about what happened. Along the way that mysterious
story title will be explained, with its message about the transcience that is a shadow in all
love, in all moments of peace.
At the end of the book, a quiet scene near Christmas, there is no tidy ending, but there is
hope, and the feeling that all the pain and confusion carries within it opportunities to
share caring, touch warmth. Back on that day in 1980, I closed the book feeling that
comics had finally, finally raised themselves to a place previously reserved for "serious
It would be some years before Denning and Rainier would appear again. This time, in a
three-issue release from Eclipse, called "A Terror of Dying Dreams".
Now drawn by the incomparable stylist Gene Colan, Denning and Rainier return in a story that
begins, once again, in layers. Juxtaposed are threads that see Denning and his father waiting
outside of a hospital room to see Denning's mother, who is going blind; Rainier's wearily
resigned night in the neon-blazing sexual underworld of Times Square; and a new character,
Dierdre Sevens, who is about to encounter an old friend who is a victim of domestic abuse.
As was the case in "A Remembrance of Threatening Green", events and relationships will be
explored in "A Terror of Dying Dreams" that had never been broached in the comics medium
before. The subject of domestic violence is one almost always portrayed in stereotypes. But
not here. The emotions and responses of the characters in this story are complex and at
times startlingly true-to-life. In one of the most thoughtful, balanced scenes I have seen in any
medium, Bob and Dierdre talk about experiences of violence in their own lives:
This scene affected me deeply when I first read it. I was myself a young husband trying to help my
wife deal with memories from the horrific pain of abuse, and to see characters like this, simply talking
to one another, finding ways to articulate their lives with respect for one another, gave me hope in a
dark time. Amazing, to think that a "comic book" could carry power like this to reach out to readers
with that kind of strength and veracity.
"A Terror of Dying Dreams" spoke in a language of truth and hope, something rare indeed. In my own
life, it inspired me to begin an effort called "Poets Against Abuse", which over the years has reached
out internationally to hundreds of abuse survivors the way that McGregor and Colan's work reached
out to me.
To see these stories now collected in hardcover is a validation of their enduring power. In addition
to the stories themselves, there are remarkable text pieces that go deep into the creation of the
tales, providing insight into both the creative process, and the many facets of publishing and
reading such groundbreaking works. In the biography section of the book, McGregor also
announces that he is currently writing the most ambitious Detectives Inc. graphic novel he has ever
done: "A Fear of Perverse Photos/A Repercussion of Violent Reprisal". For me, these are stories to be
experienced, remembered, and treasured. We will rarely find ourselves in a place where the two
qualities I have cited so often in describing them -- truth and hope -- are so profoundly captured,
than in the stories and history of Detectives Inc.
by Don McGregor
Marshall Rogers and Gene Colan
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