Waller, Drake. It Rhymes with Lust. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books. 2007.
(This is my second 2008 graphic novel challenge. The book was originally published in 1949. Drake Waller is the pseudonym for the two authors Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller.)
Rust Masson, the conniving businesswoman of this fun little graphic novel, could certainly give Gordon Gekko of the film Wall Street a run for his money. It's almost as if Gekko had been based on her character, as similarly ruthless as they both are. But then, this is no original character. Throughout history, we've seen plenty of fictional (and even nonfictional) business tycoons who will stop at nothing to get their way. These characters never have any feelings or sentiment for their fellow human beings, and (in fiction at least), they tend to lose out in the end.
I find it interesting, though, that the authors of this book (basically regarded as the first real graphic novel -- defined thus, from what I understand, because it had both panels of pictures and words to tell the story, unlike earlier works that told stories with panels of pictures only) chose a woman to be their "evil businessman." All kinds of things could be said about this, since the book was written right after WWII, a period when women had more or less been running the show in this country while the men were off fighting. Granted, Rust hasn't risen to power due to years of working her way up the ranks. Rather, she set her sights on marrying the man who "owned Copper City," and when he dies, the city becomes hers. Still, she's a powerful woman who knows what she wants and sets out to get it. Quite obviously, she was never some "trophy wife," oblivious to politics and business deals.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, that's Rust on the cover. Isn't she fabulous? Isn't the whole cover fabulous? Can't you just picture an old-fashioned, newsstand-type bookstore, this book on display amongst similar-looking comic books and non-graphic crime novels? I love the front cover copy. "She was greedy, heartless, and calculating. She knew what she wanted and was willing to sacrifice anything to get it. AN ORIGINAL FULL-LENGTH NOVEL." The cover tells you everything you need to know about the black-and-white illustrations inside. I'm reminded of the stuff I never bothered to read in the funnies as a kid (Dick Tracy, Mary Worth, et al.), because, of course, those were "comic strips for grownups." They weren't funny.
"For grownups" is right. Perhaps It Rhymes with Lust isn't even on display in that old bookstore. Perhaps it's hidden behind the counter with other "unmentionables," available only by request. Or maybe one can only buy it in one of those unsavory sorts of stores, those places where ladies and gentlemen would never be seen.
After all, the book is so clearly written to appeal to what could almost be called The Collective Male Fantasy. A seasoned newspaper man has been bewitched and beguiled by the evil Rust Masson (always dressed in low cut, revealing blouses and cat suits), and he must fight her and all the temptations she offers that will certainly lead him straight to hell if he's not careful. Meanwhile, there's good, sweet Audrey Masson (Russ's stepdaughter. Always dressed in modest turtlenecks and blouses) with her cottage in the country and desire to do nothing more than take care of a man. Both women (of course) desperately want him, and it's up to him to decide which way to go. (I'm betting I don't need to tell you who wins out in the end, but not until he's had a little fun with the other.)
We could read so much into this, couldn't we? The powerful woman is the bad one. The woman who longs to play homemaker to the man is good. Men were feeling somewhat powerless, I'm sure, upon returning home from the war and finding that women had, rather than botching things up and being completely helpless without them, kept this country running just fine on their own. But I'll choose not to do all that analyzing for now. It's a fun read, one best read right after a Sunday afternoon nap, a big wad of Bazooka Joe in the mouth and a bottle of root beer handy.