Review by Woodrow Phoenix
The seventh Checker volume of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon covers May 15, 1953 to August 5, 1954, opening with ‘The Princess and the Doctor’, which returns Steve to the mountains near “Red China” where he encounters several old friends and sparring partners and helps foil a Communist assault. This episode harks back to the more breathless adventure of the early strips, and Caniff tweaks his typical parade of stereotypes to give Canyon a Chinese co-star who is a regular heroic individual instead of a caricatured villain or a comedy sidekick.
‘The Halls’ continues the action into a ‘neutral country between India and the USSR’ where Steve is thrown in jail as a Russian spy. Add a tricky relationship with a girl and her blind mother, a duel with a jungle warlord, terror from a smallpox epidemic, and there’s plenty of action and emotion to carry straight into ‘Heroin Smuggler’, which is exactly what the title suggests. Steve goes undercover to infiltrate an airline hauling heroin into neighbouring countries. There’s some typically brilliant Caniff extreme jeopardy to wind up this adventure and then it’s back to the USA for ‘Triangle‘, where we catch up with Summer Olsen, still under the yoke of her relentless boss Copper Calhoun who is determined to keep her away from Steve Canyon and has the money to do it. After the less convincing year of 1952, the stories in 1953-1954 are back on form and this is a solidly entertaining collection in its paternal, gung-ho and resolutely patriotic way.
At a convenient size and with a year’s worth of strips, these Checker books offer excellent value for money, but the format does have an effect on your appreciation of Caniff’s formidable artwork. The page layout intersperses the daily strips with the sundays, which means the Sunday strips are mostly split over two pages rather than being shown in a single page as they would have originally appeared. They don’t suffer too badly from being split up or shown without colour, but they do lose a lot visually in being shrunken to fit the small pages of these books.
IDW is currently reprinting Steve Canyon in a bigger, hardback format with two years of the strip per volume. These are more expensive but much better designed books. The drawings are bigger and given more breathing room, the Sunday pages are reproduced larger and in colour. If you’re interested in seeing Caniff’s art as it deserves to be seen, you should to have a look at this series.