Thursday, June 21, 2007
A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of The Bloody Benders -- The Benders were a family of alleged German immigrants who may or may not have been named "Bender." In fact, they may not have even been family.
What they were has been outlined in delightfully brutal detail by cartoonist Rick Geary, in the latest volume of his superb Treasury of Victorian Murder series of graphic novels for NBM Publishing.
Geary's ongoing library of bloody 19th century mayhem is one of the quiet treasures of modern-day comic-making. Each volume is meticulous in its research, and Geary's sui generis art is a sublimely effective blend of subversive, sardonic observation and rich, organic linework.
Geary varies his subjects from volume to volume, sometimes covering something as historically significant as Jack the Ripper or the Lincoln assassination, but Geary brings as much drama and inventiveness to his coverage of lesser-known horrors.
The Bloody Benders is one of those. I had never heard of this bunch, who seem like a 19th century mashup of Laura Ingalls Wilder's family and The Manson Family.
The scheme was this: The Benders established a small inn/grocery store right on a prominent, much-used trail in a Kansas that was just now being opened up in the wake of the Civil War. Geary doesn't say if he thinks The Benders planned what happened from the very beginning, and we'll never know for sure given how their story ended, but it seems like a brilliant criminal enterprise that was apparently headed up by a beautiful and seductive member of the "family" called Kate. "Ma" would make dinner for travelers stopping by (often with large sums on their person, as they were out on the plains to make their fortunes and begin new lives), while Kate would charm them during their meal, and "Pa," well...Pa had a big mallet and a great hiding place.
In those days, information didn't travel very far, very fast, and crucially, the whole serial killer phenomena was not the topic of bestselling novels and hit movies. So it took a good, long time for the victims' relatives and the local citizenry to put together the pieces of the puzzle, even though behaviour as strange as that displayed by The Benders would certainly send up red flags far earlier in our more "enlightened" age.
Geary's storytelling, as always, is informative, appealing, and addictive. From the quiet but sprawling beauty of the Kansas plains to the ominous depths of the family well, all is presented with a sense of dread and an offbeat tone that makes Geary totally unique in the pantheon of great cartoonists. A Treasury of Victorian Murder: The Saga of The The Bloody Benders is highly recommended, as are all the other volumes of this wildly entertaining series.
Preview The Bloody Benders at NBM's website.
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