Since January 2012, the Library of American Comics, by way of IDW Publishing, has been releasing collections of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon newspaper comic strips. Volume 10 presents the daily and Sunday newspaper comic strips from January 3, 1965 to December 31, 1966, covering the nineteenth and twentieth year of the strip’s 41-year run. Library of American Comics associate editor Bruce Canwell wrote the introductory essay “Friends in Fact, Friends in Fiction,” which provides insight into the characters and stories.
The book begins with Steve’s ward Poteet Canyon back at Maumee University where Shaky Blopp has a crush on her. He led the basketball team to an undefeated record, but he only cares about her. His success brings those who looking to take advantage of it, such as a trio who threaten Poteet with damaging Steve’s reputation if she doesn’t get Shaky to shave points in a game. They even go as far as kidnapping her to throw Shaky off his game, but Caniff wraps the story with a couple good plot twists to save the day.
On the other side of the world, Steve heads to Taiwan where an assassin known as the Clown is sent to kill the head of state. While there, Steve runs into two friends, former nurse Perdita Rune and current outlaw Cheetah. Steve gets Cheetah hired as Deeta’s maid but Cheetah is always on the look out for herself. She reveals to readers what Deeta is actually up to in Taiwan, although it’s not clear how Cheetah learned of it. However, she deserves credit for the help she provides.
Steve is called to Hong Kong as bodies wash up with the letter “H” carved into their chest. He finds himself again caught between two women as he runs into another old friend, Flight Officer Mew Hasty, and the villainous Madame Hook, the ex-Queen Bay of Mahnay who lost her hand because of him. Hook is harassing all shipping activity. Looking to complicate matters, the Russians send Lt. Commander Inpa undercover to “aid [Hook’s] efforts which will distress the U.S. and Red China.” She sees through the ruse but uses him to her advantage to play the countries off one another.
Back in the U.S., Poteet attends business school to learn shorthand and typing. She befriends Evelyn “Jingle” Hondo, a former Air Force wife that knows Steve. Jingle starts dating an instructor, Mr. Brez. Not only is it against the school rules, but he’s also dating a fellow teacher so obviously trouble is brewing. A piece of “stolen” equipment is found in Jingle’s locker. Caniff does a good job setting up the mystery and the resolution to which Poteet contributes.
In the Vietnamese jungles, the U.S military is testing a quick-hardening soil for helicopters to learn how it will work in rice paddies. U.S.O performer Kayt Valencia gets shot down in a chopper and uses her skills with makeup and acting to hide from the Viet Cong. This is one of the most touching stories Caniff has written because it focuses on the plight of the civilians stuck between the warring factions.
Back to Hanoi, Espree “Herself” Muldoon, with whom Steve has had run-ins before, is secretly working with Americans. Steve helps extricate her before the Secret Police send her to jail. He is disguised with dyed hair and a beard as her Irish husband Liffy. However, escape isn’t so easy as Espree’s daughter serves in an Hanoi nunnery. Caniff has fun with Steve’s acting, and the story’s resolution will catch the reader as off guard as it does Steve.
Caniff pulls Deka Lambeth from the bullpen. She is in the Peace Corps and wants to teach the local Mahnay kids baseball. It catches the interest of soldiers hiding in the brush whose famous leader was thought dead. It makes for a great cameo. Deka is captured, but the game helps free her.
Steve’s last complete assignment in this volume is his most dangerous. Red China has an atomic device and is shipping it in sections to assemble and fire in the United States. Steve seeks Dr. Shee, a Chinese-American scientist set to work on it. She will do so against her will as her father is held hostage in Peking. She is a resourceful woman and risks her life to lead Steve in right direction to foil the plans.
Poteet gets an internship at the High City Herald Journal newspaper. Not only does she have to deal with the chauvinistic city editor but finds herself in the middle of a civil war between the paper and the news department of the TV Station the publisher also owns. Johnny Lance is a reporter for the channel. They start as rival but become something more before her infatuation with Steve stops their relationship from moving further. Not sure why Caniff keeps such an intelligent and spirited woman chasing after a man she’ll never get. Surely, she’d move on, especially with all the opportunities she has.
With the Viet Nam conflict active at this time, it’s not a surprise Caniff has Steve spend so much time in country and others nearby. The major Asian characters are are fleshed out and come across as authentic. Villains are cunning and intelligent in pursuit of their goals while those on the side of good are caring and compassionate. Unfortunately, there is a lot of broken English, which is cringe-inducing at times, such as when a waiter tells Steve, “Missy say please you come! Chop-Chop.” Another mild complaint is while it’s good that many of the female characters are strong, it would be nice if so many didn’t get weak-kneed around Steve. I know it’s an element of the adventure genre, but even if cut in half, he would still have a lot of ladies chasing him.
The highlight of the comic strips continues to be Caniff’s art. The work is so outstanding it’s a shame he didn’t create an animated film. Even without the word balloons, Caniff captures the characters’ moods through their faces and bodies. The settings are well detailed and make the locations come to life. Some panels drop the backgrounds, which work to highlight the characters and their interactions.
Princess Snowflake is at the center of Volume 10‘s last story, but the year runs out after the mission’s set up is presented. But I don’t need a cliffhanger to propel me into seeking Volume 11. The continued high quality of the art and writing has me hooked and turned me into a devoted fan.