I've been reading Steve Canyon strips from IDW's Library of American Comics collections, a month every day, for the last few weeks. I started with volume 2, since that's the volume I had. But now I'm flashing back to volume 1, and since there was some interest in a read-along, here goes!
This is a short month, as the strip began on January 13. Short synopsis: Rich vamp Copper "the Copperhead" Calhoun wants to hire Canyon's Horizons Unlimited air-transport business for a mysterious mission. Steve (and his secretary, Feeta-Feeta) are rude to Calhoun's underling, Mr. Dayzee. Calhoun tests Canyon's bravery and prowess b setting thugs on him, and then hires him, impressed. Dayzee plots with Calhoun's bodyguard, blackmailing him, to kill Canyon during the mission.
Elements of note:
I liked how Canyon isn't introduced until a week into the strip. Canniff spends a week with Feeta-Feeta being sassy to Mr. Dayzee as we wonder what the lead character is like. And then, on the first Sunday page, he appears... but not until after several incidental characters react to him while he's only partially on-panel.
Feeta-Feeta's unusual nickname is taken from the soldiers in American Samoa -- Fita is Samoan for soldier, and from what I can find online, the Fita Fita Guard was the Samoan Marine Reserve.
I like Copper Calhoun's hooded wrap -- it suggests cobra more than copperhead, but it definitely gets the idea of a snake across.
New Characters of Note:
Steve Canyon, Feeta-Feeta, Copper Calhoun, Mr. Dayzee, Kroom
I love that Caniff's instinct when a character hits for him is to take them offstage, so they make a big splash when they return! That's so counterintuitive, and so smart!
And I'm really excited to see more of what happens with Convoy!
An aircraft is spotted, and Akoona starts communicating with it -- using a television antenna. Steve figures out that with that kind of communication, subs could attack a harbor without even needing to put their periscopes up. They try to escape in a dingy, but it's coated with phosphorescent paint and are recaptured.
Convoy realizes that Akoona has had to put a clamp down on her femininity to be a sub captain, but she's been making a sexy backless gown from a pattern in the secrecy of her cabin. She pulls it out of a safe and models it for Convoy, who tells her that Steve can get her hooked up with Hollywood if she'd only defect.
Acting on this intel, Steve has a similar conversation with Akoona, but they're overheard and she cold-cocks Steve and orders him thrown overboard in a bodybag. They soon capture Happy and do the same. Under Akoona's orders, Convoy slips them each a knife so they can cut themselves free. At the end of the month, Steve emerges, and can't find Happy... but in the first days of August, we see Happy too, and they make their way to an island where a mysterious radio is playing.
Elements of Note:
The reveal of Captain Akoona's ball gown reminds me of nothing so much as a similar reveal in the 1947 Powell & Pressburger film Black Narcissus, about a group of nuns on a mission in the mountains. One has been ordering dresses and makeup in secret, and when we finally see her, it's almost like a horror movie when we finally see the monster. (I highly recommend this movie, BTW.)
There's one imminent, I'm sure.
I think we've probably seen the last of Captain Akoona and Convoy for a little while.
(By the way: I obviously never got around to the "Meanwhile, Two Years in the Future" posts. So I'll probably just recap volume 2 in a story-by-story way, rather than month-by-month, as I won't be rereading it aside from little bits to refresh myself of the details. I'll probably just take the month or so to read another big hardcover, like Jason Lutes's Berlin, while I wait for my recaps to catch up.)
Happy and Steve find themselves marooned on an island near Burma. Like the character Burma from Terry and the Pirates, Fancy is introduced through sound. Instead of singing "St. Louis Blues,"* she plays old records of WWII-era news broadcasts. She also tends to call Steve and Happy "male people." She seems like a good person, but a little kooky. (She seemed more down to earth at the beginning of volume 2, as she's one of the characters we start with there. It'll be interesting to see her progression.)
Fancy lives on the island with her boyfriend Rak, who oversees a plantation on the island. A jealous type, he immediately assumes Fancy plans to step out with Steve, and belts him while Steve is carrying her beach gear back to her house.
Fancy sets it up (through a native servant-type named Soyboy) for Steve and Happy to live in a remote cabin. Rake finds out, and tries to drive them away with some of his workmen -- but as they gather outside their cabin, they're driven away by Rak's original workmen, the local tribesmen he replaced with other local folks (but problematic ones -- drunks and layabouts). It turns out Rak is being paid to intentionally sabotage the crop for his own reasons. This will have the dual effect of preventing the US from getting the resources it's buying, and tanking the island's small economy.
Fancy tells Steve this when Rak hires him and Happy as overseers for the plantation. (A position that perhaps sounded simply like agricultural middle management to much of Caniff's audience at the time, but which now conjures up images of cruel men from Roots and Django Unchained.) His intention is to use them as scapegoats when the crop fails. But Steve and Happy know this going in, and plan to get to the bottom of the scam.
Elements of Note.
I love how Fancy reels Steve in. She lays out Rak's whole plan, but gives herself a veneer of deniability of telling it to him. Instead she says, "I don't know how you found out about this, but Rak's planning on sabotaging the crop," etc... pretending to confirm what Steve already knows, but actually knowingly giving Steve new information. She sees that he's a heroic type, and wants him to stick around to fix this.
We've got Fancy, and Rak, and maybe Soyboy will be influential too? Caniff gives him a memorable name, so probably.
None. We're embarking on a whole new story here.
*Incidentally, I just saw an episode of Boardwalk Empire where a performer sang "St. Louis Blues," and it flashed me right back to Burma.
I agree with you that Fancy is very much like Burma.
MILTON CANIFF ON…
FANCY & RAK: Fancy was a play on “fancy lady.” She was the kind of person who somewhere along the line hooked up with RAK, who was a stinker. RAK was nothing more than a play on RAT. He was a sort of Hitlerish spinoff. Subconsciously I think I was taking out some wrath on that image. Fancy was stuck with RAK, and when a good-looking guy came along, she wished she waited a little longer.
STEVE CANYON EPISODE GUIDE (including were to find them reprinted).
Oh, wow -- cool!
Steve hires the original Mogi crew to work the crops at night, while Soyboy makes sure Rak is drugged and asleep while it happens. Eventually, Rak finds out... as do the people who hired him to scuttle the crop. One takes Steve hostage, but Happy follows them and helps Steve escape.
Rak, meanwhile, explodes with anger, breaking all of Fancy's records -- and we learn that they're the only recordings she has of her late husband's voice. Rak grabs Fancy and tries to choke her to death -- this is some of the most visceral violence I've seen depicted in this comic. Soyboy talks Rak down from his rage, convincing him that word of his killing Fancy would get back to the states...and to his son, whom he's sending money to. He locks himself in his room to calm down; Steve sees the marks on Fancy's throat, and wants to fight him, but is talked out of it.
There's a fire on the plantation! A lot of them, actually -- crops are burning everywhere. This has been deliberately set by the Burmese interests that want the crop to fail. Steve radios for water assistance from the ships at sea, and one comes to help... and on board is Reed Kimberly, Rak's son!
Rak, meanwhile, has been taken captive by the Burmese hoodlums and put in a plane to fly out of there. He bites the pilot's hand, and the plane plunges into the water...just as Reed comes ashore to find his dad.
Elements of Note:
That choking scene was just awful. Perfectly done, but hard to look at.
On the other hand, the colors on the Sunday strip with the fire were just beautiful. Man, these Sunday strips really pull out the stops; gorgeous color every week.
Reed Kimberly! He's definitely got a young Terry vibe about him. Now there's just one more member of the cast to introduce, before we get to where I started with volume 2!
I won't be sad if Rak stays in the drink.
MILTON CANIFF ON…
TERRY LEE: Terry and Hot-Shot Charlie were pilot and co-pilot in Air Cathay. That was their legitimate business but Terry was also an undercover CIA guy. Not fulltime, but an operative depending if something was needed in particular. Which is true. The CIA has people on its payroll all around the world, just like that. They have plenty of volunteers too, but you can’t depend on volunteers, you’ve got to have a hook, a little choker around the neck… pay or retribution or whatever way of controlling them.
REED KIMBERLY: Now I had gone with Canyon as a sort of older Terry in the beginning, but at this point I wanted to reverse fields and come back with somebody young. So I shifted gears and spotlighted Reed Kimberly, to bring in the Terry element. Terry had grown up in front of the cameras so to speak, a Jackie Cooper type. He had no schooling, not even high school. Whereas Kimberly had apparently been around. He was a college guy and an ensign in the navy.
I think I may have discerned why IDW's Steve Canyon may last only only 11 volumes (i.e., though 1968 rather than through 1988). Comic strip collectors are an odd bunch. (Comic book collectors are an odd bunch, too, but may not realize just how odd strip collectors are.)
There seems to be an unspoken agreement among strip collection publishers (and strip collection collectors) that collections, from various publishers, will be sequential. For example, Blackthorne pubilshed Dick Tracy reprints (in a variety of formats) from the beginning through 1964. When they went out of business, SPEC Productions picked up where they left off and published through the end of Chester Gould's run and beyond. then, an upstart company called Checkerbooks began publishing Max Collins' Dick Tracy, and SPEC stepped aside at that point, despite the fact that they were well into Collins' run at the time. Checker published only three volumes before going out of business, and SPEC dutifully piscked up where Checker left off.
A good amount of Little Orphan Annie had been published by (sequentially) Pacific Comics Club, Kitchen Sink Press and Manuscript Press. When IDW announced their series, a letter writing campaign by collectors was launched to persuade IDW to begin their series, not from the beginning, but from where Manuscript Press left off. IDW refursed.
Despite that refusal not to restart Annie, I suspect IDW might intend to reprint Steve Canyon only through 1968, letting the collection(s) of the rest of the run from other publishers stand.
This month is fairly uneventful, in terms of action. It's mostly transitional, as Reed Kimberly is more fully introduced, and Steve, Happy, Reed, and Fancy leave the plantation for adventures elsewhere.
We don't see a body, but Rak and everyone else in the plane have been found, dead. Steve breaks it to Reed as gently as he can, but leaves it to Fancy to console him, in the hopes that being a consoling presence will help Fancy deal with her complicated feelings, too. Reed, on the other hand, falls head over heels for Fancy...especially when she kisses him on the cheek.
When Fancy disembarks as Steve and Happy continue with the voyage, Reed takes her luggage to her hotel... and stays, planning to be her bodyguard. This isn't something Fancy wants... but still she can't quite bring herself to be alone. She knows letting Reed down easy won't work, so she tries to be as mean as she can, telling him to scram.
Meanwhile, at the end of the month, we see the ship's captain have his watch stolen by a blond Burmese lady... who we'll discover is named Cheetah before the year is out.
Elements of Note:
I tend to like the soap opera moments of this strip, and as we get a better look inside Fancy's head, this month has been thick with them.
Looks like Cheetah is on the prowl!
I doubt we'll be seeing Soyboy anytime soon.
ETA: And it looks like Steve and Happy themselves are being moved briefly offstage! I'm sure they'll be back.
MILTON CANIFF ON...
CHEETAH: Then I moved the camera away from Fancy to a more flamboyant character... Cheetah. Any reader with a Webster's can tell you what that means... fastest living mammal. she was a completely amoral person with an accent (always a useful device), who i enjoy bringing back into the picture when I can, I'm using her in a Steve Canyon dream sequence with Pancho villa, which I'm drawing at this very moment. 
I am up to January 1950. When I was so eager for you to "meet" Convoy, I didn't realize that you already had!