Red Is The Darkest Color and The Devil Was Green, by Brett A. Brooks – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Red is the Darkest Color, by Brett A. Brooks
Atlanta, GA, Pandahead Publishing, June 2016, trade paperback, $15.95 ([4 +] 280 [+ 2] pages), Kindle $2.99.
The Devil Was Green, by Brett A. Brooks
Atlanta, GA, Pandahead Publishing, January 2017, trade paperback, $15.95 ([3 +] 278 pages), Kindle $2.99.
Pussy Katnip owns and is the popular chanteuse at the Kit Kat Klub in Mutt Town. But she’s not reluctant to step outside her club to help someone in need – especially if this involves clashing with an old enemy:
“With more than a slight jag to his turn, Todd looked back at the stage, and then back to the bartender. ‘Does … well, that is to say, do you know if Miss Katnip ever sees any of the people who come to see her?’
Robby snorted softly. ‘Depends on who it is and what they want. You a fan?’
‘I … truthfully, I’ve never heard Miss Katnip sing before.’ He picked up the scotch and took a small sip. ‘I was hoping that I might …’ There was a moments [sic.] pause, followed by Todd taking a much larger sip and then looking Robby in the eye. ‘I’ve heard that Miss Katnip can help people. Sometimes at least. I was truly hoping that she might see me tonight.’
‘Oh.’ Robby nodded. ‘Well, y’see, Miss Katnip tries to keep a low profile, y’know? She’s not the type who goes out and gets in trouble herself.’ Casually, Robby scratched under his chin. ‘But, just for conversation purposes, what is it you was wanting to talk to Miss Katnip about? You got law troubles?’
‘What? No. No, nothing like that.’ Todd sat up straight. ‘The police and I … they haven’t been an issue. In fact, they haven’t been willing to talk to me much at all.’” (Red, pgs. 4-5)
When Todd Crocker comes into her club looking for help against a mob boss who is threatening him, he is told not to worry. Boss Dogg and his chief enforcer Mugsy are familiar adversaries. Pussy visits Boss’ rival night club, the Dogg House, during the day when it’s closed and persuades him and Mugsy to leave Todd alone:
“Faster than the eye could follow, Pussy grabbed the chair and raised it up, smashing it against the brute attacking her. Splinters of wood showered down as Mugsy flew up into the air, landing hard on the ground.
She was on him instantly. Grabbing him by the shirt, she spun around, flinging him over ten feet into the seating area. The table and chairs he met did not respond well, and the sound of cracking wood filled the space.
Pussy looked to Boss. ‘Don’t move.’ He didn’t.
‘Here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to drop everything that Mr. Crocker owes you. You aren’t going to bother him, or even remember that he exists. Your dealings with him are through. Am I clear?’ She stopped inches away from him.
‘Yeah. Yeah, sure.’ He nodded rapidly.” (Red, pgs. 20-22)
Pussy seems to be the clear winner, until a mystery vixen, Foxy Kitt, offers to take care of Pussy for free. All that Boss Dogg needs to do is to get Foxy hired as a singer at the Kit Kat Klub.
Their plot involves getting rid of the Kit Kat’s other singer, Jenny Foal. Foxy Kitt appears to be an innocent replacement when Jenny abruptly quits and leaves Mutt Town. Pussy, suspicious, goes after her, leaving Foxy free to work.
Pussy finds herself confronted in Big City by crooked Bulldog Baxter and more of his goons than she expects. She needs her super-strength potion.
“In the hours that she waited at the station for the noon train, Pussy swirled the bottle in front of her countless times. There was barely enough to even register. One dose. That’s all she had left. No way that she could handle all those goons with just one dose. She needed to get back to the club. To her supply.” (Red, p. 85)
But it’s not there. Foxy has been busy. She has the fizz now, and she knows how to use it.
- § § § § § § § § § §
Pussy Katnip is not Brett A. Brooks’ creation. In a Foreword to Red is the Darkest Color, he explains how he found her in an old comic book of the 1940s. Pussy Katnip was probably the most obscure, most forgotten, most improbable, and ugliest funny-animal series ever created. Brooks considers it his one-man mission to rescue her from obscurity.
Brooks isn’t a cartoonist, so he has done this through a series of novels and short stories rather than comic books; the two novels reviewed here, and the Kindle short stories Under the Gray, A Hand of Gold, and The Hillside Murder Club. (The protagonist in the last is detective Lila Ringtail, a supporting character in The Devil Was Green.)
Brooks can do this because the comic books that Pussy Katnip appeared in have long been discontinued. Their publisher went bankrupt in 1950; nobody knows anything about the signed “Len Short” (it may be a pseudonym); the copyrights have all expired; and nobody cares, anyway. Look at the sample here from the original comics and decide: would you want to claim responsibility for this?
The combination of crime noir thriller and superheroes never worked well before, although Brooks does a much better than usual job of blending them here. He has made a couple of slight changes: he has turned Pussy’s Katnip Kafe into the Kit Kat Klub (“Kafe” was not convincing as the name of the night club shown in the comics). He has turned Robert the bartender from a pig into Robby, a bird (robin?), and Mugsy from a fox into a wolf. And he has lessened the funny-animal atmosphere by describing background characters as “men”: a hog-like man, the bull-like man, a cute little lamb of a girl, a wolfish man. But this works against the nature of the Pussy Katnip stories as funny-animal stories. If you are not familiar with the 1940s comic books, you’ll never know that the bartender was originally a pig or that Mugsy was a fox. And there is no way to know what new characters like Todd Crocker are supposed to be.
- § § § § § § § § § §
Red is the Darkest Color (cover by Valentina Barmina) appears to be somewhat inspired by one of the original comic-book stories; the four-page “Eviction Enigma” in All Your Comics, a December 1944 132-page one-shot. Brooks has combined that with his own origin story of Pussy and of the Katnip clan’s ancestral fizz.
The Devil Was Green (cover by Toth “Darbaras” Dávid László) begins with an old friend of Pussy’s appearing in the Kit Kat Klub:
“The sixth row. Table eighteen, to be precise. She weaved her way to it without pause, and before she arrived the only person at the table was already standing.
Pussy stopped three feet away from her. The other woman stood shorter than Pussy. A delicate white covered her body. Long ears lopped down on either side of her face, peeking out from under a stylish coiffure of platinum blond hair. If you knew where to look, you could see a dark brown patch over her right eye, hidden by a good bit of makeup. Pussy knew exactly where to look.
‘Of all the clubs in all the world …’ Pussy shook her head. ‘I never expected to see you here.’
‘Sorry, Princess,’ the bunny’s voice was soft but clear. ‘I didn’t see a sign telling me to keep out.’
‘It’s been a long time, Spot.’ Pussy shook her head.” (Green, pgs. 2-3)
Pussy introduces Spot, Coney Hase, to Robby and tells him how they used to be old friends; that when Pussy came to Mutt Town, they shared a room in a cheap rooming house and were waitresses together in a diner. When Robby leaves, Coney gets more intimate:
“Her hand stayed wrapped around the drink in her hand, but Coney did look up at Pussy. ‘I’m sorry. I … I really am happy to see you, Pussy. I wanted to come here. Honest. It’s just …’
‘Just what?’ Pussy prodded.
‘It’s kinda difficult to come in here and see,’ Coney’s head turned as she took a quick look around, ‘all of this. It’s hard to know your friend is a big star when you’re as much a … a loser as I am.” (Green, p. 9)
Coney gets drunk, makes a big scene accusing Pussy of being a false friend, and storms out. Pussy goes to the apartment house where Coney is staying, just in time to find her being murdered:
“Pussy blinked and shook her head. A moment later she put her shoulder into the door a second time. The door exploded off its hinges, falling to the ground in three pieces.
A female figure lay on the ground. She was bruised and beaten, but Pussy recognized her at first glance. Above her stood a man. At least Pussy thought it was a man.
He was tall. Well over seven feet. His skin was alabaster in color, with an obvious rough texture. At the end of his hands were long, curved claws. Similar claws were at the end of his long, three-toed feet. A thick, scaled tail slid back and forth over the floor behind him. Running from the tip of the tail, up his back, and onto his head were a series of raised black spines. These spines became hundreds of smaller quills, curling back off his head like jagged black hair. Two brilliant yellow eyes stared towards her above his snout. And it looked as though smoke rolled out of his nostrils.” (Green, pgs. 16-17)
Pussy is suspected of Coney’s murder. She escapes from Mutt Town’s police to find Coney’s fantastic killer and prove her own innocence, but she is closely pursued by relentless police detective Lila Ringtail (featured on László’s cover):
“She leaned out the window, looking at the glass. Clean shards of glass scattered all the way to the edge of the platform. She pulled herself back inside.
‘Anybody been down below?’ Lila asked.
‘I don’t know,’ the officer [a pig] answered.
‘Okay, well, then stop what you’re doing and go down to that alley. Let me know if you see any blood down there.’ She pointed out the window.
‘I’m supposed to look for prints,’ he responded.
‘Okay. Then go look for prints down in the alley. And while you’re down there, do me a favor and see if there’s any blood.’ She took the cigarette out of her mouth and tapped the ashes outside the window.
‘I’m not –’
‘Do it!’ Any hint of request was gone. This was an order.” (Green, pgs. 29-30)
Will Pussy be able to stay ahead of Lila long enough to find the real killer – whatever it is?
The Pussy Katnip novels and short stories are funny-animal crime noir/superhero fiction that you can’t find anywhere else. Brett A. Brooks has four other books out from his Pandahead Publishing, including Edible Complex featuring teenage zombies, and a set of seven art prints featuring the Pussy Katnip cast.
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