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on May 1, 2007
I just can't help but wonder," the magician Harry Houdini wonders at the end of "Houdini: The Handcuff King," a graphic novel by Jason Lutes and Nick Pertozzi, "will anyone even remember me a hundred years from now?"

Who can tell, awash as we are in the flood of current events, movies, books, comic books and other forms of entertainment? He certainly deserves to be, if only as a historical figure, a stage magician who built his reputation by being the best magician and escape artist there ever was, and by making sure everyone knew it.

"Houdini" tells this story by focusing on the events of a single day -- May 1, 1908 -- and a single publicity stunt, in which Houdini leapt into the near-frozen Charles River in Cambridge, Mass., wearing only a bathing suit and shackled at the wrists and ankles. Writer Jason Lutes follows the magician as he works at his craft, is interviewed by the press (and, like modern athletes, showing that he's capable of making them laugh, but also bringing out the claws to defend his reputation) and working with the police while rehearsing his stunt. And even though we know what to expect, he still pulls several surprises, working the reader as well as the audience.

Historical figures do not operate in a vacuum, and neither did Houdini. While watching him work, we're also made aware of the support network he built around him, starting with his loving wife, Bess, who he relied on for emotional support off-stage and as an assistant on-stage. Houdini also needed someone to promote his shows, and to protect him from unscrupulous rivals. It's a measure of the respect he engendered that he took to the grave the secrets of his most spectacular stunts.

"Houdini" also manages to give us a peek into life as it was lived a hundred years ago, before the Internet, before cable television, before VHF and UHF and even before radio and the movies. It was a time when everyone who could turned out to see a great man, even if it was only to see him walk down the street. When, if you wanted to be remembered, you had to be prepared to risk everything, because in person, you couldn't fake it. Houdini didn't fake it, and that's why we still remember him.

Although I believe this book is marketed for teens and younger, I found it an engaging read, but I have an interest in magic and Houdini's life in particular.
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on April 12, 2007
This is the first book in a proposed series of graphic-novel biographies for young readers published by the Center for Cartoon Studies in conjunction with Hyperion Press. It is meant to give just a snapshot of one moment in the life of Harry Houdini, and it delivers on its promise. By selecting one specific incident in the life of the famous magician/showman, the authors give readers a tantalizing glimpse of Houdini's life and accomplishments. In an original graphic novel style, Houdini is shown preparing for and then executing one of his most famous stunts, a death-defying jump off of the Harvard Bridge while handcuffed. His wife, Bess, is accurately depicted as an able accomplice, and readers get a glimpse into the secrets behind Houdini's success. Houdini loved a crowd, and the authors show how he worked his fans into a frenzy of fearful excitement. Large panels, which sometimes cross to the opposite page, along with bold illustrations showing close attention to facial expressions, add plenty of drama to the page.

Houdini's Jewish identity is mentioned only briefly when a Boston policeman wonders aloud if it is true that the showman has horns. As he is being inspected before the stunt, Houdini rebukes the policeman by saying, "mind the horns." A series of panel discussions round out the volume, and one of these explains Houdini's Jewish background and the anti-Semitism that was prevalent at the time.

Fans of the graphic novel format will delight in this creative and suspenseful book, and since there have been a glut of recent books about Houdini, for both children and adults, curious readers who want a more in-depth biography will have an ample selection from which to choose. For ages 10 and up.

Reviewed by Wendy Wasman.
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on December 12, 2007
My first spin through this story was very quick. In barely 80 pages (many without any dialog) the authors tell the story of one of Harry Houdini's famous escapes -- a seemingly ordinary handcuff-and-leg iron escape from the frozen waters of Boston's Charles River. But in telling the tale, the authors have incorporated many elements that ground the story in its time period and the characters that inhabited it. There are references to Houdini's loyal entourage, his protectiveness about his reputation and legacy, his adoration of his wife Bess, antisemitism, purity norms, technology, attack journalism, clothing styles (hats were *not* optional!) and the Harvard-Yale college rivalry. But most of all, the authors let the reader in on the secret of this escape, which involved a thorough understanding of locks, hard physical training, shameless showmanship, utterly loyal friends, and the distracting sight of public kissing.

It's easy to miss much of this on a quick pass. But the authors included a 5-page explanatory section at the end of the story that provides more details about why, for instance, a police officer would think Harry might have horns on his head. A 3-page introduction by author (and illusionism fan) Glen David Gold, provides more background material about Houdini and his times.

"Houdini, The Handcuff King" is a fun and informative exploration of an extraordinary individual whose work in establishing his own fame continues to pay dividends. Accessible for readers 9 and up.
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VINE VOICEon June 7, 2011
This short book is a great introduction to Harry Houdini. In just under a hundred short pages, the authors craft a story about one of Houdini's daring escapes and help to explain who he was when he was not performing. Read this book if you have any interest in Houdini, magic, graphic novels, or escapes. The introduction mentions that people may have loved Houdini partly because he embodied the American Spirit and even freedom itself. After reading this, I agree with him. Houdini was able to capture the spirit of individualism through his show and his impact continues on even today, 85 years after his death. Recommended.
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on December 1, 2008
Of all the tens of thousands of pages of graphic novels and comic books I've read in my life, from mainstream superhero books to indie, slice-of-life strips, this is my absolute favourite.
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on September 17, 2009
Houdini:The Handcuff King is a wonderful graphic novel for anyone interested in one of history's most famous magical entertainers.Done in stark black and white and gray tones the illustrations are simple yet compelling for young and older readers alike. The story of Houdini's life has been told often and the facts have often been sketchy whether in book or movie formats. This retelling shares the basic backstory of Harry and Bess, the Houdinis, in the process of recounting a specific escape episode in the long and successful career of the immigrant to America who grew up to be a global star. A fun and engaging story told in pictures that will cause you to go back after the first time and re-read, studying the picture panels for the details you may have missed. Anyone with an interest in magic, no matter the age, will truly be taken in by this graphic novelization that unlocks the legacy of Houdini, the most well known magician in history.
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"Houdini: The Handcuff King"
by Jason Lutes
(Hyperion Books, 2008)
A fine, fast-flowing graphic novel that tells the tale of a single day in the life of fabled escape artist Harry Houdini, as he spars with the press and dazzles the public, worries over his status as one of the world's most famous people, and performs one of the insane, death-defying acts that made him a legend. Writer/illustrator Jason Lutes has a very rewarding style, and a nice grasp of historical subject matter. This modest volume would make a great resource for anyone researching Houdini, and gives a good sense of what his life was like. It's also a fun read. Recommended! (Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)
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on February 11, 2011
Full of boasting and bragging, this book shows the planning, moodiness, showmanship, and stardom of Houdini. It shows his wife's role in helping him with his illusions, too. Set in Boston, where Houdini leapt from the Charles Bridge into the Harvard River - mostly naked - in winter - handcuffed and leg-ironed - and escaped!

Lots of smooching, some brooding depression. This will not do as a biography, but it might pique your child's interest. Notes at the beginning and end for kids who want to learn more.

Very well done. Kissing is integral to the plot.
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on January 18, 2010
The book is the first-person telling of a possible Houdini escape, and gives insight into his relationship with his wife, his energy and dedication toward his ideals, and the force that is Houdini. The story-telling is straight-forward and fun to read, and can be passed around to historians, Houdini fans, comics-readers, and anyone who has an hour to be inspired.

(I should mention that Houdini is one of the few books I've ever read where the introduction is as good as the book itself!)
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on May 11, 2016
My daughter loves Houdini so we added this to her collection of books about him. She liked it.
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