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A review a day: Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics

Oh, anthologies. Some good stories, some bad stories … unless it’s this collection, which features nothing but awesome!

Noir is published by Dark Horse and costs $12.95. It features stories by – are you sitting down? – David Lapham, Jeff Lemire, Dean Motter, Chris Offutt/Kano/Stefano Gaudiano/Clem Robins, Alex de Campi/Hugo Petrus/Ryan Hill, M. K. Perker, Paul Grist, Rick Geary, Ken Lizzi/Joëlle Jones, Gary Phillips/Eduardo Barreto/Tom Orzechowski, Matthew and Shawn Fillbäch, Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips, and Brian Azzarello/Fábio Moon/Gabrial Bá. Take a deep breath. Dang, that’s a good line-up.

I can’t say there’s a bad story in this book. Some are weirder than others, some puzzle me a little (of course, it’s been fairly well-established that I’m not too bright, so this isn’t surprising), and some don’t seem to be actual crime comics, but those are really minor criticisms. What this book is, really, is a superb collection of stories from creators working at the tops of their games. Some of the stories are predictable, naturally, because of the short space allotted each story – there’s only room for one giant twist in these stories, so some are pretty easy to spot – but when the level of craft is so high, who cares? It’s just fun to sit down and buzz right through this book (it’s only 121 pages long) and enjoy the hell out of the twisted humanity on display here.

Lapham begins the book with a fantastic Virginia Applejack story that has nothing to do with Stray Bullets except that it shows what a clever girl Virginia is even when she’s in a bit of a pickle. It’s probably my favorite story in the collection, but the quality doesn’t go down too much, trust me. Lapham does an excellent job showing how easily manipulated some people can be, and it’s fun to read, even if we know Virginia is going to be fine. Lemire’s story, “The Old Silo,” reminds me of how good he is even though I’ve been disappointed with Sweet Tooth. In a few pages, he gives the characters more personality than we’ve seen so far from Gus and Jepperd, and even though it’s obvious where the story is going, the final image is still fairly chilling.

Dean Motter’s Mister X story is one of the weaker ones in the book, but that might be because I don’t completely understand it. Mister X and Rosetta Stone are trying to figure out a strange murder, and while the solution makes sense (especially in the context of the Mister X universe), I’m not entirely sure what’s going on at the very end. It’s frustrating. But perhaps you get it! Offutt and Kano/Gaudiano’s effort is pretty cool, because I didn’t see the end coming. An old hitman is given a job which he swears will be his last one, but as he waits for his target, he begins to suspect things aren’t as they seem. They aren’t, of course, but the way in which they aren’t is clever. The art is very good, too, as the hitman’s city is a squalid and depressing place, perfect for the tone of the story. “Fracture,” Alex de Campi’s story, is the weirdest one in the book, and I don’t quite get it. It’s a fascinating experiment that twists back around on itself and gives us a marvelous final page, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be anything more than that. Petrus, however, is fantastic on it – his art looks strangely like Adam Hughes, which is weird because it doesn’t in anything else I’ve seen him draw. It’s a neat little tale, but I don’t know what exactly de Campi is trying to say with it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to check out!

Moving on, we get M. K. Perker’s “The Albanian,” which is the most “humorous” in the book (as humorous as something so blood-drenched can be, as this features the most dead people in the collection). It focuses on a late-night janitor in an office building and what happens one night when he discovers a terrible crime. It’s mainly funny because of the janitor’s invisibility to others around him, and it ends rather sweetly. Paul Grist gives us a short Kane story which is fun until the enigmatic final page. Again, I must be missing something, because I’m not sure I get it. There’s a burglar, a frame job, and Kane seems to give up on the case. What’s up with that? Rick Geary’s story of a man who suspects his wife of having an affair and hires an assassin to kill her is nice and twisted and also ends sweetly, even if it remains twisted.

Ken Lizzi’s prose story is next, and introduces the theme for the rest of the collection: femme fatales. The first part of the book doesn’t feature any, but beginning with Lizzi’s, we get four straight with women who like to wrap their men around their fingers, but what’s cool about each story is that each creator puts a different spin on it. Sonja, Lizzi’s femme fatale, hooks an ordinary guy into a scheme to steal $200,000 from a drug dealer who uses her as a courier, but the plan doesn’t go as planned, of course. Susan, a plump girl in Phillips and Barreto’s “The New Me,” goes a gym to get fit and gradually becomes the kind of woman the philandering personal trainer would like to get with, but does Susan have a bigger plan than that? And what does the guy in the wheelchair have to do with it? The Fillbächs’ beautifully illustrated story (it reminds me of John K. Snyder’s work) tells of a woman who has hooked up with a gangster and is getting bored with him … and then a stranger walks into her life, and she sees an opportunity to move on. Finally, Brubaker and Phillips tell a story of a man who falls hard for a woman who, of course, wants him to take care of her husband for her. Those things never work out for the guy, do they? We know what’s coming, but Brubaker and Phillips put their own twisted spin on it. Azzarello’s story to finish the book, wonderfully drawn by Moon and Bá, seems like it’s going to be a fairly standard “guy gets in over his head for some easy money” story until the final page, when we realize it’s something far more sinister. It’s a great final page if you’ve read comics before – it’s the only one where some knowledge of comics history might make a difference in your enjoyment of the tale.

This is really a superb collection. It’s fun to read, allows the creators to do some wild things, and looks great. There’s not one clunker in the book. Here’s a few panels from each story, just for fun:

Lapham: 'Open the Goddamn Box' Lemire: 'The Old Silo' Motter: 'Yacht on the Styx' Offutt, Kano, Gaudiano: 'The Last Hit' De Campi, Petrus: 'Fracture' Perker: 'The Albanian' Grist: 'The Card Player' Geary: 'Blood on My Hands' Lizzi, Jones: 'Trustworthy' Phillips, Barreto: 'The New Me' Fillbächs: 'Lady's Choice' Brubaker, Phillips: '21st Century Noir' Azzarello, Moon, Bá: 'The Bad Night'

If you’re a fan of noir stories, you should get this immediately. Even if you aren’t, this is the kind of book that is cool to read just to see the various creators assembled. And the price is right, too! Check it out today!

10 Comments

I really enjoyed this book a lot. The best part is that many of them deserve a second read through, so you definitely get your moneys worth.

As I understood the Grist story, the head cop seemed to be in league with the crime boss who was the burglar’s fifth victim, therefore he called off the rest of the cops so that the the crime boss could make an example of the burglar.

I have to say, the Brubaker/Phillips story was the biggest disappointment to me, if only because it was basically a point-for-point updating of Sin City: Daddy’s Little Girl. I mean, I get that you can only tell so many stories, but just adding in modern technology and removing the incest angle doesn’t really do enough to convince me that this was a telling of the story that set it apart from previous versions. However, I can’t really say if this is because of some failing on Brubaker and Phillips’s part or simply the shadow Frank Miller casts over contemporary noir comics in my mind.

Still, on the whole this was a great collection. Absolutely loved the Lapham and Azzarello/Moon and Bá stories, the Azzarello one especially forming a perfect way to end the book, as it kind of points to that period of comics ending and turning into something else (don’t want to give it away for those who haven’t read the story, the last page reveal was by far my favorite part).

Dave: Yeah, I got that part, I just didn’t understand the last panel, where it seems like they just give up on the case. I don’t want to give any more away, though.

I see your point with regard to the Brubillips story. I knew where it was going, but I just like looking at Phillips’ work (especially in black and white) and reading Brubaker’s dialogue, even if the plot wasn’t as good as some of the others in the collection.

I don’t know if I read it as “giving up on the case” so much as just dropping a CSI: Miami-esque one-liner to close out the story. There’s realistically not more they could do to investigate at that point anyway given how the story ended.

I guess it didn’t come across as unclear to me, but I didn’t read the pawn shop guy’s stuff as a frame job, just the criminals wanting to make an example to the burglar to both the cops and other criminals. Then again, I wasn’t aware this story was about a recurring character either, so maybe I’m just reading this one wrong.

In my opinion, the Azzarello story alone at the end was almost worth the price of the book. It was just that damn good.

The Lapham story absolutely had something to do with Stray Bullets. It was a lose plot point that was never addressed in the unfinished last story arc.

Oh, okay, djsweet. I haven’t read that far in Stray Bullets yet. Even so, you can read it without knowing that and enjoy it, as I did!

This was a really nice collection. I wonder if Dark Horse is planning another. Thanks for the review!

Thanks for the review, Greg. This is on my Amazon wish list because I like a bit of noir and that is a fine assemblage of comic book creators. You just sealed the deal.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

December 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I was a bit disappointed with this – only because Lapham, Brubaker and Azzarello are so far ahead of the pack that it’s depressing.
Really, although there’s nothing wrong with most of them, they in no way shine like the those three’s stories do, and are quite diminished by being near them.

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