25 Nov 2009


By Matt C

Writers: Various
Art: Various
Dark Horse Comics $12.95

If you've stepped inside a comic shop over the last year then you'll probably have noticed there's been something of a resurgence in the popularity of crime comics, from Brubaker's phenomenal Criminal to DC’s Vertigo Crime line of graphic novels. It's entirely appropriate that this has happened, the only head-scratcher being why it didn't happen any sooner. The medium’s roots can be found in the pulp magazines of the '20s, '30s and '40s, and while they also dealt with muscled supermen and alien worlds - which helped ignite the popularity of the superhero genre - a good many of the pulps dealt with villains, anti-heroes, private eyes, guns, gangsters and general hardboiled shenanigans.

With plenty of publishers now jumping aboard the crime ‘bandwagon’ (if it’s fair to call it that since crime comics have always been a mainstay of the industry) Dark Horse has joined in with the recently released Noir: A Collection Of Crime Comics, an impressive package with an enviable roster of creators. Along with the likes of Ed Brubaker, Brian Azzarello and David Lapham, there are several lesser-known names as well as folks you’ll possibly never have heard of (but in many cases you’ll find yourself wanting to see more of their work).

Calling this book Noir does rankle be a bit though: to me, the word ‘noir’ evokes shadowy back streets, duplicitous dames, and bruised and battered anti-heroes who’re a little out of their depth. Noir however, is much broader than that, encompassing a wide variety of crime and criminal acts (although it’s questionable whether Alex Di Campi’s contribution can actually sit comfortably inside the genre at all). This doesn’t detract from the quality of the stories, it just seems like the wrong choice of word, although if you look at the copyright page you may wonder if Dark Horse have actually managed to trademark the word ‘noir’!
Chris Offutt’s hitman-based tale (with terrific visuals form Kano and Stefano Gaudiano) and Ken Lizzi’s prose-heavy short are highlights, but it does save the best until last by placing the contribution's from Brubker and Azzarello - the two guys who are angularly more well-versed in the crime genre than many of their peers - right at the end. Brubaker is joined by regular collaborator Sean Phillips on art duties for a brief but tough Criminal story featuring the same alluring seediness and undercurrent of explosive violence that’ll be familiar to any fan of the ongoing series. Azzarello delivers the cream of the crop though, joining forces with the Brazilian twin-brother art team of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba to cleverly subvert a familiar origin story to thrilling effect. These two entries slot perfectly into what I understand the definition of 'noir' to be, and are textbook examples of how to deliver a strong and succinct tale of bad deeds within just a few pages.

Although the quality varies when you read this book from cover to cover, it does provide an excellent snapshot of what crime comics are capable of in 2009, and anyone who's more than a casual observer of this type of storytelling would be advised to investigate these vignettes of life on the wrong side of the law. 7/10

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