Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Andrew and the guys over at GrayHaven Magazine have done a great job this week of dissecting the state of the art in crime comics right now. Just by editing this column each week, I’m being forced back to comics stores for more titles than ever before, and it looks like I have a few new things I’m going to have to hunt down this week. Thanks, guys...
Andrew from Grayhaven here. Rob Schamberger, one of our columnists, and writer of the forthcoming Believer from Image Comics, suggested having us write a piece on Crime Comics. So Rob, Alan Doane of Comicbookgalaxy.com, Jack Blake, Denny Haynes, Barry Wolborsky, Mike Yaremko and myself picked a few of our favorites to cover. With any of these types of lists, you open yourself up to incredible scrutiny because someone’s going to hate what you left out and someone is going to hate what you put in. Some of the choices were obvious, others not so much. This isn’t the list of the top Crime Comics of all time; just the ones that struck us as the most memorable right now.
THE CRIME COMIC SCENE
crime 1: an act or the commission of an act that is forbidden or the omission of a duty that is commanded by a public law and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law; esp: a gross violation of law 2: a grave offense esp. Against morality 3: criminal activity
4: something reprehensible, foolish, or disgraceful
-Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
Crime. There's something taboo about it. Sure, it's illegal, but only if you get caught. If you don't get caught, you're just taking a risk, doing something bad, you're pushing the boundaries. When a group of friends get together over a beer, eventually they start telling their wild stories of their illegal activities. We all love hearing these stories, but even more, we love telling them.
Crime movies and novels are a huge part of entertainment in America. Tales of lone gunmen, dirty dames, private dicks, and body counts. People love these darker sides of life, experiencing them vicariously.
The crime genre has always been a part of American comic books, and lately has been gaining more and more popularity. Below is a sampling of some of the best that the genre has to offer. So light up a cigarette, pour yourself a drink, and make sure to watch your reflection in the screen, because you don't know who's behind you.
Written and Illustrated by Brian Michael Bendis
Published by Image Comics
AKA Goldfish is written and illustrated by Brian Michael Bendis. Yes, the same Brian Bendis who’s knocking it out of the park monthly with his creator-owned POWERS and Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up. Yes, the same Bendis who blew your minds away with Jinx, Torso, Fire, and Fortune & Glory! I know you’ve read those books. If you haven’t, be sure to do so.
Goldfish is about a grifter who’s come back to town to get his son from his old love, only to find out she’s now in charge of the city’s seedier side with a nice twist at the end. This book reads like a movie. It opens with a bang and doesn’t let go until you close the book. It has Bendis’ trademark dialogue, his use of photomontage, and some really neat usage of illustrated prose writing. As always Bendis holds nothing back to tell one great crime story!
Honestly, what can I say about Goldfish or Bendis that hasn’t already been said? Brian is a master of the crime noir genre. He knows how to use dialogue, mood, shadows, facial expressions, flashbacks, everything to his advantage. Every page is laid out perfectly. The man can flat out do it all.
The Goldfish Definitive Collection also has a prose story that you can only find in the trade. It is available through Image Comics for $19.95. If you like Powers, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis you need to do yourself a service and pick up his other creator-owned titles. You will be glad you did.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Illustrated by Michael Gaydos
Published by Marvel Comics/MAX
The series stars Jessica Jones, a former super-hero who now runs her own PI firm, Alias Investigations, which deals in the pretty ordinary world of missing people and cheating spouses. The backdrop, though, is against a world where there are superheroes and the ramifications of living in that world can be a fascinating aspect of this series. As you can tell from the preview here, the guy who hired Jessica seems more disturbed that his wife could be a mutant than the fact she could have been cheating on him. Little details like this provide limitless opportunities for future stories.
Jessica’s life as a superhero before she became an investigator is a life that we only get small, tantalizing glimpses of: a photo here or a comment there. We don’t know how she got from hanging out with the ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ to working in a little PI shop, but the bits and pieces that the reader does discover make for wonderful clues. Jessica is a very complex character. She smokes too much. She drinks too much. She talks too much. Her life is one of excess, good or bad. She maintains a tough exterior, but she has her flaws and she’s well aware of them, which make for a more interesting character.
The dialogue in this book is as sharp as you’d expect from Bendis and he’s at the top of his game here. Three time losers, smart-ass cops, and protagonists that are even bigger smart asses are his domain. He also has an uncanny ability to write a strong, intelligent female lead (Jinx, Deena Pilgrim in Powers and now Jessica Jones) without having it come off as clichÃ©d or unrealistic. New comic readers will be in for a treat, and perhaps get spoiled when they read the way Bendis outlines his book. People interrupt each other, have their sentences ignored and do all the things that you’d expect from an actual conversation, not from reading a comic book. As always, he does it masterfully.
Gaydos’ art is amazing to look at. You’d think that since the copy we read was in black and white, some magic might have been lost in the transition, but it simply isn’t the case. The raw emotion he puts into the characters’ faces is incredible and the use of shadow and light as focal points in which to direct reader attention works very, very well. His art actually reminds me of Bendis’ earlier artistic efforts on Jinx and Torso what with his attention to detail and the contrasts in light/dark. I am not sure what Gaydos has worked on before, but when all is said and done I think that everyone is going to know who he is.
Written and Illustrated by Guy Davis
Published by Caliber Comics
As one would infer from the title, the comic “Baker Street” shoots for more of a Sherlock Holmes-ian vibe than, say, a “Baretta” or “Rockford Files.” In London, we follow the exploits of ex-police detective Sharon Ford, her punk friend Sam and Susan Pendergast, an American student renting a room from Sharon. Sharon patrols the punk scene in London, making sure things don’t get too out of hand, without involving the police.
In their first outing, “Honour Among Punks,” our trio finds itself in the middle of murder, robbery and gang fights, which bring unwanted attention down on the punk sub-culture from the police.
Sharon then takes on several murders in “Children of the Night,” with the outcome hitting way to close to home.
Though not exactly a Holmes’ disciple, Sharon does rely mostly on her investigative techniques, but she doesn’t have any problem with fists and bullets if that’s what it takes.
I hesitate to even mention it, but “Baker Street” actually takes place in an “alternate reality.” Co-creator/writer/artist Guy Davis and co-creator Gary Reed so loved the gothic architecture of London, they wanted to make sure they used it in their series. Problem was, a lot of it was destroyed during World War II. Their solution: set the story in a world where WWII never happened. This was also used as something of an explanation as to why the punk scene was thriving in the late ’80s/early ’90s when it actually wasn’t anymore, in the real world, anyway.
As it was, it was just backdrop in the series’ 10 regular issues and one special; but this alternate history could have seriously -- and needlessly -- bogged down and cluttered what was an engrossing detective/crime story. Davis and Reed should have just used the gothic buildings and had a bunch of punks running around. No explanations. No apologizes.
Davis recently has expressed some interest in reviving the series, so maybe the original material will also find its way back on the shelves again in one form or another.
By Greg Rucka and illustrated by various
Published by DC Comics
Everyone knows about Batman. The symbol on his chest is one of the most recognized in the world. But not everyone knows about the world that he lives in. Batman is not the only guardian of Gotham City. There are also the cops. And therein rests the setting for this engrossing piece of serial fiction.
There is nothing else quite like this title being made today, comic books or otherwise. This is a story about cops, living in one of the most dangerous cities ever created in fiction, and doing everything that they can to protect it. Yes, the stories do occasionally revolve around Batman, but mostly they have more of their pages devoted to the policemen and women of the Gotham City Police Department.
Writer Greg Rucka, one of the premier crime novelists of today, has taken over as the scribe for this title. He brings a childhood admiration of Batman and an adulthood of living in the real world and creates one of the most compelling stories currently being made. The art is never anything flashy, as this title is not about flash, but rather substance. The title's main artist, Shawn Martinbrough, has a strong mastery over composition and characterization, fleshing out Mr. Rucka's scripts beautifully. One of the things truly unique to the title is the coloring, which is always limited to a two-color palette, with only tints and shades of those colors being used. The whole package is wrapped up beautifully in covers by Dave Johnson, who is also the cover artist for 100 Bullets.
This is a comic that gets better every time I read it. Mr. Rucka has woven a truly masterful world of story potential, and realizes said potential with every issue. This is a great and easily accessible story that anyone could enjoy.
Written by Don McGregor and Illustrated by Alex Simmons
Published by Eclipse Comics
A Remembrance of Threatening Green (graphic novel: 1980; two-issue series reprint: 1985)
A Terror of Dying Dreams (1987)
Before most of the other titles on this list were even germs of ideas in the fevered imaginations of their creators, there was “Detectives, Inc.”
Originally created in 1969 and self-published in the early 1970s by creator/writer Don McGregor and artist Alex Simmons, most of us got our first look at New York private investigators Ted Denning and Bob Rainer in 1980’s “A Remembrance of Threatening Green” graphic novel (later reprinted in a two-issue mini-series) penciled by the great Marshall Rogers.
McGregor sought to create a realistic private detective comic book, and he succeeded in spades, producing a violent, touching and emotional story.
In “Threatening Green,” Denning and Rainer are hired by a midwife to find her female lover’s killer.
As with most of McGregor’s work (including “Nathaniel Dusk,” further down on this list), what’s going on with the characters, how they relate to one another and the others in their lives, is equally as important as the plots they find themselves in.
McGregor is as interested in why people do what they do and how they deal (or are unable to deal) with the demons they carry around. For the detectives, sometimes it seems the case is just a way of distracting them from their own problems, such as Denning’s attempts to deal with killing a teenage boy to save his partner in the prologue to the story, or Rainer’s ever-present strained relationship with his ex-wife.
(Incidentally, the “A Remembrance of Threatening Green” mini-series also contains a text piece about the travails of the comic book writer; a must-read for any aspiring writers.)
In the second mini-series, 1987’s “A Terror of Dying Dreams” (actually a comic-book adaptation of the Detectives, Inc. movie McGregor wrote and directed, recently completed and shown at this year’s San Diego Comic Con) Denning and Rainer are hired by a social worker to follow an abusive husband and the boys find themselves hip-deep in charity scams and adultery. All the while, both still try to get a handle on their own lives like Denning’s awkward relationship with his father and ill mother, and Rainer’s inability to relate to women.
This three-issue series was penciled by Gene Colan (who also teamed with McGregor on “Nathaniel Dusk”) and printed in sepia tones, without inks or colors giving the whole proceedings a beautiful, gritty look.
Written by Alan Moore and Illustrated by Eddie Campbell
Published by Kitchen Sink Press
Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell have crafted what is one of the greatest comic book works of all time. Dealing with the mystery of Jack the Ripper, the duo tell a story that outshines any other written about the famous serial killer. Everyone has a theory as to who the Ripper really was, and each year offers new evidence as to the killer’s true identity. This series focuses on the Masonic conspiracy that's the heart of this book. While their analysis of who the Ripper was may not be one that you agree with, there is no doubt that you’ll be impressed by the road it takes to get to the resolution and the aftermath.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the story is the accompanying annotations at the end of each chapter. They fill the reader in on what exactly is happening in the story, as well as citing the sources for their research. Again, while you can disagree on their selection of the Ripper’s true identity, there is no denying the work that was put into their story. This isn’t just one of the best Ripper stories, it seems to be the most historically accurate. Their representation of 1888 Whitechapel is startlingly realistic, and reading it, you get a feeling as if you’re witnessing a comic reproduction of the definitive story, and not just a hypothesis.
Moore has made use of the incredible library of Ripper lore, taking the facts and theories presented by various sources and using them to tell his own defining version of the legacy. Moore creates a nightmarish, and sometime hallucinogenic world in which the mood of the story is as horrific as the acts of the Ripper himself. Aided by Eddie Campbell’s striking renditions of Whitechapel and the townspeople themselves, the visual pleasures the reader receives from the story are increased tenfold.
From Hell is not only a completely logical interpretation of the legacy of Jack the Ripper, but once completed, it transcends the limited boundaries of the comic book medium, become a masterful work. Period.
Hell and Back: A Sin City Love Story
Written and illustrated by Frank Miller
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Normally when you see "A Sin City Love Story" emblazoned across one of Frank Miller's latter day works, you might assume he's being tongue-in-cheek. After all, Sin City is a series that has made its name on violence and, well, sin. There's been a lot of sex, but not a whole lotta love. He's serious, though; among all the havoc and corruption of Basin City, this is a story about two people who fall in love.
Wallace is a cynical ex-soldier with a head full of bees who, quite by accident, prevents Esther from committing suicide one summer night. Their brief, chance meeting stokes a fire in Wallace, who loses Esther almost as quickly as he found her.
In the dog eat dog world of Basin City, most guys would probably forget about the girl and move on, thankful that they didn't get sucked in to whatever black hole took her away. Wallace, though, goes on a relentless campaign to find her.
Miller seems to break with a lot of Sin City convention here, including a cop whose soul is not yet completely corrupted (and who evokes Nick Manolis from Miller's Daredevil run), and something actually approaching a happy ending. The art, too, is a little more detailed and airy than we usually get in this series; not so many silhouettes, and a surprisingly effective colour sequence (featuring the amazing pallette of Lynn Varley).
There have been times I have grown weary of the cynicism and themes of Sin City. In Hell and Back, though, Miller stretches his creative muscles more than we've seen in a while, and once again earns his reputation as one of the best, most intriguing writer/artists in comics.
JINX: The Definitive Collection
Written and Illustrated by Brian Michael Bendis
Published by Image Comics
Wow! What a package! It’s 1 ¼” thick! No, I’m not talking about Brian, get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about his book, Jinx. This has got to be the best trade paperback I have ever bought! Can you sense my enthusiasm and excitement for this book already? I have sat on my couch and looked at my bookshelf, staring at how nice that trade looks on it. Is that normal?
Brian Michael Bendis is one of the hottest writers out there, and deservedly so. His star took off with his Image title POWERS and Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man, but he had a foundation for good storytelling and art long before, with books like Fire, AKA Goldfish, Jinx, Torso, and Fortune & Glory. Bendis has recently come out with his definitive line of trades: better paper, remastered art and lettering, and new covers. Brian is big into DVD’s with tons of extras, so when given the chance to do the same for his comics, he rose to the occasion. The Jinx trade is one of my favorites. It has a ton of story, 14 issues worth, and a ton of extras. Coming in at 480 pages in total, this trade is the best buy of the year at the low, low price of $24.95. The man just knows what we want. He speaks our language, because he is a fan too.
The best part of Jinx is the story, go figure. From the moment I opened to the first page I was hooked. It’s about a bounty hunter - Jinx, two grifters - Goldfish and Columbia, and a treasure hunt, as well as a love story to round it out. This is a character driven piece with a lot of great dialogue, self-reflection, a really cool flashback sequence, and all out action. A lot of things are going on in this book to tell one spectacular story. Crime noir at its best!
Bendis did some really cool things in this comic. He utilized a technique Jim Steranko perfected back on Nick Fury with photo montaging, one of the flashback sequences was all done using photos, a dream sequence was in a Silver Age style, a couple 24-panel pages for good measure, and Bendis’ trademark dialogue. Brian is just a jack of all trades in this book showing a full range of talent.
I guarantee you will not want to put it down once you start reading it. The story just sucks you in, gripping would be a good term. I can pick up this book and turn to any page, start reading and not want to put it down.
If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for? Go out to your local comic or bookstore and buy it. If they don’t have it in stock, order a copy and tell them to carry it!
Check out this link for more information on Jinx –
Murder Me Dead
Written and illustrated by Dave Lapham
Published by El Capitan
There are two original American art forms: Jazz and Comic Books. Jazz is a loose form of improvisational music, where the composer says, "Hey, you'll match up with him there, and she'll sing some scat here, then we'll all bring it together and just swing these people out." At first it seems loosely plotted out, but it all leads up to something big. Comic books are a merging of story and art, where the pictures are put side by side, above and below, with the story flowing through them to bring it all together. Murder Me Dead is somewhere between jazz and comic books.
Dave Lapham starts out with this guy's wife dying here, his ex-girlfriend showing up over there, the revenge-seeking in-laws in the back, and the ex (now current again) girlfriend's mobster ex- boyfriend stirring it all up. The story revolves around Steven Russell and the whirlwind that his life has become. Oh yeah, he's also a jazz pianist.
Lapham's beautifully executed panel layouts, in conjunction with his sly illustrations, bring this captivating story to life. The reader is sucked in from the first page, feeling the warmth in the air, getting out of the way of the EMT's hefting the step ladder around the room, hearing the Miles Davis playing in the background, and wondering why the woman hanging from the ceiling fan has only one shoe on.
Written by Don McGregor and illustrated by Gene Colan
Lovers Die at Dusk (1983)
Apple Peddlers Die at Noon (1985)
Published by DC Comics
More of the traditional “hard-boiled” hero, DC Comics published two four-issue series in the mid-’80s starring 1930s P.I. Nathaniel Dusk: “Lovers Die at Dusk” and “Apple Peddlers Die at Noon.”
Both series were written by Don McGregor and illustrated by Gene Colan.
“Lovers,” published in 1983, has Dusk investigating the murder of his own girlfriend, who had more than one secret in her past.
“Apple Peddlers,” published in 1985, is more of an actual mystery than “Lovers,” as World War I vet and ex-cop Dusk is hired to protect an apple peddler from death threats and, failing that, trying to find out why anyone would want someone who sells apples on the street dead.
Along with McGregor’s near obsessive attention to detail and period authenticity (incorporating into the Dusk stories real-life heat waves, taxi driver strikes and men getting arrested for showing too much at the beach), Colan’s sketchy, faded pencils and Tom Ziuko’s washed-out colors do an amazing job of creating a 1930s feel for both series.
McGregor and Colan give readers a vivid glimpse into the desperation, fear and brutality of Depression-era New York and tell some good, old-fashioned suspense tales.
Written by Brian Azzarello and Illustrated by Eduardo Risso
Published by DC Comics
Your life sucks. Something really bad has happened to you somewhere along the line, turning your existence into a sad little puddle next to the toilet in a badly lit bar bathroom. Then a man hands you an attache with a gun, one hundred untraceable rounds, and a picture of the person that single-handedly ruined your life. What do you do?
That is the premise of this hauntingly realistic portrayal of modern life. What do you do? You are given carte blanche to exact revenge on those that ruined your life. Will that improve your life? Does it make you better than them? Do you care? And how the hell can this man provide all of this for you?
The characters in 100 Bullets pose these questions upon themselves. A young woman whose family is killed by cops on the take, a bartender that had kiddie porn placed on his computer, a mother whose only daughter was taken from her, they all are given the opportunity to have revenge. But, why is this man, Agent Graves, doing this for them? Are all of these people connected in some way? Is there something far bigger going on behind the scenes? Yes.
Brian Azzarello takes all of the energy, humanity, and creativity of the crime novels from the early twentieth century and makes them viable for today's audience. Very few stories, not just comics, make the reader think, "What would I do in that situation?" It takes a great writer to do that to the reader. This is not just a good comic; it's a good story. Add Eduardo Risso, one of the most talented artists in the industry to the mix, and that makes a recipe for one of the best comics on the market. That's exactly what 100 Bullets is.
One Trick Rip Off
Written and Illustrated by Paul Pope
Published by Dark Horse Comics
The first Paul Pope book I read was Heavy Liquid. DC recently released Heavy Liquid and having heard a lot of good things about Pope and his THB, still haven’t found those issues, but I hear a trade is planned so I’ll wait for that, I picked it up. Enjoying Heavy Liquid immensely, when I saw The One Trick Rip Off at a local comic store in town for half off, due to them going out of business, I snatched it right up. This was back in June. I finally got a chance to read it recently and I was so impressed, that I decided to review it for this Crime Feature.
For some reason I always like to read the introduction first. I think it gets me in the mood for the comic and the introduction by Paul definitely did that for me. The One Trick Rip Off is about Tubby and his girlfriend Vim and the heist they have planned to get out of Los Angeles and start over. Of course the best-laid plans never work out, wouldn’t make for a very interesting story if it did.
Pope provides some stunning visuals with his eye for design and the different style he brings to the medium. You can see the European and Japanese influences in his art, design, and storytelling.
Paul also does a great job with the characterization of Tubby, Vim, and even the supporting cast. You can see the main traits each character possesses whether it is greed, loyalty, fear, hope, confidence, or diffidence. There is also a neat little twist I didn’t expect explaining why the gang is called the One Trick’s. Paul is a very good storyteller as shown by One Trick and Heavy Liquid.
When we came up with a list of crime comics I don’t know if anyone thought of this one, and what a grave oversight it was. This is a book everyone should take a look at. The One Trick Rip Off is available through Dark Horse comics for $12.95.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated Michael Avon Oeming
Published by Image Comics
My first impression of Powers, an ongoing series from Image Comics, was NYPD Blue meets the Super Friends. The basic premise is this: we, the reader, get to see what it’s like to live in a city and a world with colorful superheroes, but from the point of view of the police officers who have no choice but to deal with the aftermath of the heroes’ battles. Bendis’ gritty, realistic-sounding police dialogue combined with Oeming’s colorful, cartoonish superhero characters makes for a fun, engaging read. In the tradition of the best cop dramas, the two main protagonists are Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, who have been assigned to each other and have completely different personalities. Walker is the quieter, more experienced and thoughtful of the two, while Deena is more headstrong and inexperienced. Over the course of the first year of this series, we’ve gotten to see Walker and Pilgrim get to know each other as they’ve solved various super-powered related crimes. The first story arc has been collected in trade paperback format, with future arcs to come. That, along with Bendis and Oeming’s commitment to making each new story arc new reader friendly, gives anyone looking to try Powers for the first time an easy entry into the series. If you’re looking for a well-written crime drama comic, combined with escapist superhero fantasy, Powers is highly recommended.
Queen and Country
Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Steve Rolston
Published by Oni Press
British Special Operations Agent Tara Chace has gone undercover in a number of places, gotten involved in countless hostile situations and is no stranger to mistaken identities. This series begins with Tara abandoning her "Lily Sharpe" identity from Antarctica (see ‘Whiteout series). Tara's latest mission has her placed in Kosovo. The first issue deals with the fact that her boss doesn’t even know she’s in the war torn country, not to mention that by killing her target, she’ll be making herself one in the process. The second, mostly dialogue driven issue, explores the direct repercussions of that mission on Tara's own personal life.
Rucka expertly weaves the story back and forth between the politics of Tara’s organization and the situations that Tara faces on her missions. He’s adept at writing both action and dramatic scenes with equal high-level intensity. This is the type of series that not many people would be able to pull off, but Rucka makes it all look so easy. And Rolston is a great partner for Rucka on this first arc. He’s expressive and detailed, making sure that every page, every panel of art assists in the writer’s quest to move the story along. There are no wasted moments in this series.
With only three issues under its belt, Q&C has quickly and effortlessly established it's main character and supporting cast while telling two completely different stories. With expressive, versatile artwork by Rolston along with sharp characterization and dialogue from Rucka, Queen & Country is a winner from cover to cover and my pick for the best new series of 2001. You can pick up Tara Chace's first comic appearance (as "Lily Sharpe") in Whiteout, also available from Oni Press.
Written and Illustrated by Brien Cardello
Published by TLW Productions
‘There was a hero once. Called himself the Rival. And indeed it was his rivalry with criminals that ended his life. His enemies had banded together, you see. Vanquished him. And the small island city of Bettano mourned, for their protector was at rest. A year later, a hero in black is fighting once more’ That excerpt comes from the inside cover to ‘Rival’ #1. What an interesting idea. A mystery set against the gritty, vigilante, superhero background.
The series makes its center around Sadie Thomas, a young girl dealing with the death of her superhero boyfriend, who was the masked hero, Rival. It's a darkly told story that takes place on the industrial island of Bettano a year after his death. A new Rival has appears just as Sadie has been trying to convince her friends her old boyfriend is alive. Its strengths lie in the characterization of the people involved and less in the heroes and villains, which usually take the spotlight. It's a schizophrenic, action, romance with enough mystery to keep readers guessing.
Cardello shows a lot of promise as a writer and the story of ‘Rival’ and dialogue within the pages is top notch. He manages to bring some fresh perspective on old ideas and the concept of a woman still mourning her deceased vigilante lover doesn’t sell itself out at any point. He portrays Sadie as a strong willed woman with an emotional bond for her lover and nothing less. We should be lucky to have woman portrayed as more than sexual objects in need of rescuing in comic books. It’s a fantastic idea and hopefully Brien’s hard work will get the positive attention it deserves. I encourage everyone to seek this book out and see for yourselves what the next generation of storytellers have lined up.
6 issue limited series. Available from TLW Productions. PO Box 140388, Brooklyn, NY 11214.
Sam and Twitch
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Angel Medina, Alex Maleev
Published by Image Comics
Originally created as supporting characters in Todd McFarlane’s popular Spawn comic book, police detectives Sam and Twitch were spun off into their own comic a few years back by then alternative comics creator Brian Michael Bendis. While not as successful as Spawn sales-wise, the book garnered instant critical acclaim, and with good reason. The dialogue (which is often laugh out loud funny) and the characterization, as in most Bendis-written books, are spot on. Sam is a grumpy, overweight, cynical, crass yet honest veteran of the NYC police force. Twitch is his long time partner, who is the calmer, more intellectual, respectful (and thinner) of the two. After going into the world of private investigation for a time, they return to the force to deal with corruption and murders of the most bizarre kind. For those interested in starting at the beginning of the series, the first 8-issue story arc has been collected in a grayscale trade paperback format. However, the original issues are worth hunting down for the stunning color artwork of Angel Medina, as well as future artist Alex Maleeve on Bendis’ final story arc, guest-starring his own creation, bounty hunter Jinx Alameda. While Bendis’ run was unexpectedly cut short on the title, his work on Sam and Twitch ranks among his best.
Scene of the Crime: A Little Piece of Goodnight
Written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Michael Lark
Scene of the Crime reminded me of those old P.I. movies/TV shows. You know the ones where they are thinking in their head about the rain, or their last case, and then this dame walks in, and everyone refers to him as a dick. Here’s a good example, remember that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard is in the holodeck and he’s set up a program where he’s a private detective. Yeah, you know the one! That’s what it reminded me of, that whole clichÃ©, but that isn’t a bad thing. I love those types of stories and style of storytelling, especially done right. This is the feel that the book gave me, and I was hooked because Ed and Michael did it right!
Scene of the Crime is broken down into twenty-one chapters with a prologue and epilogue telling the story of private investigator Jack Herriman and the case he took as well as revealing a past he’s tired of keeping a secret. It read like a prose novel to me. The pictures set up the scenery, the narrative of Jack along with the dialogue between he and the other characters just made it feel like you were reading a novel instead of a comic book, as if that’s a bad thing. Scene of the Crime is a good trade to recommend, give as a gift, or loan out to a friend to negate the stereotype that comics are just for kids.
Reading Scene in its serialized form, I have to mention that Ed ended issues one through three masterfully. The events that occurred in each issue lead right into the revelation on the last page that makes you want to tear into the next issue! I’m glad I didn’t pick and read this book up as it came out monthly, I don’t know if I could bear the wait.
So what else is Scene of the Crime about? Well I told you enough, go buy it and find out for yourself. I had no idea what the book was about going into it and I think that’s the best way to go. I will say this: if you like compelling urban mysteries, good crime comics, you’ll love this book by Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark!
A trade is available from DC comics for $12.95 so you don’t have to worry about tracking down the issues like I did.
Written and Illustrated by Dave Lapham
Published by El Capitan
Not all crimes are illegal. Not every crime involves a murder or a robbery. Humans are capable of doing very evil things to one another without breaking any laws. But don't worry, there's still a lot of murder, robbery, sex, and drugs here. They're just not the biggest part.
This is a story that deeply explores the ugly side of being human. The wants. The desires. The part of our psyche that watches in disgust whenever we are nice to our fellow man. The part of us that says, "Forget about the wife, let's go nail that chick at the strip joint." The cold-hearted killer that lives in all of us, ready to strike without a second's notice.
In Stray Bullets, Dave Lapham spins a tale around all of these things and more, creating a unique and compelling read, which is only accentuated by his nonchalant visual renderings. Each issue is self-contained, but circling around a close-knit group of individuals. The hoods toting around a car full of corpses. The little girl from the broken home and her imagination. The teenager who is ready to let it all hang out. The men who cheat on their wives, or at least daydream about it. And the women that manipulate them all.
In this series of tales, there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, because these stories are all too real. The reader can easily identify with nearly all of the situations, but never sees the twists that Mr. Lapham brings to them. This creates a powerful reading experience which drags the reader kicking and screaming into the stories.
Written by Rich Henn and Russ Colchamiro and illustrated by Rich Henn and Gerry Coffery
Published by Club 408 Graphics
Timespell could easily be considered a horror thriller what with the tales of demonic possession and the supernatural feel to the whole series, but it’s much more than that. Even without the mobster characters, the series has a feel of a crime noir just as much as it gives you the creeps (and I mean that in a good way). The teaser line hooked me immediately: ‘Something that has been going on for centuries…and is still yet to happen, is about to begin’. That got my attention. But when Kevin Smith is quoting the book as feeling very much like early James O’Barr and Matt Wagner, people are going to take notice.
While some may confuse Timespell’s with typical slasher type fare, Henn and company have crafted a story that works on many level due to the strong characterization in the book. There are Howard Gillespie, the serial killer known as ‘The Cradle Robber’ and Michael McMurphy, the detective who’s been tracking him down. You also have Frankie Cipriani, the son of a notorious mobster, who is also a childhood friend of McMurphy. Frankie’s father is missing and is asking McMurphy for a favor. And then there is Joshua Steele, a mysterious entrepreneur who may or may not have influence in the events occurring in these people’s lives.
The story starts off incredibly strong. McMurphy catches up to Gillespie and begins to think that the two of them may have some sort of connection. When Gillespie escapes from prison later that night, McMurphy fears for the safety of his pregnant wife. It’s a turn of events we’ve seen in thrillers many times before, but Henn and Colchamiro pace this better than most. If you’re heart isn’t pounding as the storytellers lead you to the climax, I don’t know what will.
The Gillespie/McMurphy faceoff is only one of many crucial elements of this story. The creators have done a wonderful job of building a world of rich and complex characters, each battling their own demons (literally and figuratively). With an intriguing and quick moving story and a better than average artistic look, Timespell is a story that will be long remembered from a creative team that is sure to be heard from again.
For more information on this book, go to www.timespell.com
Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Gene Ha
Published by DC/America’s Best Comics
So, what would happen if everyone had some kind of “super power”? Everyone was invulnerable or could fly or had some really cool high-tech gizmos or was incredibly strong or could turn invisible?
Well, for one thing, the police would have a really tough time dealing with the crimes that these people would be able to get away with.
That’s where the men and women of Precinct 10 come in. See, these police officers have all those funky powers, too.
There’s officer Smax who’s invulnerable, super strong and can shoot an energy beam from his chest; Lt. Peregrine who, as her name suggests, can fly; Shock-Headed Peter who can generate electricity; Toybox who carries around a box full of small robots; Irma Geddon who carries around a vast array of artillery; and Multi-Woman who can split into several different bodies, each of which has different super powers.
And that’s not to mention other characters who pop up such as the zen cabbie, Bob “Blindshot” Booker. Don’t bother telling him where you want to go; he’ll take you where you need to go.
Writer Alan Moore set out to create a superhero team book that would reflect the stories and structure of such cop T.V. shows as “Hill Street Blues,” and succeeded in spades.
These cops have to deal with the same problems any other police department does: murder, gang wars, budget problems, drugs, racial tensions and traffic accidents. Of course, in the city of Neopolis, these have a slightly different twist.
Balder -- of Norse mythology fame -- is killed in a bar called Godz which is frequented by any number of deities from all over the world and a serial killer murders people by cleanly slicing off their heads; the city’s gangs are made up of ‘50s movie monsters; budgets are dictated by Grand Central, which runs the precinct, along with many others, from an alternate dimension; the drugs are somewhat exotic such as mongoose blood -- which allows its users to move at super speed -- or Amazo -- which, presumably, allows its users to copy the powers of others; the racial tensions are between flesh-and-blood beings and the many robots -- derogatorily referred to as “clickers” -- which populate Neopolis; and the traffic problems consist of telporter beams crossing and leaving people fused together, and dealing with Santa Claus driving his sleigh rather recklessly.
Not to mention the war being waged between “super” mice and cats in the apartment of one of the officer’s mother.
The stories, fantastic as they are, are only half the fun as Moore, along with artists Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, also fill every issue with so many genre references, jokes and cameos, it’s impossible to get everything on the first go-around.
It’s a world where anything can happen. But still, law and order has to be maintained.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Anderyko and illustrated by Brian Michael Bendis
Published by Image Comics
Anywhere from 12 to 30 victims were attributed to the Torso killer, who left dismembered body parts as his or her calling card, terrorizing Cleveland in the 1930s. The victims left no clues as to their identities, nor did there seem to be any reason for their deaths. On top of that, Elliot Ness, fresh from his triumph over Al Capone, had become safety director for Cleveland (which had become as corrupt as Chicago) and handled the mysterious Torso case personally. This is the story of America’s first serial killer.
Written by Bendis and Andreyko, Torso was originally published by Image comics as a 6-part mini-series. Now, readers can get the collected volume and not have to wait between chapters to find out what happens next. The dialogue is sharp and real, as fans have come to expect from these two talents. Characters talk like real people and the interesting cast, populated by cynics and law enforcement who’s been bought and paid for, making Ness’ job even more difficult. Fans of Bendis’ current work on Ultimate Spider-Man and Daredevil and Powers may not have experienced his fantastic artistic ability and here’s their chance to check out his best work. Seamlessly blending photographic images with penciled art, the visuals on this book are absolutely stunning. The technique’s been used before, most notably in Bendis’ other early works: AKA Goldfish and Jinx, but it’s been mastered here.
Torso is a flawless example of what the comic medium is capable of achieving. Andreyko and Bendis have told an important story about a horrifying subject and have done it blending fantastic, realistic dialogue with innovative, gorgeous art. This is the type of comic work that you give to people who think comic books are a dying medium or a children’s medium to show them how wrong they are. This is one of the finest comic works ever created and it’s one of the best stories (comic or otherwise) to have been published in the last ten years.
You can find it in a comic book specialty store, you can get it easily from the web. Both Jinxworld.com and Amazon.com can be used to get your hands on this breathtaking work
Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by
Published by DC
Say the word in a crowd full of us graphic literature aficionados and watch as the whole room falls quiet. A silence broken only by hushed and reverential tones:
“The future of comic books.”
“Ishmael? Randal P. McMurphy? Yossarian? Tyrone Slothrop? Nah. Nite Owl’s the coolest.”
“The pinnacle of graphic literature as a storytelling medium.”
These statements were bandied about in the wake of writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen” (okay, maybe not the Nite Owl thing) which, along with Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” out around the same time, drew mainstream media attention to the comic book world. Also, both were seminal works which changed the way superhero characters/stories were done; making them into the darker, “grittier” more realistic (as realistic as characters wearing long underwear and shooting beams out of their eyes can be, I guess) ones that are all over the place now.
It’s definitely a superhero story. And science fiction. And fantasy. And melodrama. And a political tale. And a deconstruction of said superheroes.
But one aspect seems to slip people’s minds. Let’s not forget where that famous yellow smiley face with the drop of blood came from.
The actual story of “Watchmen” begins just after someone has killed The Comedian, a brutal government-sanctioned superhero who’s had more than his share of “moral lapses“ in his time. His murder (which ends up being only a small piece of a much larger mystery/conspiracy) is investigated by the faceless vigilante Rorschach -- because The Comedian was a hero and Rorschach thinks this may only be the first in a series of “mask killings,“ but also because none of the other masked heroes (such as the technically savvy Nite Owl, the nearly omnipotent Dr. Manhattan or the super-intelligent Ozymandias) shed any tears for The Comedian.
Truth be told, the murder investigation isn’t the main focus of the book, but it is its driving engine. It leads to the answers, more mysteries, secrets and some horrible revelations that do make up the story as Rorschach winds his way through friends, enemies and people who end up being both.
A must read for any fans of the medium.
Written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Steve Lieber
Published by Oni Press
Greg Rucka knows crime so well, I’d be afraid to spend time alone with him. He has to have a record as long as my arm to tell stories with such realism at such ease. Author of the popular novels, Finder, Keeper, and Smoker, Rucka is currently the regular writer of DC’s Detective Comics, his creator owned Queen & Country for Oni Press and the forthcoming Black Widow for Marvel’s Max line and another creator owned series, Felon. And he’s still writing the novels, too. His next book, Critical Mass, is due out in the Fall.
As far as his comic book career goes, it all begins with Whiteout. Set against the backdrop of a government snow base in Antarctica, Whiteout is an intelligence, thriller better than the average run-of-the-mill crime story. Between Rucka’s writing and Lieber’s pencils, you get a perfect sense of the loneliness and isolation, coupled with the fact that now a murderer is there with you.
Steve Lieber may not be familiar to a lot of readers, but his work on this title is nothing short of absolute greatness. When you deal with a location which is nothing but snow and ice, save for the base and the people inhabiting it, there’s a lot of pressure to make it visually appealing and Lieber does than and then some. He is able to show the claustrophobic atmosphere and desolate landscape in equal measure.
Aside from having a great story and a not often seen setting, the duo add unique element by making the two main protagonists female. Marshall Carrie Stetko and special agent Lily Sharpe (who is currently seen in Rucka’s ongoing Queen and Country series through Oni Press) are more than great female leads. They’re two of the most completely realized and believable characters that you’ll find in any comic book story.
This is as unique a comic story as you can find and one that certainly belongs in any fans ‘required reading’ list. Whiteout, and the equally intelligent and entertaining sequel, Whiteout: Melt, are both available in Trade Paperback format. If you can’t find it in bookstores or your neighborhood comic shop, check out www.onipress.com for more information.
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