I went into Noir with the mindset of reading a short story collection. But in hindsight, and as a word of advice to readers, it’s more like a reader or sampler of crime fiction today. One of the things that this collection really succeeds at is showing the versatility of “noir” over different genres and types of stories. Also seeing the different takes on the concept really brings out a wide range of story types.
The downside of this format is the short length of the stories. There seems to be an over-reliance on surprise endings. A lot of the stories have some sort of twist at the end and quite frankly, as to be expected with this type of story, some of them work better then others and some don’t work at all. One of the other downsides to the short format is that some of the stories are forced to rely on short hand to convey motivations and decisions instead of being given the wanted time to really marinate. The compression of time doesn’t serve some of the stories well.
For those who were perhaps a little less then thrilled with the Vertigo Crime line (or at least left scratching your head) the Noir anthology from Dark Horse out Vertigo Crimes Vertigo Crime and is cheaper.
Here’s a closer look at some of the stories.
“Stray Bullets: Open the Goddamn Box” by David Lapham is seriously, no bullshit, one of the best crime stories I’ve read all year. In just a few short pages an entire genres treatment of women is critiqued, inverted and then tossed aside. There seem to be only a few roles for women in crime fiction, they are placed in a box if you will. In this story the sole female character is grabbed and placed, literally in a box. The two male characters have locked her in a box and they are arguing over who is going to rape her first. As their power struggle plays out she manipulates them from inside the box before causing them to turn on each other and let her free. The story is brutal and brilliant. In some ways Lapham is the godfather of the modern crime comics and here he shows the youngins how its done.
In “The Old Silo” by Jeff Lemire the compressed timeline robs this story of it’s tension. With a little more room to breathe, for the main character to have the time to hesitate before making the decision would have made the difference. The reader isn’t surprised or shocked by the characters decision. It is a story that speaks to these economic times more then the others. Lemire’s work in general is always worth checking out.
“The Last Hit” by Chris Offutt and Kano & Stefanno Guadiano is one of the stronger stories of the bunch. It utilizes the short time frame really well and packs a lot into the pages. The short hand development of the aged hitman is masterfully done and he really comes to life. The other main character is beautifully pulled together and the great ending represents quite a few things: young vs. old; black vs. white, etc. Just a very well done crime short.
“Fracture” by Alex De Campi & Hugo Petrus is maybe a little too high concept for it’s own good but it still manages to be a compelling tale and one of the more innovative of the bunch. Nice twist at the end if not entirely successful
“The Albanian” by M K Perker is a quiet character study of a character on the fringe of a crime event. It’s a great character study of a former bad ass who has gone straight successfully and the challenges he faces in staying on the straight and narrow one night at his job cleaning an office building. It’s a tale of small but important sacrifices that we make for those that we love.
If the opener was genius then the closer, “The Bad Night” by Brian Azzarello, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, raises the bar. For a comic this is as highwire a story telling feat as your likely to find. Take one of THE most well known stories in comics and cast an entirely new slant on the whole thing. And do it successfully. The final reveal of the story is subtle and understated. Never once are the implications of the reveal bamming you over the head but damn do you feel them. And this is the assuredness and confidence of a writer at the top of his game as Azzarello is. He gives you a knockout performance and never once considers staying around to gloat and let you tell him how clever he is. He’s too cool for something like that so he’s already moved on.
The full table of contents is
“Stray Bullets: Open the Goddamn Box” by David Lapham
“The Old Silo” by Jeff Lemire
“Mister X: Yacht on the Styx”
“The Last Hit” by Chris Offutt and Kano & Stefanno Guadiano
“Fracture” by Alex De Campi & Hugo Petrus
“The Albanian” by M K Perker
“Kane: The Card Player” by Paul Grist
“Blood on My Hands” by Rick Geary
“Trustworthy” by Ken Lizzi & Joelle Jones
“The New Me” by Gary Phillips & Eduardo Barreto
“Lady’s Choice” by Matthew and Shawn Fillbach
“Criminal: 21st Century Noir” by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
“The Bad Night” by Brian Azzarello, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba