guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

December 2009

Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics
(Dark Horse, 2009). $12.95, paperback.

By Jared Gardner


After a tragic period of my life (let’s call them my twenties) during which I had drifted away from comics, it was the noir comics of the 1990s that brought me back into the fold, especially Rick Geary’s Treasury of Victorian Murder, David Lapham’s tragically-interrupted Stray Bullets and Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko’s Torso. And while my later epochs have of course seen my comics world expand exponentially, crime comics remains near and dear to my heart. So I was thrilled to see Dark Horse’s new anthology, Noir, if only because it promised a new installment of Stray Bullets which has been on hiatus since 2005 while Lapham does significantly less impressive work for Marvel and DC (such as the not-at-all-lamented recently-canceled, Young Liars). The volume also includes several of the masters of the form who have come into prominence in the last ten years, including Brian Azzarello, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and a host of international creators less familiar in the States.

In the end, however, the book is a slim morsel with little to sink one’s teeth into. The Lapham “Stray Bullets” entry has Virginia Applejack (better known to 
Stray Bullets readers by her imaginary alter-ego, Amy Racecar) manipulating her would-be rapists and murderers while tied up in a box for most of the story. The whole sketch feels hastily executed both in the script and the art. Jeff Lemire’s entry follows, and while it is (as always for Lemire) a beautiful thing to look at, it is a watery story with little ethical or physical violence to give it any edge. These two opening tales pretty much set the tone for the rest to follow. Even Geary, Brubaker and Phillips do little to bring much-needed energy to the collection.

But there are surprises that go some way toward redeeming the volume. “The Last Hit,” written by Chris Offutt with art by Kano and Stefano Guadiano is a solid piece of neo-noir writing with electric pencils and ink. “Fracture” by Alex de Campi with some beautiful retro 
Heavy Metal-style pencils by Hugo Petrus is the most clever and innovating piece in the anthology, both in terms of art and script. And for those who haven’t yet discovered M. K. Perker through his recently-published, Café Insomnia,his entry, “The Albanian,” will convince you to run out an grab a copy today (I could also mention Perker’s excellent pencils on Air, but that would suggest that I am recommending that you read Air, which I am not).

And the final entry in the volume, by Azzarello with Brazilian wondertwins Gabriel Bá and Fabió Moon, is worth all the milquetoast that came before, and then some. I don’t want to give away its satisfying (and vaguely copyright-infringing) punchline, so I’m asking you to trust me on this one: you won’t regret it. And to be truthful, you won’t regret any of it. It’s just that you also won’t remember much of it ten minutes after you finish the book.

{originally published @}