Review: Noir - A Collection of Crime Comics

Publisher: Dark Horse
Artists: Eduardo Barreto, Stefano Gaudiano, Rick Geary, Paul Grist, Joelle Jones, Kano, David Lapham, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba, Dean Motter, M.K. Perker, Hugo Petrus, and Sean Phillips.
Writers: Brian Azzarello, Ed Brubaker, Alex De Campi, Matthew & Sean Fillbach, Jeff Lemire, Ken Lizzi, Chris Offuit, and Gary Phillips.
Lettering: Ryan Hill, Tom Orzechowki, and Clem Robins
If you like… Criminal, Mister X, 100 Bullets, Stray Bullets, if you take your noir black, no sugar.

2009 was clearly a good year for noir. Enter this black and white compilation of short crime stories  released by Dark Horse back in October. I’ve only recently finished the 13 tales of betrayal, seduction, violence, and of course, crime! Just glancing at a few of the creators involved made me pick this up without hesitation. Here you’ll find noir for every mood: classic, always with a twist ending; stories with confrontational subject matter; morally ambiguous characters galore; the ever elusive tech noir; and a few tales that are impressively layered for their short format.

Jeff Lemire’s “The Old Silo” (pictured at right) was one of the more simplistic takes on noir, but easily stood out as one of the best. Centered on an old farmer down on his luck, he faces eviction while taking care of his invalid wife. Lemire masterfully leads you in one direction only to leave you in a much darker place at the last panel. It’s an impressive feat when an author can introduce a character in nine pages of sparse dialogue, and still make their actions surprising. Another noteworthy and straightforward account is Rick Geary’s “Blood On My Hands”. Enter a sad middle-aged married man who finds his wife may be losing interest in their lust less marriage. This discovery, in conjunction with his decision to stop taking his medications, leads to a tragic and surprisingly comedic end. The Brian Azzarello penned “The Bad Night”, drawn by twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, is equally well written as it is drawn. Again, the simple premises in this book packed the most punch. The ending to this one may not seem too surprising, but it has larger implications within the world of comics. “21st Centruy Noir”, the piece put forth by Criminal’s Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, is well told, and Phillips’ artwork is as moody and sexually charged as ever (see below). The story is told from three different perspectives – a young lover, the married woman he is having an affair with, and the husband. Despite being a top-notch noir tale, I found myself a little distracted since this tale shares similarities to a short from Frank Miller’s Sin City called “Daddy’s Little Girl”, minus the incestuous twist (the reprint can dslfasbe found in Booze, Broads, and Bullets).

David Lapham’s “Open the Goddamn Box” should be mentioned, if not just to give the audience a fair warning on the content. It is told from the perspective of a young girl, a character from Lapham's Stray Bullets, who is held captive by two boys that plan to rape and kill her. Having it as the first story in the volume feels sensationalistic, and frankly, reading it first put me off the book a bit. Whether or not you find this tale disturbing, it really would have been better left in the middle or second half of the book.

In all, the book has enough top-notch noir tales to make it worth your time. And at $12.95, you definitely get your money’s worth. I do think this volume had one too many “Scooby Doo” endings to be a truly great noir collection. You always expect that final twist at the end of a noir story, but no one gets extra points for challenging the limits of plausibility (here’s a hint: one ending involves a hologram). And at least two stories were downright confusing to follow. One thing is certain; this book put me in the mood for more noir. I would be more than happy to see this became an annual compilation for Dark Horse, but I won’t hold my breath, seeing how this one was supposed to come out in July. Regardless, I’ll continue to read about bad men, the women who love and betray them, and how we all get what’s coming to us in the end…or do we?