Nothing’s ever really black and white. Except for movies. So many of my favorites are black and white. And so many of my favorite black and white movies are Film Noir thrillers. You know the type, those sleek and stylish old time Hollywood movies, the kind with dames and detectives, the kind with revenge and lust, the kind with crime and plenty of punishment.
There’s a lot of appreciation for Film Noir lately in comics and other books, so it’s not a surprise that there’s so much readily available for us all to enjoy. Here’s a few recent good ones that you don’t want to miss:
CRIMES OF PASSION “More Than Maybe”
by Steve Orlando and Greg Smallwood
I wanted to snag a copy DC’s Crimes of Passion #1 because I had read that one of the stories in it was a Wildcat adventure written by Stephanie Phillips. She’s a hot new writer, kicking it into high gear with comics like Aftershock Comics’ The Descendent, the upcoming Artemis and the Assassin and Dark Horse’s Butcher of Paris. She’s going to be a guest at ITHACON 45 (it’s on March 21 & 22nd and tickets are available here), and I’m excited to meet her. Her Wildcat story, “Pulling Punches”, is great fun.
I was caught by surprise by how much I liked this 80 Page Giant’s first story, “More Than Maybe”, starring Batman. As a special treat, it seems to star the Batman specifically from the first 1940’s Columbia serial, Batman. In this adventure Batman faces off against the fiendish Dr. Daka. I think this is only Daka’s second comic book appearance, by the way. But the real story is a heart-breaker of lost love, the role of the wealthy in society, and the untold tale of Batman’s old girlfriend, Linda Page.
What a stunning noir masterclass this short story is? Crisp and fresh and heartfelt. It’s a yarn tailor-made for every long-time Batman fan. I hope they don’t all miss it. Clearly, this story is ripped right out of that old Columbia serial (always a favorite), but it also can feel like a classic bigger budget Hollywood movie from the 1940s too.
When it’s all over, one can’t help but wonder, “Why aren’t Steve Orlando and Greg Smallwood the regular creative team on the ongoing Batman title?”
[Editor’s Note: Steve Orlando is the regular ongoing writer on Wonder Woman. Check it out, too.]
BLUES IN THE DARK
By Raymond Benson
An Arcade/Crime Wise Book
I read a bunch of books by Raymond Benson back in the day. He had inherited the mantle as the chronicler of 007’s prose adventures in the ’90s, and I thought he did a pretty good job. His latest book, Blues in the Dark, is nothing like those spy thrillers. This one tells two intersecting Hollywood stories, one in the past and one in contemporary times. Blair Kendrick was a “Femme Fatale”, in the vein of Gloria Grahame or Lizabeth Scott, in Film Noir movies of the ’40s. She had a short career and a mysterious backstory. On the other hand, Klarissa Glover is a modern day Hollywood producer who wants to learn more in order to make a movie about the woman from the ’40s, Blair Kendrick.
This is a thriller with plenty of breadcrumbs to lead the reader down shadowing alleyways. It’s clever and contemporary, but so very respectful to the noir genre. Blues in the Dark sheds some light on the past with a candid exploration of current issues.
I highly recommend this one, and writer Max Allan Collins has a pull quote on the back. If it’s good enough for him, it’s certainly good enough for me.
Fantastic Four: Grimm Noir
By Gerry Duggan and Ron Garney
Of all the Marvel heroes, The Thing, aka Ben Grimm, seems the least likely for the Noir treatment, but somehow Gerry Duggan and Ron Garney find a way to pull it off in this brilliant little done-in-one thriller. It’s very much rooted in the Marvel Universe, but Garney’s innovative and cinematic panel layouts and rough-hewn rendering give an air of specialness to the proceedings.
The only thing that could’a made it better? One shout of “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” I never tire of that.
SNAP FLASH HUSTLE
By Emily Pearson and Pat Shand
Black Mask Studios
Snap Flash Hustle is certainly a crime thriller, but the palette of colors, especially the pinks and the baby blues, would strip away any claim this story has to noir. It was published by Black Mask Studios, and they never completed the series in traditional comic form. Thankfully, they did come out with a TPB/GN that completed the story.
This one contains some language that you won’t hear in church on a Sunday, but it’s delivered with a sincerity and authenticity that allows the characters to blossom. The art has a storyboard feel, and Emily Pearson uses thick black lines that look clumsy at first, but soon grow on the reader. By the end of it all, seem quite graceful. Snap Flash Hustle is an unexpected delight.
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Is it really a noir world? I dunno, I just live here, sweetheart.