Dark Horse Noir

A couple of weeks ago, in one of my Already Tired of Tuesday posts, I'd mentioned that I had ordered the brand new Dark Horse Noir anthology from my shop.

I don't know if I've ever really written about this here, but I adore crime stories in all their forms- detective and con stories in particular, but I mostly just adore the crime genre. It makes sense, therefore, that crime comics, in taking on one of my favorite genres in my favorite medium, have a very special place in my heart. Somewhere in between my first exposure to the genre (the brilliant 100 Bullets) and the latest issue of Criminal I became fascinated by the notion of crime-themed sequential art, and I've been slowly looking into as many examples of the genre I can find.

When I heard about the Noir anthology, I was pretty excited, particularly because I heard about it on Jeff Lemire's blog. That Lemire (who seems to be everywhere these days) had contributed a story to the collection was reason enough to buy it- that Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Brian Azzerello, Gaberial Ba and Fabio Moon had contributed stories and pictures to the book was just sort of icing on the cake. Well, a lot of icing on the cake. And maybe a cookie and a milkshake on the side.

I digress. When I went to my store on Friday to pick up my books from the last couple of weeks, I got a chance to look at the collection- and it's fantastic. I mean, first of all, just take a look at the design: its unbelievably beautiful. Really, just look at the cover- it's understated and yet powerful, just like a good noir story. You get everything you need to know about the anthology by just looking at its cover- and then you turn it over, to see if you missed anything, and you find the back. Now, it doesn't look as nice here because I couldn't find an image file of it on the internet, and so I had to scan it, but that isn't the designer's fault. Here, too, the look is wonderfully powerful and understated- mostly black, with a little bit of grey and white. The details you could divine by looking at the cover can be read on the back, as well as that fantastic list of creators, several of whom I will be checking out solely based on their work in the anthology.

The design is so striking that even if I hadn't have known any the names on that list, I probably would have bought it anyway. The team at Dark Horse clearly put a lot of work and thought into this, and I felt it was appropriate to commend them for it before we began to work our way through the anthology itself.

Now, the beauty on the outside doesn't stop there. It's a damn good-looking book through and through, and if you can find it in your shop I urge just to flip through it so you can see what I mean. The art is, on the whole, unbelievably fantastic. The artists I mentioned above (Lemire, Ba, Moon, and Phillips) put in their usual brilliant work, but I was also struck by David Lapham, Kano and Steven Gaudiano (working together on one story), M.K. Perker, and Eduardo Barreto. I think I've named every artist in the anthology save four (I only left out Hugo Petrus because the Alex De Campi story he's illustrating is incomprehensible) and even those artists are pretty good- just not quite as good.

Part of what makes the stories in the anthology so damn worthwhile is, like any noir story worth its ink, how unbelievably complex they are. Take Perker's story, The Albanian, for instance: it manages, amazingly, to be absurd, terrifying, serious, heart-warming, and a little bit disturbing all at the same time, and all of these different aspects complement each other brilliantly. Somehow, the protaganist turns the murderous rage of an office worker into a little boon for his son- the morality and sense of this desicion is left ambiguous, and that's part of why it's so effective. The Perker story is also notable if only because it's one of six (eight, if you count the Fillbach brothers and Brubaker/Phillips, who work together so well and have worked together for so long that they might as well be one entity at this point) stories written and illustrated by the same person- this is interesting to consider, because it makes me wonder how the process changes when this is the case and, furthermore, why it lends itself so well to the noir genre.

I don't know about most of the other artists who worked by themselves in Noir, but I do know that Lemire works best when he's by himself, and "The Old Silo" is unbelievably good. It's got the atmospheric and moody feel typical of Lemire's work, and the rural setting he's so fond of, but it advances beyond that- while he's dealt with moral ambiguity before, he's sort of shunted it aside: here, it's full blown and incredibly finely focused. It's surprising that he hasn't written a story quite like this before because he's so incredibly good at it.

In fact, all of these creators are incredibly good at it- Dark Horse picked a fine stable of writers and artists for this anthology. This review is already pretty long, and I don't want to spend a whole lot more time talking about individual stories, so I'll just bring up two more. The Brubaker/Phillips story is wonderful (at this point, I expect nothing less), and it further proves that Sean Phillips may be the best crime comics artist there is (with the possible exception, of course, of Eduardo Risso). "21st Century Noir" has everything a good noir story should (the femme fatale, the gorilla, the double cross) and a little bit more, and it's worth every panel. Finally, the Azzerello/Ba and Moon story is the crowning jewel of the collection- the twin artists are some of the best working in all of comics, and their work is consistently mindblowing and (despite the fact that what I'm about to say goes without saying at this point, I'm going to say it anyway) Azzerello is among the genre's best writers- the twist at the end of "The Bad Night" is so unbelievable that I had to read it twice just to make sure I had interpreted it correctly. It shows that the writer has guts and, furthermore, that he knows exactly what buttons to push.

I really can't urge you enough to pick up this anthology. At $12.95 it's vastly underpriced for the quality that's inside, particularly if you like crime stories. At the very least, just take a look at it. I promise it will be worth your time.

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