Blacksad is a collection of three noir comics in a world of anthropomorphic animals. John Blacksad is a private investigator who is also a black cat. He does the standard noir detective shtick of solving crimes, working with people he doesn’t like and never coming out ahead.
The world has characters who fit into their animal roles, it’s not like there’s a bear society and a cat society; everything is a lot more individual than that. In the second story in the book there’s a Nazi in all but name group of white supremacists with polar bears, arctic foxes, snowy owls and weasels all dressed up in uniform with red armbands with a snowflake.
The art is very painterly with lots of detail and a colour scheme that makes me think calling this noir might be off. It isn’t filled with shadows at all, just muted colours. The edition I was reading was really big so you had a lot of room to really look at the art.
Very well executed detective stories which I liked a lot. They’d work even with lesser art, but with the great art it makes the book something special.
Batman: Detective is a Paul Dini book about Batman doing detectivey kinds of things instead of just punchy kinds of things. At this book’s point in continuity, the Riddler has reformed and is trying to be a media-friendly publicly private detective solving crimes, which is actually a pretty cool story. There’s a story about the Penguin opening his new nightclub and realizing the legal theft through merchandising was crazy lucrative. The book also has a Doctor Phosphorus story that hinges on baking soda, which wasn’t awesome, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the Poison Ivy story. But man oh man there’s a Joker story that’s just amazing.
Robin (version: Tim Drake) is chasing down some criminals and then accidentally gets kidnapped by the Joker who proceeds to go on a killing spree with the boy wonder tied up in the front seat. Robin is being resourceful and gets out of it okay, but that’s not the main point of the story. Dini writes the Joker as teetering on that line of violence and terrible humour and ultimate not-giving-a-fuckness the best I’ve seen. Yes, that’s right; I think that might have been the best Joker story I’ve read.
Awakening is a detective story that looks like it’s going to be a zombie story. There are people on the street being gutted and chewed on; there’s a crazy woman who swears Cline chemicals is behind it all; there’s a private detective who left the police force after disbelieving that his partner was a terrible person. Okay, that last bit isn’t a traditional trope of zombie stories, but still.
I wasn’t a big fan of the story. It moved very slowly and kept throwing itself around in time without a clear purpose. There were these interjections of the detective’s notes that didn’t add anything to the story, just recapped what we already knew. And the story didn’t get very far in this book (which is an in-character frustration as well).
The art though, the art was great. It has this vaguely photo-realistic mixed with rough as hell woodcuts and silhouettes and the whole thing could have been etched onto the rusted hull of a ship. I could look at this book all day.
It was okay. I wouldn’t strongly recommend it, unless you’re a fan of Ben Templesmith’s art (which this is reminiscent of).
Brian Michael Bendis’ comic Powers is about police in a city with superheroes but it’s a bit cartoonier and with more of a wink/nudge to the genre than Gotham Central. I’ve read some of the series in the dark mists of time, so I’m not very steeped in the metaplot, but in Psychotic there’s a serial killer after Powers.
It’s interesting because superpowers have been outlawed at this point, but some vigilantes are coming back with them, making a stand. Detective Christian Walker used to be a Power, and now he’s coaching the new Retro Girl. There’s a great TV interview sequence where the constitutionality of a law against a certain kind of people is brought up, specifically compared to a law against being Latino, which is interesting. Detective Deena Pilgrim is being harassed by an ex-boyfriend, and neighbourhood favourite Power the Blackguard has been killed.
It’s a good twisty little investigation and stuff is set up for future volumes. If the Vancouver Public Library hadn’t cut off my ability to place hold on items for free, I would be seeking the rest of the books out right now.
The Hourman and the Python is another pair of Sandman Mystery Theatre stories. In these ones, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont have become romantically involved and one of the things I loved about this book is all the unmarried sex they have. It’s not something I’m used to in stories about that time.
Another interesting thing is that Dian knows Wesley is the Sandman and they actually have a somewhat realistic relationship along with the vigilantism. The difficulties of that kind of life are dealt with in a thoughtful way, which I appreciated.
The Hourman is also introduced in this book. He’s another DC superhero, who uses drugs to give himself amazing strength but only for an hour at a time. There’s some interesting comparison between how he and the Sandman operate, but it does throw some of the noirish tone off a bit. I do appreciate how the Hourman’s meddling causes a lot of problems that punching something can’t solve.
I have a friend who loves the Sandman Mystery Theater series. He’s the one who first told me about the excellent crime stories Matt Wagner was making with these books. I read one volume, liked it and then never really followed up till last week. The Face and the Brute is volume two, and has two stories about Wesley Dodds, the wealthy detective who dresses up in a gasmask to follow up on the dreams he has about crimes.
The comic is most interesting in how it deals with its setting, New York in the 1930s. The racism against Asians is front and centre (not in Wesley, but in the secondary characters). Dian Belmont is dating an Asian man and grisly murders are happening in Chinatown. Everyone is scared for her safety and encourages her to leave that terrible foreign world alone. But she won’t. The dealing with class issues is done very well, in that the issues actually show up in the writing.
They’re good stories, but I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. It’s all just a bit garish for what I like in my noir comics.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are a pretty excellent team for comics in the noirish vein. Scene of the Crime: Little Piece of Goodnight is a decent detective story about investigating a woman and her family involvement in a cult.
What I liked best about it was how unglamorous the job of being a private detective was, and the reasons Jack Herriman has for working in that life. There are throwaway lines about how most investigations aren’t very interesting, and Jack’s uncle was a crime scene photographer which helps get him information.
I liked the story, and the backup story that’s also included in the trade paperback. The art was sort of ho-hum. It felt like muddy-coloured late 90s Vertigo stuff, which it was (the TPB came out in 2000, I believe). Nothing crazy ambitious here (there’s much bigger and better Brubaker stuff out there), just a good detective story that feels like it could make a good low budget indie movie.
The Whisper of Madness is a collection of short Lovecraftian comics. And when I say short I mean 6-10 pages apiece. There are mad people, cultists, murder. One very short story is about a baseball team with a curse. There’s a cruise-line brochure showing all the Cthulhu-worshipping things that will happen underlying the generic text. A young woman sacrifices her roommate to become a Cthulhu high priestess after complaining about how the college wicca scene had failed her.
They were mostly kind of meh and didn’t really have the space to set up a good creepy mood. I wouldn’t recommend it.
The best story was Steve Niles and Shane Oakley’s The Hiding Place, which had a really cool angular black and white aesthetic, and was the story of a detective and his nemesis who’d hanged himself, leaving one last message behind.
I loved Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief so much. It’s about a thief who gets broken out of an eternal Dilemma Prison (where you enact the Prisoner’s Dilemma with copies of yourself and the rest of the prisoners in adjoining virtual cells forever) in order to steal something very important on Mars. There is also a hotshot young detective being groomed by one of Mars’ vigilantes who thinks he’s working on a case about uploaded soul privates but the truth is much weirder.
The society on Mars is called the Oubliette and it’s all about privacy controls and the access people allow to others. The currency is time until the person’s soul is uploaded into one of the Quiet, the slave machines that keep the world functioning until they get reincarnated. The Oubliette is quite chicly primitive to some of the other cultures in the solar system and it’s all just amazing. The world-building around a cat and mouse detective story was amazing (and very reminiscent of The City & the City). The characters were rakish and severe and outrageous and ultra-competent and awesome.
I highly recommend it if you like China Mieville’s more science-fictiony things or Charles Stross or want to think a bit harder than you would with an Alastair Reynolds book.
Part of my job is doing IT support for Koha software. I tend to pick the low-hanging fruit from our bug-tracking hub, the stuff that needs settings tweaking, not code rewrites. It’s fun when I can figure shit out but much less so when they’re problems I have no control over.