I’ve probably mentioned before how rare it is for me to read a straight-up mystery (and not some sort of science fiction noir type thing) but that’s exactly what Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman is. A man died in the bathroom of a McDonald’s. The newly-minted detective is the only person who doesn’t think it was a suicide. Investigation ensues.
The only complication is that in just over 6 months the world as we know it will end when Earth is hit by a huge asteroid.
So the book is a twisty little mystery involving insurance fraud and drugs and bad coffee in police briefing rooms, but also a look at why even do police-work when the world will soon be ending. Who really cares how one person ended up dead when six months from now everyone will be.
Now that little complication might, in your mind, vault the book into the science fiction category, but it really isn’t. The asteroid is affecting people because they’re all aware of their mortality, but it’s not causing tidal waves or changing the weather or making people flee to the Himalayas or shooting Bruce Willis off into space. It’s something that’s happening, just like war is something that happens in other stories.
I really liked the book even though it’s not my usual science fiction and in spite of the fact it’s the first in a trilogy. (SPOILER: The case is resolved and the book ends still many months before the asteroid hits, leaving room for the next books to remain pre-apocalyptic).
I’ve heard about Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books but never paid much attention to them. I think I expected something more like When Gravity Fails: a gritty cyberpunk type thing. So I was surprised that it was all magic and ass-kicking, not clever understated detective work.
Stark is a man who just came back to Los Angeles from 11 years in hell and he’s looking for his old magical friends who turned on him and sent him there. I loved how the book throws you right in, like you’ve missed something that would explain how Stark wasn’t dead when he went to hell. Instead of worrying about that Stark just steals money, uses a hell-coin to make decisions and basically cuts a swathe through the magickal underworld.
It was fun, but had less oomph to it than I’d hoped. Good popcorn reading.
Athos in America is a book of short stories by Jason (featuring his trademark anthropomorphic animals, naturally). There’s “The Brain That Wouldn’t Virginia Woolf” a science fictional story of a man and the head of his wife he’s keeping alive and trying to find a body for, “So Long, Mary Ann” a story of a prison escapee, “A Cat From Heaven” a reflexive story about Jason himself being a huge asshole to everyone, “The Smiling Horse” a noirish story of kidnapping and revenge and the titular story of Athos the musketeer hanging out in a bar talking up his exploits in the U.S.
My favourite story though was “Tom Waits on the Moon.” Each page has a character talking to him or herself for four panels, asking a lot of questions, doing a lot of self-doubting, and all coming together in the last page. It just worked really well (despite its lack of Tom Waits as a character).
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 and the Monster Men is Matt Wagner’s story of a young Batman and his first case with Doctor Strange. It’s kind of a follow-up to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and Batman is still kind of figuring out his role. It’s a similar kind of story arc to the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. He has a girlfriend and has been fighting Sal Maroni’s gangsters, not full on supervillains, but Dr. Strange is doing genetic experimentation and creating huge troll-like creatures to deal with the loan sharks he’s been borrowing from.
It’s a decent book, and you can tell it’s by the same guy writing Sandman Mystery Theatre. Very noirish, but the art in this is much better. It’s probably a bit more pulp than noir (especially with that title) but a good Batman story that doesn’t shake anything up too terribly.
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.