Crime comics used to be big business. Titles like Crime Does Not Pay
, True Crime Stories
and Crime SuspenStories
flooded newstands in the 1940s and '50s. They had a flood of popularity that, along with horror comics, could only be staunched by a book on juvenile delinquency
and subsequent congressional hearings
Although titles popped up sporadically over the years, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that crime comics really made a big return, thanks in large part to Frank Miller's Sin City and David Lapham's Stray Bullets. Now, writers like Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets), Brian Michael Bendis (Torso, Powers), Ed Brubaker (Criminal, Incognito), Greg Rucka (Whiteout) and Rick Remender (Last Days of American Crime) have made pulpy, noir-infused books about the seedy criminal underbelly almost as acceptable as superheroes. In fact, one of last year's best graphic novels was Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Richard Stark's The Hunter, the first in the author's Parker series. This week sees the release of The Man With the Getaway Face, a preview to The Outfit, Cooke's next graphic novel adaptation in the series.
While many readers have heard of the above titles, there are a bevy of crime comics from the past 10 years that have slipped under the radar. Here are six of the best crime comics of the decade that you probably haven't read. But should.
1. Stagger Lee
This is one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. Writer Derek McCulloch and artist Shepherd Hendrix create this wonderful tapestry of a story that dissects the Stagger Lee legend and how it has been incorporated in song, while at the same telling a nuanced story that looks at how Stag and Billy's violent confrontation came about. It's part historical fiction, part murderous crime story, part ethnomusicology lesson.
2. The Couriers
Capturing the visceral, kinetic rush of speed is a tricky thing to do in a comic book. It never quite matches seeing a car chase on the big screen. And that's what makes what Rob G. does in The Couriers series of graphic novellas so amazing. With a style that blends manga influences with a Western sensibility, he turns Brian Wood's stories about two gun-packing black market bike couriers into an edge-of-your-seat, action movie experience. In fact, how these books haven't been adapted into a film franchise yet is beyond me.
3. Human Target
For C-list characther, the Human Target (a.k.a. Christopher Chance) has headlined quite a few comics. But the ones you want to read are those written by Peter Milligan for DC's Vertigo imprint. Milligan blends compelling plots full of bodyguards, murders and kidnappers with the psychodrama of a man slowly losing his sense of self as he assumes the identities of those he's been hired to protect. And for you sticklers out there, yes, Milligan's first Human Target miniseries was published in 1999, but the bulk of his work on the character, which included a 21-issue regular series and a graphic novel, happened between 2002 and 2005. That's why it made the cut.
|DC Comics/Tim Bradstreet|
|DC Comics/Michael Lark|
4. Gotham Central
Probably the most accessible comic on the list for the traditional comic book reader. It's a fairly straightforward high concept: What if the cops from Homicide worked in Gotham City and had to deal with the Joker? Writing the series together, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka brought the police procedural into the world of superheroes and made it work, thanks to their attention to dynamic, complex characterization of cast members, especially partners Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen. The series lasted 40 issues (with art by Michael Lark early in the run) and is collected in four volumes.
When Warren Ellis decides to write a crime comic, he makes sure it's the most disturbing crime comic you'll read. The series follows homicide detective Richard Fell as he is reassigned to Snowtown, a feral city that probably resembles what it would look like if Hell popped up through a hole in the earth and took a massive dump. It's bleak, claustrophobic mood is due in part to Ben Templesmith's atmospheric art that seems more suffocating because he's working in a tight, 16-panel grid. The last issue, #9, was released in 2008, but Ellis recently said
he is finishing issue 10 and that the series probably will conclude in 2011.
6. The Left Bank Gang
If Gotham Central's high concept is simple, then The Left Bank Gang's high concept approaches the complexity of quantum mechanics. Norwegian cartoonist Jason creates a Paris of the 1920s, where Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald are struggling graphic novelists ... and anthropomorphic talking dogs (except for Joyce, who's a crow). In order to score some cash, Hemingway comes up with an idea to stage a heist. Comedy and violence ensues. No, it's not your traditional crime comic, but it is wonderfully imaginative and very funny. Especially if you're an lit major.
Other comics to check out this week
- Absolute Planetary Book 2 The second half of this seminal series by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday finally receives its high-quality collection.
- Mome vol. 19 The summer edition of this quarterly anthology features a strip by Gilbert Hernandez.
- The Playwright First serialized in Australia, this collection by Eddie Campbell and Darren White examines loneliness and sex through the eyes of an aging--you guessed it--playwright.
- Revolver Matt Kindt of Superspy fame takes a cue from Lost and tells the tale of a man who is able to shift back and forth into a post-apocalyptic alternate reality where he is a different, better man.
- Sweets #1 Follow the hunt for a serial killer days before Hurricane Katrina is about to hit New Orleans.