A long time ago, on spinner racks far, far away, there was a place where thin, musty paperback novels were a haven for people looking for a great detective noir story. This genre of novel was known as “pulp fiction” and has since become extinct in literature unless you happen upon a mildew-smelling bookstore in a small midwestern town that has a great “five for a $1” sale going on.
That all changed when Vertigo, DC Comics mature readers imprint, created their Vertigo Crime line. Published in black and white, digest sized hardcover formats, Vertigo Crime’s mission was to tell great noir stories with some of the best writers in fiction and comics paired with fresh artistic talent. While not every book was a masterpiece, even the worst of the line was a still a great graphic novel and showed that there was still room for the line to work out what worked and what didn’t. Unfortunately the management shake-up that DC Comics went through last year has officially killed any expansion of this line and there are about a handful of titles that will be released in 2011 before the line is officially canceled. I’d like to highlight my favorite five books in the line as well as give some press to the last three books being released this year that I hope people will give a chance if for no other reason than their quality can hope to be as great as those featured here.
Filthy Rich: If there’s anyone at Vertigo that deserves to spearhead this line, it’s Brian Azzarello. After making a name for himself through his now classic 100 Bullets, Azzarello has established himself as a true voice in the genre of crime. This particular book is almost like a highlight reel of his work: A flawed, failed anti-hero seduced by the promise of money and a gorgeous woman, wrapped up in a scheme that he couldn’t see coming… even the art by newcomer Victor Santos emulates Azzarello’s old partner, Eduardo Rios from his 100 Bullets days. Richard “Junk” Junkin goes from washed up football player to used car salesman to bodyguard and patsy all in the name of back-stabbing noir excellence A solid start to the line and a great done-in-one for fans of the genre.
The Bronx Kill: Sometimes the search for the truth is the best motivatoin for a protagonist. It’s a pure and eternal quest and in Peter Milligan’s entry in the Vertigo Crime line, The Bronx Kill, our protagonist, author Martin Keane, just wants to know what happened to his wife and why no one believes that he’s innocent in her disappearence. What he ends up discovering will be more than the answers he’s prepared for. Milligan uses many tactics to get you to doubt the veracity of Martin’s cause just as he has trouble proving it to others and also utilizes a very neat framing device of using actual marked-up pages of Martin’s manuscript about his family’s life mixed in throughout the narrative. Being a veteran of many Vertigo and Marvel comics including Hellblazer, X-Statix, and Shade the Changing Man, Milligan is aided in this genuine mystery story by James Romberger who adds simple but haunting visuals to a page-turning tale.
Noche Roja: Sometimes the best character for a crime story is the classic one: the washed up private investigator with a drinking problem. It’s a go-to character for a reason. In this south-of-the-border tale of murder and corruption, Jack Cohen is hired to track down a killer who is targeting factory girls in Mexico. As he digs deeper into the case not only does he discover a personal connection to the killings but also a chance to redeem himself for the sins of his past. Written by Ben Oliver who also penned the acclaimed Exterminators title for Vertigo as well as Gen 13 for Wildstorm and drawn by Jason Latour of the Image Comics The Expatirate and Scalped from Vertigo, Noche Roja is a solid story that lets its protagonist be more than just a cliche and elevates a simple detective story to a brutal action-packed climax.
Area 10: One of the slightly sci-fi tinged entries in the line, Area 10 tells the story of Adam Kamen, an NYPD detective tracking the serial killer “Henry the Eighth” who is decapitating his victims for unknown reasons. When Kamen is attacked and suffers an injury to his brain, he’s suddenly able to see another side to the killings and the investigation thanks to newly revealed sensory abilities. The book is masterfully drawn by Chris Samnee (Thor the Mighty Avenger, Ultimate Spider-Man) and written by veteren Law & Order author Christos Gage (also the writer of Avengers Academy from Marvel) and manages to make you not only be drawn into the story but also doubt the innocence of the protagonist. One of the best of the line due to its combination of suspense and twists.
The Rat Catcher: Currently my favorite of the Vertigo Crime books. Writer Andy Diggle (The Losers, Daredevil) sets up the pieces of a masterful suspense story packed with action as a washed-up FBI agent hunts down the urban legend of the FBI: The Rat Catcher. This assassin has been a thorn in the side of the FBI for years, killing their best informants no matter how much security they’re under. The story unfolds with pitch perfect precision as Diggle makes you zig zag through the plot and constantly second guess the motives of the characters. Aiding him is Victor Ibanez who I hope gets more stateside work soon. Ibanez’s character design and layouts are extremely fluid and detailed while not going overboard. He and Diggle manage to craft what has been the best example of how good the Vertigo Crime books could have been and remains my number one recommended of the line.
Before the line ends with a whimper, the following three books will be released. I’ve included their solicitation text and covers. I hope you’ll pick them and any of the other titles up because even if I didn’t list Fogtown, A Sickness in the Family, Dark Entries,The Chill, and The Executor here, they’re all great books.
Written by Matteo Casali; Art by Kristian Donaldson
99 Days is the story of Antoine Boshoso Davis, who is living the dream as a rookie homicide detective for the LAPD. But 12 years ago he was living a nightmare. As a young Hutu in Rwanda, Antoine was forced to become a child soldier with the rebel Hutu militia.Like so many others he was caught up in the slaughter of a country gone insane – murdering scores of men, women and children with a machete. Antoine fled Rwanda for LA, where he grew into a quiet, sensitive man with a deep need…
Written by Gary Phillips; Art by Brian Hurtt
From the author of the “Ivan Monk” detective novels comes a riveting original graphic novel about violence and race in modern society. Cowboys revolves around a racially motivated police shooting of Deke Kotto, a young African American man, by Tim Brady, a white undercover cop, inside a swanky club frequented by hip-hop stars, gangsters, Hollywood celebs and the drug kingpins that finance the whole operation. But the victim is actually an undercover officer on the trail of the gangsters,…
Return to Perdition:
Written by Max Allan Collins; Art by Terry Beatty
A new chapter in the saga of the O’Sullivan crime family from the acclaimed movie Road to Perdition. The time is America in the early 1970’s and our third generation hero, Michael Satariano, Jr. is a Vietnam vet recently returned to the States. He doesn’t know that his father’s real name was Michael O’Sullivan, and is unaware of the confl ict between his dad, his grandfather and John Looney – the criminal godfather of Rock Island, Illinois. But when he’s recruited by the Mob as a hit-man, he’s going to learn the hard way that you can never outrun (or outgun) your past. (This is not the final cover design)