The term "Noir"is getting thrown around a lot these days because of the recent return to popularity of crime fiction. But what people often forget about Film Noir is that it not only was it prominently used to tell crime fiction stories, but that it was also an aesthetic style and a kind of moral ambiguity in which the characters exsisted. The kind of fiction that I am talking about is not only the films of John Huston, Otto Preminger, and (sometimes questionably) Alfred Hitchcock or the novels of Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake), Mikey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, it is the visual style of painting with shadows, it is a style of fiction that could be defined as a tedious balance of "oneiric (dreamlike), strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel". Plenty of creators continue to produce fiction that would be well at home in the more simplified world of Noir, but a rare few really craft the kind of fiction that brings a nicely mixed feel of all the five elements as well as creating the right visual style. In the current world of comics I can think of a few pairs that seem obvious choices: Brubaker & Phillips (or Brubaker & Lark for that matter), Azzarello & Risso, & Bendis & Oeming (And Bendis & Maleev ... I suppose Bendis & Gaydos as well), also Darwyn Cooke on his own. But there is a new book that I think makes a case for each of it's creators to become part of the new wave of noir craftsman: Area 10. Written by an old hand at crime fiction, in the larger sense, Christos Gage and drawn by one of the brightest young stars in the industry Chris Samnee,
the book unfolds over several weeks in New York City as NYPD Homicide Detective Adam Kamen tries to solve the "Henry the VIII" Murders, a strange string of unconnected murders linked only by the removal of each of the victim's heads. Kamen is also trying to put behind him some personal drama involving his recent divorce after the sudden death of his (prematurely) newborn son. The book takes a wholly unexpected (though if you've seen the previews in the back of recent Vertigo single issues perhaps less so) turn 7 or so pages into the seemingly run of the mill crime story. Kamen is suddenly and brutally stabbed in the forehead with a Phillips head screwdriver by a lunatic who has also slain all the occupants of a Psychologists office and waiting room. The story then follows Kamen as he continues to try to unravel the ever more complicated case of "Henry" all the while experiencing side effects from his injury that might be more than they seem.
The book deals well with all the elements of being a Noir piece while also folding in some pseudo-sci-fi that brings a certain whet to my appetite. The book unfolds at a nice pace and reveals pieces of key information at just the right times to keep your interest and keep you speeding through the book. At 175 pages it reads well and evokes the kind of feeling I got from reading shorter works by some of the other great modern practitioners of Noir (Like Elmore Leonard's Swag an instant recommend if you're looking for some truly great crime fiction to occupy a summer afternoon).
Gage has been writing crime fiction on some level or another for most of his career and so his talent at the tale is certainly not unexpected, though those unfamiliar with Samnee might find themselves fairly stunned by the quality of work that he turns out in this piece. From what I understand from my recent discussions with Chris (See the interview I did with him a few weeks ago HERE) he completed this work several years ago and had been waiting for the Crime Line to launch and his place in the release schedule so that others might see the work. The work doesn't seem dated as Samnee has become something of a chameleon of late making subtle adaptations to his work from book to book as he tries to fit best in to the style of the story being told (you can see differences between his work from The Mighty to Siege: Embedded which are his most recent consecutive works). At times the work even evokes the work of another of my favorite artists, Shawn Martinbrough (who penned the only "How to Draw" book that I own: How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling).
All in all after having read the book I think that it is the kind of book that all fans of crime fiction (regardless of how close to truly Noir it might be) will love. I give it the utmost recommendation.
Also, if you're interested in picking up a copy from the artist himself on the day it releases Chris will be signing at our South County Location on Wednesday April 7th from 5-8pm.