Article published on June 11, 2018.
This latest instalment in the BookNoir Graphic Novels Round-Up feature introduces some of the best crime-related graphic novels currently available:
Button Man: Get Harry Ex by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson
There are great nods to classic noir in this fast-paced thriller that has elements of the psychological and full on action. This collected edition of the Harry Extinction story is as prescient now as it was when originally published nearly thirty years ago.
A dark stranger turns up at a psychiatrist’s office just as the secretary leaving, she puts him off but Dr Spalding agrees to see the agitated and bleeding man. Harry Exton confesses to an addiction to killing. He’s a button man in the killing game. The voices tell him to kill. Its not what it seems, the voices are real people at the other end of the telephone. Rich people who hire men like Harry as their personal killers in staged fights, because they can, because they get off on it, because they love money and feel the button men are there for their pleasure. Harry, ex-soldier, ex-merc, has got into the game through his mate Carl, now dead.
“GLADIATORS, THATS WHAT WE ARE, ‘ARRY…”
Every few weeks Harry gets a phone call, he picks up his instructions and goes to work. He has no idea who he is killing for. Once he survives the first fight Harry becomes a proficient killer. A lot of money is changing hands so when Harry decides he wants out a lot of people are angry. Why is Harry now telling all this to Dr Spalding? Its the first of three adventures for Harry, culminating in an explosive finale. Lots of people want to get Harry Ex but he won’t go quietly, the body count is set to rise!
Hints of PTSD, of rich thinking that poor are expendable, serious points. Some genuinely dark, nihilistic traits. A moody setting, well drawn and beautifully coloured, like the text echoing film classics from Rambo and Dirty Harry to Dr Strangelove. Totally absorbing noir, twisty and full of betrayal and duplicity. Witty and cool.
**** 2000AD 978178108389 pbk April 2018
The Hard Place by Doug Wagner, Nic Rummel, Charlie Kirchoff & Brain Selfreeze
A.J. Gurney, once the best wheelman in the business, has spent five years in prison due to his now legendary criminal exploits. Finally a free man, A.J. is determined to go straight. Unfortunately for him, he walks into the wrong bank at the wrong time and finds himself coerced into acting as a getaway driver once more. Gurney is trapped in an impossible situation in a Detroit that is both disturbingly familiar and alarmingly alien – he doesn’t want a life of crime anymore, but he’s stuck between banks robbers and the Russian mob, and doing the right thing is certainly proving difficult.
The Hard Place is an incredibly action-packed book. In true Fast & Furious style, there’s a surfeit of violence, aggro, witty banter and car chases. The story moves along at a cracking pace, with plenty of thrills, spills and flesh wounds, but the prominence of the action elements does mean that some of the characters feel a little underdeveloped. A.J. is well fleshed out as the anti-hero caught up in a dangerous situation that is not of his own making, while Alex is able to hold her own despite being initially positioned as something of a damsel in distress, a MacGuffin of sorts whose presence means that A.J. can’t easily escape from the consequences of the bank robbery at the beginning of the book. The villains, however, are really just clichéd thugs and mobsters and there seems little doubt that they’ll eventually get their comeuppance. It’s not the most original of stories, but it is thrilling and well told and the artwork is very appealing.
**** Image Comics 9781534304925 pbk Jun 2018
The Micanopy Murders Bk 1 by Elizabeth Blue
A beautifully moody and original little story that demonstrates the different qualities that graphic story telling can bring to the crime tale. Elizabeth Blue has a drawing style, black and white, and rhythm to her use of language that give this take a lot of charm.
“The air went hot and sick to the in-breath
and reports ran constant of the very young
and old falling prey to the strokes of the sun.”
Its a story loaded with allusions, changes of pace and presentation. The oppressive heat overhangs everything. Summer of ’61, Micanopy, Alachua County, Florida. Hottest, driest season for years. So bad the that religious pray for rain, the plants are dying, tempers fray. Then the rains come. At the height of the storm the pharmacist Daniel Cotton is brutally murdered. A policeman recalls that the Hicks were murdered in just such a storm. Misty keeps getting vivid bloody, violent nightmares, Dr Zey tells her its nothing to be ashamed of, they can work out why an innocent young woman would have these black dreams. Journalist Rich is still reeling from the murder of Rebecca, his girlfriend. He sees something in Misty, a chance to rejoin the world, a cause he can fight for. Intriguing and genuinely funny at times. This first instalment in the Micanopy Murders is a thoughtful piece.
**** Atlantic Press 9780955734885 pbk
The Red Haze by Emilia Wharfe
I’m stretching the realms of crime here, this is a fantasy that reflects on the devastation of war on the innocent. Its an allegorical tale, absurd and horrific. A bedtime story for all ages. Syria. I don’t normally get involved in children’s tales but this may be one for parents to think about. Lyrical prose:
“To see beyond the deadly haze to see beyond the deadly red army they carefully observe their breath. Each natural breath on its way in and out on its way in and out.”
However, most strikingly fantastic illustrations (in both senses of the word). Inspired by Gertrude Stein’s The World is Round. Wharfe’s grandparents survived a perilous journey during the Finnish war with Russia that underpins the tale of Marti and Ilma. Once the children flee the red haze they are running for their lives and there is no turning back. The ice, the seeds and the soldiers. The screaming and the Myling. Poetic and ultimately uplifting. Defiance and bravery. Drawings almost abstract convey the mystery, the terror and the fear, but also the strength.
**** Atlantic Press 9781999792503 pbk 2017
The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake and Lax
New York, June 1969. John Dortmunder is fresh out of jail when he bumps into old amigo, Kelp. Literally that is, because Kelp nearly runs him down in a stolen Cadillac outside the prison. Initially Dortmunder doesn’t want to know about the job his ex-partner has in mind. He calls June, the kind of girl who can make him forget your troubles and that works for a while. It’s only when June says she can get Dortmunder a job selling encyclopaedias, his idea of a dead end, that going straight isn’t so appealing anymore. Dortmunder let’s Kelp rope him in on a jewel heist. Talabwo used to be a British colony but since independence the two warring tribes who make up most of the population split the country in two. Now it’s Talabwo and Akinzi. A national treasure, an emerald worth $500,000, is in the possession of Akinzi but it’s rightful owner is Talabwo, at least that’s what they say. Fortunately it’s on display at a museum in New York City, right now. Colonel Iko, the Talabwo ambassador to the United Nations, will pay $150,000 for the stone. Dortmunder agrees to do the job if the expenses are thrown in. “I MUST SAY THIS IS BECOMING EXPENSIVE….. WE DON’T HAVE THE MEANS TO SUPPORT FOREIGN CRIMINALS THE WAY SOME COUNTRIES CAN….” says the Colonel. Dortmunder recruits a team and sets up Plan A (the first of many). Can Iko be trusted? Not a cat in hell’s chance! Nothing is going to be straightforward from here on in.
Adapted from the first Dortmunder novel by Westlake and drawn by Lax. The drawing style and moody wash backgrounds help create the noir edge to the story, but the intentionally lighter frames point up the comedy superbly. From the near hit and run killing of the anti-hero Dortmunder, to the jail break in a Cobra Shelby, to even more exotic plans to capture the elusive stone, Hot Rock is fierce and farce all the way. Action and double cross with a satisfyingly poetic ending. From the criminal’s point of view you’ll wonder if it’s all worth it. From a reader’s point of view, hell yeah! A lot of fun.
Self Made Hero 9781906838140 pbk ****
Paul Burke and Erin Britton