Comics for the Uninitiated: Crime
A series of adaptations of Richard Stark's novels about his most famous character, the ruthless career criminal, Parker. Darwyn Cooke takes on both the writing and art duties on these adaptations that both pay tribute to the original novels and elevate the stories and characters into something new. The monochromatic art style of the books brings an interesting feel to the world, with each story coloured in a different colour, ranging from deep blues to vibrant yellows. Parker isn't your usual anti-hero but instead is a man out for himself and will not compromise his own, strict if slightly off ideals, for anyone else, especially if it could harm his next job. A thrilling read from start to finish, there are currently four graphic novel adaptations and each can be read individually or as part of the whole series.
Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips are probably the best team working in crime comics there has ever been. It would have been easy to write this article and only include work from them, but I thought I'd look closer at their longest running series, Criminal. Each graphic novel is a complete story with some connections between them in terms of characters and their shared world. Loan sharks, drug kingpins and femme fatales - Criminal has everything a good noir should contain, together with Phillip's art, which is dark and brooding, and Brubaker's excellent plotting and perfect dialogue. Other fantastic books from this unbeatable pair are: Fatale, for those that like a bit of Lovecraftian horror in their noir thrillers; Sleeper, for a bit more of a spy thriller; and Fade Out, for a old hollywood crime story.
A crime/thriller set on a Native American reservation: Dashiell “Dash” Bad Horse, who, fifteen years after he ran away from his life of poverty and hopelessness, returns but is hiding something from the people he once called his friends and neighbours. Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera come together to create a brilliant crime/thriller that keeps you up late at night reading for hours on end. With expertly devised characters and a dark, dank and unrelenting setting in the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, Scalped is a slow burning story of secrets, lies and redemption.
A noir thriller with a difference, the whole cast of characters are anthropomorphic animals. Don't let this put you off though as the world in which Blacksad takes place is more realistic than most despite its feline protagonist. Detective Blacksad holds all the same brooding, chain smoking characteristics of a classic noir detective reminiscent of the greats like Hammett's Sam Spade and Chandler's Phillip Marlowe. Artist Juanjo Guarnido's beautifully painted pages and his lavish cinematic style bring the world to life combined with writer Juan Diaz Canales' tales of intrigue, conspiracy and tensions within America of the 1950s.
Brian Michael Bendis is probably one of the biggest names in comics right now with seminal runs on Spider-Man, The Avengers and the X-Men but there was a time before his superhero reign where he was writing smaller self contained stories. One of those was the brilliant Torso, arguably the book that put Bendis' name on the map. Torso is based on the real life events of the Cleveland Torso Murderer case, following Elliot Ness as he, in a time before high tech labs and equipment, searches for a horrific killer. A genuinely creepy story that while not 100% factual accurate is thrilling, engaging and a chilling look into one of America's greatest unsolved crime sprees.