Graham Culbertson of Movies et al. has provided a definitive list of noir inspired comics. I’ve read a handful of his selections and cannot wait to dig into the others. This is truly an epic list.

If you’re like me and you love all kinds of “genre” entertainment, comics are a great way to get your fill of superheroes, police procedurals, horror, fantasy, science fiction, mice with swords, and all the other fun escapist pleasures that are ignored or reserved for hackwork in the film world.

One of these is noir. Ever since Frank Miller revitalized Batman in 1986 with the noir-influenced The Dark Knight Returns, noir comics have been a steadily growing commodity. As part of Noir Month, here are 10 great comics that can get you through these dark times where the Hollywood noir is as rare as the well-written Fantastic Four movie. Happy reading!

I’ve broken the list into two sets of 5. The first set is straight noir for those of you purists. The second five represent noir intersecting with science fiction, superheroics, or some other genre exercise. If you only like your noir straight up, the first five are for you, but if you can handle a cocktail, the whole list is for you.

1. Sin City
Art and Words by Frank Miller
7 volumes ($12-$28 a volume)
Library Likelihood: High

Frank Miller’s Sin City is a black and white wonderland; if you saw the movie, the comic looks exactly like that, except possibly more violent, more misogynistic, and more over the top. Miller got his start in superheroes, and his noir characters have a tendency to jump off buildings and come out alive. No worries. This series has got style to spare, and the dialogue sounds like Hammett on crack. This is the definitive noir comic, by which all others are judged.

2. Criminal
Words by Ed Brubaker; Art by Sean Phillips
3 Volumes, and ongoing ($12-$15 a volume)
Library Likelihood: Low

If Frank Miller is the aging former king of comics noir, Ed Brubaker is the ascending star taking his throne. Criminal is Brubaker’s masterpiece; he’s described it as Sin City with a more realistic tone. Like Sin City, the volumes follow different characters but are set in the same city, with one book’s star a bit player in the next volume. Each volume so far is a genre exercise: v1 is a classic heist noir, v2 is a revenge bloodbath, and v3 is a 70s blaxsploitation flick complete with an intro by John Singleton. Brubaker’s less flamboyant dialogue goes great with Sean Phillips’ iconic drawing and murky colors.

You Might Also Like: Scene of the Crime: A Little Piece of Goodnight

3. Why are You Doing This?
Words and Art by Jason
1 Volume ($13)
Library Likelihood: Low

Norwegian cartoonist Jason is a minimalist: he uses few lines and even fewer words. He also, for unknown reasons, draws anthropomorphic animals instead of people. No matter: he’s a master of all genres, including swashbuckler, zombies, science fiction, and coming of age story, but he specializes in noir. In this comic, a regular guy is mistaken for a murderer and must go on the run, trying to find out the reasons for the murder while staying alive when the real killer wants him dead. Like Woody Allen, Jason is a genius with final scenes, and the last panel of Why Are You Doing This? will have you thinking for days.

You Might Also Like: The Iron WagonThe Left Bank Gang

4. Torso / Fortune and Glory
Words and Art by Brian Michael Bendis
Torso: 1 Volume ($25) Fortune and Glory: 1 Vol ($15)
Library Likelihood: Medium

Most people would put Bendis up with Brubaker as modern noir masters, but frankly, I can’t stand his Mamet-influenced reams and reams of meaningless dialogue. My favorite Bendis noir is Torso, the true story of Eliot Ness’ attempt to catch the torso serial killer in Cleveland after taking down Capone in Chicago. But the best part of reading the grim Torso is getting to read Fortune and Glory, the hilariously true story of Bendis trying to get Torso made into a Hollywood movie. It may not be a true noir, but there are enough false leads and red herrings to fill a dozen films. But mostly, it’s just fun to watch an outsider satirize every human in Hollywood, including the “smartest man in Hollywood” who is sure that Eliot Ness is a fictional character.

You Might Also Like: Bendis’ GoldfishJinx

5. Fell
Words by Warren Ellis; Art by Ben Templesmith
1 Volume, and ongoing ($15)
Library Likelihood: Medium

For reasons unknown, Detective Richard Fell has requested a transfer across the bridge to the decaying urban wasteland of Snowtown. Sci-fi writer Warren Ellis throws every gruesome real-life story he runs across into Fell’s path: alcohol enema murders, stolen fetus spirit wards, fecal injections…you name it, Ellis has ripped it from obscure headlines and turned shit into shit-based art. Multimedia artist Ben Templesmith takes this mess and somehow, with his array of atmospheric effects, makes it even more distasteful than you can imagine. Many people (including myself) consider this to be the best comic currently being published, but it’s not for the faint of heart – or for people afraid of homicidal nuns in Nixon masks.

Image Comics has actually placed the entire first issue of Fell online, which you can find here.

You Might Also Like: Crimes Against Humanity, Pure Depravity, Moral Decrepitude

Fine, you say, those are all well in good, but what if I like my noir with a slice of scifi technology or Nolan-style superheroics? These five are for you:

1. The Dark Knight Returns / Batman: Year 1
DKR: Words and Art by Frank Miller; Year 1: Words byMiller, Art by David Mazzucchelli
DKR: 1 Volume, $15Year 1: 1 Volume, $15
Library Likelihood: If your library has only 2 comics, these are probably it

If you ask anyone who knows anything what the best Batman comic is, they’ll either point you to Miller’s tale of excessive chaos and murder, The Dark Knight Returns, or his more restrained tale of Batman’s origin, Batman: Year One. In other words, if you liked Batman Begins, you’ll love Batman: Year One, and if you thought The Dark Knightwas creepy, you need to see The Joker on Letterman in The Dark Knight Returns. These are the comics that made Batman relevant, that made noir comics cool, and that made Christopher Nolan’s Batmovies possible. If you only ever read two comics, these are your choices.

As of the writing of this, Amazon has each volume available for only $9. I would spend that $18 immediately. Hell, buy two of each!
You Might Also Like: Grant Morrison’s current run on Batman

2. Desolation Jones
Words by Warren Ellis; Art by J.H. Williams III
1 Volume ($15)
Library Likelihood: Low

The science fiction equivalent of Fell, this is Warren Ellis’ reworking of the classic film The Big Sleep. Except this time, L.A. is the prison for every intelligence operative in the world who was burned, and many of them have been augmented, including our hero Mr. Jones, who can no longer feel any emotions or sleep for more than a few minutes – a year of horrific experimentation did that to him. A rich man’s Hitler porn has been stolen, his daughters are somehow involved, and Jones is willing to get the job done. That is, he doesn’t mind sticking his fingers through someone’s eye and into their brain if they’re threatening him. He’s a sick bastard.

You Might Also Like: See You Might Also Like: Fell

3. Sleeper
Words by Ed Brubaker; Art by Sean Phillips
4 volumes ($18 a Volume)
Library Likelihood: Medium

Before they collaborated on Criminal, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips were the men behind Sleeper, a long-running superhero noir that followed Holden Carver, a government agent masquerading as a member of a criminal organization comprised of superpowered villains. Sleeper covers a lot of the same ground as The Departed – Carver’s contact is in a coma, so he’s on his own, with no allies and a number of sticky situations which require him to balance his real and his cover identity. This series features Brubaker’s finest female character, and one of the finest femme fatales ever to smolder her way through a noir: Miss Misery, a superpowered woman who feels sick and loses her powers whenever she’s not doing the wrong thing. She sleeps with Holden for kicks, but eventually starts falling for him – and puking whenever they’re together. As always, Phillips’ art delivers, and the long-burning story never ceases to ratchet up the tension.

In related news, Tom Cruise and Sam Raimi are currently developing the silver screen version of Sleeper. Hopefully the Scientology disciple won’t squander all the goodwill he earned with his raging-studio-exec-in-a-fat-suit turn in Tropic Thunder. Fingers crossed.

You Might Also Like: Brubaker’s Catwoman

4. Powers
Words by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Michael Avon Oeming
11 Volumes, and Ongoing ($15-$21 a Volume)
Library Likelihood: Low

As I stated earlier, I’m not really a big fan of Bendis’ dialogue, and frankly his noir plots aren’t that compelling either. But with Powers, he’s created a full fledged superhero universe that is as noir as Sin City itself. The real master here is Oeming; his art is glossy, colorful, cartoony, and somehow every bit as noir as Phillips’. This series follows the misadventures of two police detectives, a hardened veteran and his new partner, and indulges in almost every cop cliche imaginable. But just look at the pictures. They’ll get you through.

You Might Also Like: Bendis’ run on Daredevil

5. Daredevil
Words by Ed Brubaker; Art by Michael Lark
4 Volumes, and Ongoing ($15-$18 a Volume)
Library Likelihood:
 Very Low

The consensus is that the best Daredevil stories since Miller turned that third-rate superhero into a noir hero come from Bendis. Well, yeah, if Bendis didn’t suck. Brubaker is currently writing the title, aided by longtime collaborator Michael Lark, and it’s a fun ride through superhero and noir territory. Again, Brubaker tries lots of genres on for size: Welles style European mystery, hard-boiled prison narrative, and classic detective work. Michael Lark’s gritty and realistic artwork turns some silly Marvel super-villains into deadly serious business, and this series has got patsies and femme fatales to spare. But please, ignore the movie – even if Lark’s Daredevil does look exactly like Ben Affleck.

You Might Also Like: Brubaker and Lark following Jim Gordon’s major crimes unit in Gotham Central

About The Author

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.