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Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries #1 -- I was about 2/3rds of the way through this issue when I realized I was having the same kind of fun I have when I read a new issue of Brubaker and Phillips's Criminal. That's entirely because of the creative team. Writer Christopher Mills, whose Gravedigger a few years back also grabbed me with its hard-boiled noir stylings, is here paired with Joe Staton, who is at the very top of his game in depicting the Eisnerian rain-soaked streets of Port Nocturne, home to the mysterious and vengeful Femme Noir.

This first issue involves the question of who, exactly, the blond crimefighter actually is, and if I again invoke Eisner and The Spirit, it's only in the very best sense. Femme Noir herself could be any one of three suspects, each one given a powerful origin story while moving the plot along nicely. Like Eisner, Mills and Staton create a completely believable environment as a backdrop for their sometimes dark, sometimes pulpy morality plays. The rain is a brutal, oppressive force of nature that hammers down on the guilty and the innocent alike, never playing favourites, soaking the city in a palpably wet and unforgiving atmosphere.

Joe Staton has been a favourite artist of mine since I first saw his work in E-Man in the mid-1970s. If you only know him from work for DC like Scooby Doo, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the dramatic staging and level of detail he brings to Femme Noir, with help from inker Horacio Ottolini. From the inner chambers of a gangster's mansion to a filthy warehouse populated by card-playing hoods, Staton brings Mills's story vividly to life, and colourist Melissa Kaercher gets the muted palette just exactly right -- not the murky browns and grays so much comic art is swallowed whole by these days, but a sensitive and thoughtful application of downbeat colours that are effectively offset by highlights in the rain, or the eerie green glow of a lunatic scientist's "super-science invention right out of a dime pulp magazine." I knew Staton had this sort of work in him -- parts of E-Man were incredibly dark for the time and the intended audience, but it's great to see him working in this style again. He hasn't lost a thing, and in fact his style seems more bold and confident than ever, the very opposite of photo-realistic, but altogether thrilling to immerse yourself in as a reader.

I can't tell you how many comics I've read in the past ten years that have tried and failed to achieve the sort of storytelling and atmosphere that Femme Noir gets just right. It's about as good as crime comics get these days, fine competition for my other favourite crime comic Criminal, with the added bonus that its tone and style are completely different. The Spirit may provide a bit of the inspiration for this series, but Mills and Staton take that inspiration and make something both new and familiar, something gorgeous to look at and wildly entertaining to read.


More information is available at the Femme Noir website.



Blogger Christopher Mills said...

Thanks for the review, Alan! Any comparison to CRIMINAL is high praise indeed. Glad you dug the book. The original inspiration for the series was to do a "female Spirit," but a lot of Mike Hammer and The Shadow crept into her character before we were done.

A new GRAVEDIGGER graphic novel, "The Predators," is in the works for next year, also from Ape, and I've currently got a three-issue KOLCHAK TALES miniseries ("Night Stalker of the Living Dead") slowly dribbling out from Moonstone. Issue #2 hit shops the same day as FEMME NOIR #1.

Thanks again!

16 July, 2008 01:23  
Blogger Chad said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Alan. I loved Gravedigger and hadn't heard about this comic.

16 July, 2008 12:22  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Glad to hear it, Chad!

16 July, 2008 13:04  

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