Friday, May 16, 2014

Sketched Comic: (not) Noir

Get out your bullwhips and ancient maps, we're reviewing Noir by Victor Gischler and Andrea Mutti!

The Sparrow is hired to steal a rare Moonstone from a Museum. But when a mysterious buyer comes along offering a higher price, she holds out and stiffs the original client. Now, with some help from The Shadow and Miss Fury, will she get a big payday or a bullet in the head?

I'm gettin' real tired of things being labeled noir that are definitely not noir.

That's quite literally the only reason I picked up this book. It is titled "Noir." If you haven't noticed, I am very much a fan of noir. But to my disappointment, it is actually high adventure pulp. And it's not even that the book is bad – it's actually good for what it is. And what is it? It is not noir. Why would they name it that? Why would they do this to me, personally? That's what it is, isn't it, a personal attack, no doubt. How dare they? It's like naming a book "Football" but it's actually about Water Polo. It's Iron Man Noir all over again.

I can only expect that the authors were and may still be ignorant of what noir actually is. Which, is honestly understandable, since noir can be a hard genre to define. But when you study it and watch enough of it, you know what it is and you know what it's not. It's got a lot of bits and bobs in it that COULD be noir. It's set in the 30's-40s. It' takes place mostly at night. The main protagonist is a thief who's not necessarily a paragon of morality. There are lots of gritty gun, fist and knife fights. I even started to think, "Wait, is this noir?"

But it’s not. What it's lacking (and which is pretty crucial) is a big moral question at the core of the story. How much can a man take before he goes over the edge? (The Big Heat) Can a former ex-con and the wife of a mob boss trust each other enough to act on their desires? (Bound) Will he stick his neck out to help the greater good or be selfish and run away with the woman he loves? (Casablanca) Questions like these – that deal with the soul and integrity of a character, asking if they'll still be whole after all this whole ordeal or if the events will break them – are what make a noir story. And there's none of that in Noir, the book. It's a pretty straight forward treasure hunt, including an ancient cave filled with death-traps a la Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Sure, there are some twists and turns in the story, but you never question whether The Sparrow or Miss Fury are going down a dangerous road that they'll never be able to come back from. At the end of the adventure, you know The Sparrow will be just as much a thief as she was at the start. There's no internal struggle. She's not fighting any inner demons; she just wants to get paid. 

But, again, even though it's not expressly noir (a personal annoyance for me) there's no reason you can't enjoy the book. It's not bad, but it's not amazing, either. It's not so good a story that I feel the need to shake you stupid until you went and picked up the book, is what I’m saying.  

The story, again, is pretty straight-forward. They run after a treasure. There are some twists and turns but it's nothing so intriguing that it'll blow your mind. The writing and dialogue are very good. What I do love is the "gentlemen adventurer" atmosphere. It has that air of high-class adventure pulp where all the heroes and villains sit around drinking wine and smoking cigars as they poke jabs at each other in polite company. Sparrow and Shadow are on opposite sides of the law and are apparently mortal enemies, but that doesn't mean they can't be civil. "Ah yes I see you're threatening my wife. Shall we meet later at the club to discuss this like civilized folk? Very good, then." Even the sadistic bad guys (who are surprisingly sex positive about BDSM) are jovial up to a point. It's really fun.

And hey, this is a book that four out of five issues has two female leads, AND a female villain, so that's pretty cool. I feel like I should be more excited about that. Maybe if I knew more about The Sparrow or Miss Fury I would be into it more? Honestly, if they had a REAL ongoing noir book starring Miss Fury and The Sparrow I would be pretty into it. They seem like cool characters. Although, is it a rule that all female thieves/adventurers have to be shown in their underwear? Or is this all because they're copying Catwoman and Black Cat? Like, how many male thieves do we see just nonchalantly lying around in their underwear and then getting into gunfights?

The art is alright. It gets the job done. I don't want to downplay Andrea Mutti's skills, but there wasn't anything that really wowed me. It's not bad art! And the story progresses well. It's alright.

So, yeah. It's not technically noir, but it's not technically bad either.

THE GOOD: Two female leads, alright story, good writing, fun gentlemanly atmosphere.

THE BAD: NOT NOIR, Art is just okay, story is just alright, lounging underwear shot, really?

THE VERDICT: $$$ Look, it's false advertising. Don't name your books something they're not. Even without that, it's not an amazing book that I'd overly recommend you go out and get. It's an alright book if you're looking for a fun high-pulp adventure treasure-hunt story.

BOOKS LIKE IT: Iron Man Noir, The Shadow, Miss Fury, Mystery Men

ONE-PAGE METAPHOR: There's one scene in issue one where The Shadow meets up with The Sparrow, and The Sparrow tries to seduce him into being more of an adventurer, saying this suits him better than boring normal life. The Shadow has a short inner monologue saying he hates turning into The Shadow, but it feels right, and part of him worries that she may be right. This is about as noir as it gets. Unfortunately, this is the only scene, and The Shadow departs after the first issue. Maybe I should check out his book instead?

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