Friday, August 22, 2014

Noir Comic Week: Noche Roja

It's the final day of noir-comic-week palooza! We're wrapping up with a review of Noche Roja by Simon Oliver and Jason Latour!

Jack Cohen is a washed-up private eye. He’s trying to make a living selling alarm systems to hapless rich people when Paloma Flores asks him to investigate the kidnapping and murder of several young girls across the border in Mexico. It’s been eleven years since Cohen has been on that side of the border. Can he put the past behind him or will he be forced to dredge it up and seek answers to long dead questions?

I half like Noche Roja because over half the cast is Mexican, but on the other hand, since the main character is a straight white guy, the story wanders dangerously close to "white savior in dirty foreign country." I think the only thing that saves it is that Jack isn't any kind of savior and mucks up about as much as he saves.

He's an interesting character, and I like finding out what makes him tick – like the story behind his "rules" for the job, and why he left Mexico – but he's still a straight white dude. It's not too obnoxious and he's a pretty straight-forward washed-up noir detective, but I can't help thinking it would have been more interesting and a better story had it featured a more diverse main character. Someone like, say, Paloma? She’s a badass. I really like Paloma as a character! She's a complex female character with her own motives and wants, but she's not a Strong Female Character that's just a badass. 

The story behind the abductions and murders is interesting, made so by the characters and sticky situations they end up in. The story even gets a tad political, with the border and immigrant issue, poor workers working in horrible conditions for next to no money, and taking a look at politicians who say big promises but may be doing more harm than good. 

Probably the biggest problem with the story is the grotesque things that are done to young women. Young women. There's nothing graphic on the page, but there are definitely girls in their teens that are sexually abused, mutilated and killed. There's a scene where a 14(?) year old girl is forced to perform oral sex on a guy and – WOW, gross. C'mon guy. Sure, she gets some violent bloody revenge on him later, but still. Gross. Gross, gross, GROOOSS. That's gonna turn away a lot of people. Sure, ok, showing us what these workers are put through is important, and it says something about slut-shaming, but that level of detail was unnecessary. Ugh.

I generally like the art. It's got a nice exaggerated style and the characters are cartoony enough with their own unique traits, so you can tell them apart. But sometimes it's too dark to tell what's going on, especially since it's done on black paper and uses a bunch of tones. As far as art problems go, being too dark isn't THAT bad for a noir, but still, it definitely convoluted more than it embellished.

The story is thrilling, there's lots of action and shootouts, there's plenty of gory revenge killing, and it has a pretty great ending. But there is a lot that could turn people off. I know there's a certain kind of crime story that delves into the worst and lowest forms of humanity, much like Fogtown, but I still wish the book weren't so perverse in its chosen depiction of crime drama.

THE GOOD: Cartoony characters, good story, diverse cast, great female characters, bloody,

THE BAD: Lots of terrible things done to young women, art is sometimes too dark.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ It's got some great characters and cool art and a compelling story, but the depravity of the bad guys may be a huge red flag for some.

BOOKS LIKE IT: Fogtown, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Cowboys, Black Cherry

ONE-PAGE METAPHOR: There's a great scene where a group of drunks threaten violence against Paloma's organization, and Paloma diffuses them, not by beating their asses, but reminding them that she knows all of them and is friends with their wives, daughters, sons and sisters. That is BADASS – a kind of badass we rarely see. I really wish she had been the main character.

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