“I’ve got 72 hours to live, Mr. Chandler. I want you to find my murderer.”
Red Tide: A Chandler Novel
I’m not going to apologize for being away from noirwhale.com for so long, but I figure I at least owe everyone an explanation. As some of you know, I’m still attending school while maintaining a full-time job. April just happened to be a particularly brutal work-load convergence, finals on one hand, thousands of dollars worth of needy clients on the other. By the end of the month, I was feeling a bit wrung-out and needed a break. I’ve got a few personal noir projects on the back burner and was able to spend a few joyful weeks tinkering with them (someday I’ll share). Additionally, I’ve been reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and his prose is as seductive as everyone promised. But I’m back now, and eager to share some mighty fine noir.
“Hothouse Bruiser” is a particularly intriguing piece of noir media– It’s a homage to the radio dramas of the pre-tv generation, but feels (and sounds) fresh to death. The drama is thick and cold, and the jazzy soundtrack is catchy and intoxicating. Great vocal talents, snappy dialogue, and creative storytelling collide in a work that is not entirely noir, nor entirely sci-fi. It straddles the neon window like Blade Runner or (more recently) Looper. Both rely on the potent noir atmosphere to set the tone in a futuristic story-scape.
Here is the teaser video:
“Hothouse Bruiser” vs. the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The setting for the audio drama is a city-within-a-city, the Los Angeles ‘Quarantine’– supposedly the inhabitants within have contracted a ‘binary virus’, and any contact with someone outside the quarantine will result in both individuals’ deaths. Saeger Corp runs the Quarantine like a maximum security prison, and hand out privileges to those who show obedience.
2) The Anti-Hero
Jason Bruiser is the anti-hero of the story (voiced brilliantly by Paul Nobrega). He’s an ex-cop who’s separated from his family, trapped in the Quarantine. But he’s got connections, on the inside and out, and he’s used them to earn a reputation. Bruiser is conflicted by the man he ought to be and the man he’s becoming- with a teenage boy and little girl on the outside (and neighbor who may be inching in on his wife), he’s struggling to remain pure in a world that rewards the wicked.
3) The Femme Fatale
The Quarantine is full of deadly dames, and they all take their shots at Bruiser. He gives as good as he gets, and the dialogue is a tasty tribute to the noir tradition (just enough cheese and sleaze to keep us tuned in). If I had to choose one of the many as THE femme fatale, Vera Grayle is it (voiced by the famous Traci Lords). She’s the buxom prospector of a local dive, where shots are $100.00 a piece and your secrets are for sale.
Enough of the old school machismo floats around in “Hothouse Bruiser” to raise the temperature of the more feminist listeners– but the dames aren’t all body and beauty, they’re cruel and calculating also. The most obvious misogyny is Bruiser piling threats of physical harm on the broads that cross him.
In the Hothouse redemption is only found beyond the wall, and everyone will do anything to get it. As the plot steeps Bruiser in sin, he begins to lose hope that redemption exists; when his hope evaporates, his morals go with it.
6) Loss of Innocence
Bruiser’s story is framed by the ‘fallen angel’ archetype. Early on, he’s pushing away the lusty ladies, talking about fidelity and refusing to kill no matter the odds. But, as the story winds on… he starts dipping his toes in the gray areas.
One of my favorite lines was something like this: “I flicked the cigarette out of her mouth, and kissed her so she’d know I was serious.”– SO good.
8 ) Emasculation
Bruiser feels handcuffed inside the quarantine. He can’t defend his family from the incursion of men on the outside, and he’s powerless to free himself. He’s like a bird with clipped wings– and too often he’s at the mercy of the owners of the cage.
I love “Hothouse Bruiser”– we need more radio dramas of this quality on the airwaves. Oh? Did I forget to mention that it’s FREE?
Robert Maguire is an easy addition to noirwhale.com’s noir artist gallery– the guy created over 600 amazing covers for pulps since 1950.
He was born in 1921, and only died recently in 2005. He studied at Duke University until he joined the war effort in WWII, and when he returned he quickly joined the Art Students League. During that time, He was the pupil of the relatively famous Frank Reilly. His career was immensely successful, and he produced art for dozens of publishing firms.
He’s known for his mastery of the female form, particularly his emphasis on the femme fatale archetype (the beautiful yet deadly siren of the noir genre). A softness exists in his work which renders it alluring and atmospheric, a window into the colorful pages of the novel beyond. I find his art to be extremely seductive, an ode to the manipulative women who spur the plotlines and control our anti-heroes. Looking at his covers, it’s easy to see why he has become a prized piece of any collectors’ library.
Here are a couple of great anecdotes from Robert that I found in the American Art Archives:
“My first wife was a model, but for the most part, I didn’t go near models. They were too fast living. I used one model quite a bit and she invited my wife and I down to see her dancing around ’53, ’54, and she was dancing in a mafia club. The Copacabana, in fact.
“The models were very ‘active.’ They weren’t real. A lot of them were on drugs. I had one girl posing against a backdrop. She put her arms over her head and slowly slumped to the floor. I had to go over and shake her awake in order to finish the shoot. We had deadlines.”
Unfortunately, the first marriage didn’t last, though his second did, thanks to an introduction to a lovely woman by his friend, Leone. “I was divorced and John introduced me to an available lady whose husband died. That was over 20 years ago when I met Janice.” They’ve been happily married ever since.
“My friends and I were mostly in paperback books. The magazines were dying, mostly due to the advent of television. But we couldn’t wait to get the magazine copies and see what guys like Coby Whitmore were doing. All these great artists, Whitcomb, Al Parker, Bob Peak, Joe DeMers. We weren’t allowed to be that sophisticated. They could do this intricate design work. We tried to do use some sophisticated design and the paperback guys would say, ‘Why don’t you just show the girls with the big boobs.’ I used to work with a very crude individual — he shall be nameless — he was an art director — but one painting he wanted the gown lowered on the woman, ‘show more cleavage.’ So I’d lower it and he’d want it lowered some more. Well, another quarter of an inch and I’d be showing the nipples. That’s anatomy! But still, ‘Well, make it a little lower.’ Any lower and her breasts were down around her stomach. And then he wondered why the girl didn’t look quite right. But you couldn’t argue with some of these people (though of course, I did).”
(His most famous book cover is ‘Black Opium’-- I’ve only provided a link to it because it does feature mild nudity)
This isn’t the first review I’ve done of this noir comic. When I first created a blog, this was one of the books that I was most internally divided upon; half of me loved it’s raw appeal and profane characters, while my other side felt it lacked sincerity (truth, even). I’ve decided to include an excerpt from my younger self, a sort of time capsule review of The Last Days of American Crime– I feel like much of it still fits:
The Last Days of American Crime follows a nobody thug named Graham Burke as he tries to pull off one last heist. The American Government is taking paper money out of the equation in favor of Federally-Controlled electronic credits. Also, they intend to broadcast a signal country-wide that will effectively brainwash the populous, making it impossible for any citizen to knowingly break the law. Initially, Graham has to hire some new partners because the Mexican gang he was allied with double-crossed him (and he “burned” them for it). He hired Kevin (a safe cracking specialist) and his girlfriend Shelby (who knows her way around computers (and the bedroom *wink)). Kevin says he knows where to find a laser cutter, and he leaves Graham and Shelby to prepare for the heist. The problem is Graham’s old partners want back in, and they are willing to do anything to get revenge.
Remender seems to let his pen trace the edge of the taboo and outré, slicing the “politically correct” and daring all to be offended. He forces his readers to the cliff of what they will accept, and then he shoves them just as they were achieving balance. I admire his daring, but I wonder how much of his writing is tied down by this gimmick. Is he a good author because of his extreme style and taste? or are his depictions of the bizarre and offensive a smokescreen for poor writing? For me, it’s too early to say.
Even now, a few years later, I’m not sure about Remender’s style. Certainly I feel that he deserves merit for his literary accomplishments, but there’s some perfume clinging to his work that smells insincere and contrived. As a reader, I recognized that the plot was pushing boundaries– but it felt…unnatural. Overall, I’m pleased with the appraisal delivered by my younger self, and I could definitely see his point while re-reading this comic.
The noir definition vs. The Last Days of American Crime:
1) The Seedy Underworld
A futuristic Chicago underworld– not quite post-apocalyptic, but well on it’s way. Dive bars, condemned buildings, and chaotic streets aflame with debauchery and self-destruction.
2) The Anti-Hero
Graham is old and sour. He’s a security guard with a big idea, and a timeline that’s applying enough pressure to make him risky. He’s calculating and violent, unafraid of any hombre and lacks ties that would render a similar man vulnerable. He’s the sole caretaker of his Alzheimer’s diseased mother, and the proud proprietor of a trailer home. As a character, he’s static and predictable.
3) The Femme Fatale
Shelby Dupree is an exquisite femme fatale– she’s manipulative and beautiful, with her alliances set to roulette. She’s the most dynamic character in the story, and easily the best creation of the piece. Yet she’s still a victim of the classic noir male-author pitfall; she’s completely male-defined– the silver lining is that from her first scene to the last panel, you can’t trust her. I got the feeling that she was betting on horses (each of the male characters) and because she bet on all of them she’s bound to win something in the end. I loved that.
Within The Last Days of American Crime, horrible violence is perpetrated against females (to be fair, all of the characters are victims of violence, but the women take more than their fair share). I’m willing to bet that this comic would upset most female readers (I know it upset me).
Not as much of a redemption theme as you’d think– at least not for Graham. For Shelby, I can see a redemption plot line pretty clearly, but even this is minimal. No, this story is about money– its a smash and grab bank robbery at heart; redeem us from our poverty! redeem us from government control!
Greg Tocchini locks this theme down. Rick’s dialogue was alright, but there are a couple scenes that are incredibly sexy just because of the way they’re drawn. Mr. Tocchini has an superb gift, and I admit he was the primary reason that I re-read the comic. Conversely, there are many scenes that try to be erotic and come off as disgusting– just rote crap that panders to teenage boys and requires zero finesse.
7) The Loss of Innocence
The Last Days of American Crime has many scenes that are meant to shock you as a reader. The trouble is where to find the line drawn between progressive authorial intent and contrived B.S. — You’ll have to read it and tell me I’m wrong.
8 ) Smoke
All the butts in all the trays– the tobacco tar grime stains our fingers as we turn page to page. Delightful.
This theme is the most prevalent in the noir comic– each of the men are afraid that they’re being manipulated or played by Shelby (and of course they all are). Additionally, there is a blackmail scenario that involves one of Shelby’s beautiful girlfriends getting the best of Graham’s supervisor– and I don’t want to spoil it beyond that but it’s a complete blitz on his masculinity.
I was surprised by the ending because it wrapped up so nicely– I was prepped for a train-wreck, but the thing rattled through the chaos to a perfect conclusion (this bugged me a bit though, because noir comics shouldn’t leave us with warm fuzzies).
Read it if you’re not easily offended. Buy it for the art– it’s freaking awesome.
The “Femme Fatale” segment on NoirWhale.com is designed to highlight the life and merits of exceptional film noir actresses. These women are the embodiment of the femme fatale archetype, and propel possibly the most recognizable and integral theme in the noir genre.
“When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”
Jean Harlow, commonly called ‘the Blonde Bombshell’ or ‘the Platinum Blonde,’ was born Harlean Harlow Carpenter on March 3rd, 1911. So much has been said about her illustrious career and iconic sex appeal that I won’t claim this article to be an exhaustive biography– But! I would like to dwell for a few paragraphs on some of (what I found to be) the most interesting aspects and intricacies of her incredible life. I hope you’ll appreciate the reflection and forgive me the authorial liberty I take in ignoring broad strokes of her history.
In retrospect, the commanding presence of this little blonde lady from Kansas City Missouri during the 1930s is indeed remarkable. At that point in American Film, she was undoubtedly the most sexually magnetic actress on the silver screen– and having achieved this reputation at such a young age her future had the appearance of all the worldly splendor fame provides. Sadly renal failure at age 26 robbed her of this, and robbed the clamouring masses likewise. (Renal failure, for those curious, is when your kidneys no longer adequately filter waste products from the blood).
As a child in Kansas, she was nicknamed “The Baby,” and this sobriquet stuck with her until her death. Oddly enough, she didn’t learn that her name was Harlean and not “Baby” until she was five years old when she was enrolled in finishing school. When her mother and father divorced in 1922, “Baby” moved with her mother Jean to Hollywood (who hoped to become an actress herself, but was considered too old). Although she bounced back to Kansas, then Michigan, then Illinois, she would return to Los Angeles as a married woman in 1928. Her husband, Chuck McGrew, was heir to fortune, and she embraced the life of a socialite in LA (I’m told she did quite well for herself).
She made friends with an aspiring actress and was spotted and approached by Fox executives while sitting in her car outside a casting. Rather against her will, she was roped into auditioning and accepting several minor roles by her persistant mother (who at that time lived nearby). These films were not wildly successful and she struggled to gain traction, and it was during this time period that she was divorced from McGrew but everything changed in 1931 when she was cast with Loretta Young in Platinum Blonde.
In a stroke of marketing genius Howard Hughes publicity machine coined Harlow’s hair color ‘platinum’and created a bleaching craze accross the nation. As a result, “Baby’s” personal appearances were packed, excited affairs (and all this in spite of critical disgust for her acting ability).
Superstardom arrived at MGM– when she was signed for a contract and given the leading role in Red-Headed Woman (again with the hair, right?) She began to star opposite powerful leading men; six films with Clark Gable, a few with Spencer Tracy and William Powell. Apparently she even helped a few up-and-comers get started: Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone.
Let’s talk femme fatale appeal– MGM tried to change her public persona, they were angling for a more mainstream ‘apple pie’ look, but they couldn’t quell the nation’s hunger for the brash, poised, and sexual Platinum Harlow.
Her second husband, Paul Bern, was found shot dead in their home, and there were rumors that Harlow had committed the crime herself but none of the accusations stuck. The scandal only propelled her further into stardom.
She began an illicit affair with a married boxer named Max Baer (any of this starting to sound torn from the pages of the pulp rags?)– she was even censured in their divorce proceedings as an adultress. To save face, MGM arranged a marriage between Harlow and Harold Rosson (a cinematographer)– it worked, and Harlow and Rosson were able to discreetly divorce several months later.
During these subsequent scandals, Harlow was still acting prolifically and James Stewart (who was opposite her in Wife vs. Secretary) shares one of my favorite “Blonde Bombshell” stories:
“Clarence Brown, the director, wasn’t too pleased by the way I did the smooching. He made us repeat the scene about half a dozen times…I botched it up on purpose. That Jean Harlow sure was a good kisser. I realized that until then I had never been really kissed.”
In 1937 her health took a serious dive that ended with her in a coma. She never woke up. Like the beautiful sirens of Poe’s visions, she was stolen in the full flush of youth. Thus she’ll will remain in her beauty forever, whilst we are steeped in woe.
I’m proud to add her to the side-bar line up of immortal dames on noirwhale.com
“My God, must I always wear a low-cut dress to be important?”
*All biographical details obtained from:
*Quotes obtained from:
I cannot take any credit for this. My friend Chase O. in Georgia sent me an email with the following instructions:
Visit www.RainyMood.com and watch this video at the same time:
Changed my life. Enjoy.
Heavy Rain is a Playstation 3 game that was released in 2010– as such, this review will be full of spoilers so you should stop now if you want an untainted gaming experience.
The first time I played Heavy Rain was in 2010 with my wife, Hilary, and we completed the entire game within 48 hours. The game-play is a bizarre departure from standard fare, and coupled with incredible graphics and unique storytelling, Heavy Rain is a memorable experience. I revisited the game this week and drummed up all the old joys (and frustrations) once again. It’s a portrait of where games may go, and although it suffers from some inconsistencies it represents a beautiful moment in gaming history.
As a work of video game noir, it’s extremely pleasing- a collection of gritty vignettes which feel torn from the pulp rags of a previous era. The settings are perfectly detailed, and the rain dumps buckets of noir on the screen. The first chapters are suspiciously bright, but the memory of them later provides stark contrast within subsequent scenes. Not only are the backdrops dark, but the subject matter as well, and lends the thematic heaviness that should permeate any true noir media.
You control 4 separate characters throughout: Ethan Mars (an architect and father of two), Scott Shelby (a middle-age private eye), Norman Jayden (an FBI agent struggling with addiction), and Madison Paige (a loner photojournalist). Each character’s story orbits the central threat: a serial murderer called The Origami Killer.
Ethan is a textbook noir anti-hero. He blames himself for the death of his first son, and his self-inflicted shame robs him of self-worth and plunges him into depression. When his second son, Shaun, is kidnapped by the Origami Killer, his desperation reaches dangerous levels. I was annoyed that he never seemed to do what you’d do in a scenario, it wasn’t even an option. As the story unfolds, it’s obvious that the developers wanted you to feel in control of the action and direction of the plot– but sadly I frequently felt like a passenger instead of a driver. Why not go to the cops? The second I was contacted by the kidnapper of my son I would be talking to the cops. The letter Ethan received never told him that going to the police was against the rules, but he appears to not even think about it. So frustrating. A simple fix: one line in the letter that says “involve the cops and I kill your son.” Problem solved.
Scott Shelby is another great noir character. He’s a bit overweight and asthmatic, an ex-cop with a kind demeanor and an eye for detail. You come to love him in his quest to gather clues from the victimized families who’ve lost little boys to the killer, and then you’re shattered when you discover that Scott IS the killer. I was peeved, not because he was a lovable character who turned out evil, but because we were given so little indication that he was the killer. In their attempt to fool the player, they robbed us of the chance to figure it out on our own. They give us a few little clues, and even give us access to Scott’s thoughts, but apparently he’s lying to himself the entire time just to keep us in the dark. I could understand it if they were trying to keep the “multiple endings” option on the table, but from what I’ve read, every ending has Scott Shelby as the killer– so why the blatant lies? If they’d just been a little more careful with his inner monologue, it could have been an even more compelling twist.
I had a great time with Norman Jayden as a playable character- he has access to some futuristic CSI tech, and a great New England accent. As a ‘Profiler,’ he acts as a surrogate to the player in solving the case: He gathers clues and at various times allows us to bounce our ideas off him through a close inspection of the facts. They deepen his character by creating a crippling addiction to ‘triptocaine’– and allow us to indulge him or clean him up. My only problem with Norman is that he rarely takes a partner along and never calls for backup. Half the crazy shiz that happens to him would be resolved if you could decide to take someone with you.
Madison Paige is the femme fatale of Heavy Rain, but I was a bit annoyed by the way her scenes/character develop. Within 5 minutes of taking control of her, we’re encouraged (by her thoughts) to take a shower. Then we’re given a lengthy wet and naked scene– a complete voyeuristic romp in her penthouse bathroom. C’mon guys. This was blatant pandering to the male audience (of which I’m sure a large percentage of Heavy Rain players are). I understand the need for eroticism in noir, but the emotion arises out of subtlety– not this sort of heavy handed strip down. When we should have been building a relationship with this character that will propel us through the game, we were shown that she is a play-thing for our appetites. Throughout, she’s portrayed as vulnerable and naive, constantly endangering herself.
Heavy Rain has gigantic plot-holes introduced early that are never addressed later. Ethan has a blackout in which he awakes in the rain with an origami figure clutched in his hand– Are we to believe the origami killer is Ethan? or that the origami killer put the figure in his hand while he was blacked out? I think one line of dialogue later could have cleared it right up. We’re also expected to believe that of the 8 kids taken and killed, none of the families gave their letters/shoe-boxes of tasks from the Origami Killer to the police. Yeah right. Last one I’ll mention– while you’re visiting Manfred as Scott, he’s killed in the backroom. Turns out we did it, but we’re not shown that Scott was the killer until the big reveal at the end of the game. Such a crazy misdirect.
I really enjoy Heavy Rain as a beautiful ode to the noir genre– but I’m frustrated with the plot. With just a little more polish, a few edits here and there, and this could have been a superb piece of noir. Instead, we’re left with a semi-good crime fiction and an interesting video game.
Kefauver held up a copy of a Suspense Crime Stories comic book whose cover depicted a terrified woman in mid-air, having fallen from a window where the silhouetted hands of her assailant could still be seen in push mode. The woman was screaming, staring wide-eyed at us as she looked through us at the oncoming (off-camera) pavement. Terror-struck, screaming or not, she was very attractive, in a skimpy night-gown, that showed off her shapely legs and, of course, her…headlights.
Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins is a sexy addition to the Hard Case Crime catalog. Glen Orbik greets us at the door, a pin-up darling tediously composed and falling out (in more ways than one) of a shadowy high-rise; the black palms of her killer splayed in the windows above. She’s only a moment from impact, and so are we. I love Max’s work, and devoured this pulpy meal in a handful of hours. His prose style is always inviting, but some of the tastiest bits within belong to the great Terry Beatty, who lends thematic comic-strip intros to each chapter. At its core, Seduction is a fabulous mixed-media approach to noir crime fiction.
The tale follows Jack Starr, a stake-holder in the comics syndicate in the mid ’50s, as a respected child-psychiatrist named Dr. Werner Frederick leads the witch hunt against the comics industry. Convinced that comic books are causing destructive behaviors in America’s youth, Dr. Frederick releases a book of research sure to destroy the literary medium. However, the good doctor has underestimated the stakes of such a vendetta, and the desperation of the enemies he’s creating…
1) The Seedy Underworld
New York City in the mid ’50s. Pre-Mad Men but post-McCarthyism (nearing the tale-end of it anyway). It’s a setting ruled by gents and dames, and bucks under the pressures of mass media. The labor pains of widespread television and easier access to information causing the bad guys to hide in plain sight.
2) The Anti-Hero
Jack Starr is a wise-ass with a private investigators license. He got it primarily for background checking the writers, artists, and other key-players he and his step-mother contract with, but lately its had other uses. Jack is constantly on clean-up, dealing with messes and defusing scandal. Ladies love him, but his charm gets him into as much trouble as not– he’s our suspiciously confident anti-hero.
“She’s a woman. And you’re a charming devil.”
3) The Femme Fatale
Two dames make a play for femme fatale, Dr. Sylvia Winters and Lyla Lamont, but Lyla is much more convincing. The former is a young psychologist, quickly falling for Jack (who is initially pumping her for information). And the latter is a curvaceous comic book artist, noted for her naturalist tendency to pose nude for her own work. Neither of the women put Jack’s life in danger, but they definitely increase the pressure. Max’s flirtacious dialogue is a breezy counterpoint to the hardboiled scenario and had me cracking grins throughout.
Pacing the modern trend in noir crime fiction, Max keeps the text relatively free of lady-hating. The only argument you’ll get from me is a repeat (you’ve likely heard it before): all of the women are male defined. They’re curvy, pin-up worthy, vixens who play sexual mind games with our lead man Jack. The female characters, though at various extremes of this, are largely one-dimensional as a result. The one gal who appears to be self-actualized is Maggie Starr (Jack’s stepmother) who has become a manipulative and shrewd business woman. But, she didn’t get there without being a strip-tease artist first…
In that glance, however, I noticed that she was smiling– blood trickling from the corner of her mouth down her cheek, but smiling as two men fought over her in a stairwell. There was something evil about it.
As you’d expect, the book reads like a redemption narrative for the comic book industry, yet it’s ripe with characters who seem to counter this end. We meet a dozen or so suspects with powerful motives for murder, and each are stained with enough strangeness to dispel all faith in their innocence. I was amused to see the thematic hypocrisy and satyric layers played with in Seduction. For how can we believe that the comic book industry is not harmful to juveniles when the people at the helm of the behemoth are untrustworthy psychos with violent proclivities?
Lyla Lamont, Chapter 8. Textbook eroticism from a master noir author. The dialogue is near perfect, timing flawless, and the imagery an enticing delight. SPOILER*Jack Starr wakes on her couch, Lyla playing nurse sans uniform.*SPOILER From beginning to end, its a incredibly provocative scene in the spirit of the greats; Hammett, Chandler, and Cain.
7) The Loss of Innocence
Seduction is a study of the loss of innocence as a whole. As children throughout the country become perpetrators of increasingly violent and horrendous crimes, society seeks a scapegoat. Comic books today, television tomorrow, and video games beyond. This thematic mourning of the loss of innocence is the cream filling of the novel.
“I had a twelve-year-old boy here tell me he admired ‘tough guys.’ I asked him, what’s a tough guy? And he replied, ‘A tough guy is a man who slaps a girl.”
8 ) Smoke
Smoke is tenderly observed throughout the book. It occupies the now-banned locales it formerly graced; offices, restaurants, and any other seedy haunt you can remember.
I have to return to Chapter 8 (see Eroticism, above): Jack Starr honors the legacy of the white-male loners before him (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Mike Hammer) and retains his masculinity from a female aggressor. Conversely, although pinned beneath the painted thumbnail of his luscious stepmother, for the most part he is a free-thinking independent; content with Maggie’s rule because in business she’s essentially a gent, and there’s no shame in working for a good boss.
The odor that always greeted you upon entering Bardwell’s domain, however, was something unique, if peculiarly so, even in this city of smells good, bad, indifferent. This was the middle one. Part of it was cigars. Another part was perspiration. But the secret ingredient, as the ad boys put it, was monkey shit.
The novel is a fast read, hedged by a bevy of hilarious characters and culminating in a delicious ‘whodunit.’ I loved the pacing, and am grateful that Max has given us another classy peak into our own bizarre history. Get a copy for your shelf.
”I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”
Farewell My Lovely
Lil by Mike Young and Marc Crane is a dark plunge in the deep end of a twisted woman’s psyche. Implicitly noir, this atmospheric graphic novel is a relentless plummet into the life of Lil, a 35 year old waitress with an appetite for self-destruction. This indie noir comic project is daring in its unforgiving treatment of protagonist, and its hide-nothing approach to her life. Five issues have been released thus far, and the plot momentum is on a break-neck course towards the inevitable. Simply stated, Lil is a slice of tasty noir from a new creative team. (Best part? You can read it online here.)
“Where I’m from, most people end up a version of what they oughtta be…Damn near everybody’s a story of what they hope they’re not.”
The first issue, “Pulling at Strings,” is a promise; it places all the pieces on the board and leaves us to guess the first move. Lil is dripping in alcohol, angling for a ‘sugar daddy’ to pick up her tab. Matthew smells like cash, and has the right combination of gullibility and naivete that makes him a mark. She drags him to the bathroom, eager to ‘pay up’, where a bizarre duffle-bag is left by a loud stranger. Lil recognizes the opportunity and snags it, but it isn’t until she opens it that she realizes how truly screwed she is.
“I have my good days. And my bad days. But the bad days are getting worse.”
Lil vs. the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The art is bleak and pulpy; a skeletal backdrop for the sinister demons in Lil’s mind. Dive bars, flea bag apartments, and cheap diners are real enough to leave the reader greasy. (And there’s a scene in the woods during Issue #2 that’s particularly impressive).
2) The Anti-Hero
Lil is a difficult character to understand. As an anti-hero, she foots the bill: a self-destructive addict in the shadow of looming threat. Yet, as a FEMALE protagonist she left me wanting. I couldn’t stop feeling that she was a regurgitated male desire; a hidden remnant of unexpressed sexual fantasy. Certainly, she’s introduced to us as a drunk, an addict, a manipulator, a thief, and eventually a ‘cutter’– but I felt that her behavior was so extreme that the common ground melted (Particularly in the first issue, when it appears that her entire character revolves around the desire for casual sex). As I continued reading, I could see that her character had the potential for depth, but I was frustrated to see her remain in the shallows.
3) The Femme Fatale
Lil appears to flip her charm on and off at will– I loved this. And despite certain flaws as a character, I felt that she’s developing into something terrible and beautiful. I need more!
Issue #5 has one of my favorite noir misogyny interactions. Lil is confronted with a waitress’ veritable nightmare; as an employee and as a woman. I won’t spoil it, but it nailed the theme of misogyny in noir.
We’re told that Lil ran away from an abusive home after her mother died. She hasn’t stopped running since. With a life like Lil’s, redemption isn’t an option– but it’s the only gleaming hope her character has. I couldn’t stop reading because I wanted to see her redeemed, but the painful part was realizing that she can’t be.
I felt Mike and Marc have missed on the eroticism theme thus far; they’ve approached titillation, but it’s been with a heavy male-centric hand (think Rick Remender’s The Last Days of American Crime). The delicate intricacies of eroticism can only be executed with a female protagonist if they begin to truly develop her as a self-actualized female survivor.
7) The Loss of Innocence
One of the strongest aspects of Lil is that no innocence remains. We look for solace anywhere in the dark panels, yet we’re constantly turned back on the harsh realities of her disgusting life. The inciting incident has already occurred, we arrive with the flashing lights.
8 ) Smoke
Oh, the lovely smoke chokes the pages and catches in the backs of our throats.
The story is a bit young for this theme to be fully realized– only a handful of male characters have been introduced, and none have remained in the plot through an adjacent issue.