Noir Comics | The Last Days of American Crime by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini

Noir Comics The Last Days of American Crime

my copy (cover by Alex Maleev)

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.

Noir Comics The Last Days of American Crime

Graham (via mainstreamclub.org)

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.

4) Misogyny

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).

5) Redemption

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!

The Last Days of American Crime Noir Comics

Shelby (via comicbookdaily.com)

6) Eroticism

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.

The Last Days of American Crime Noir Comics

(via mainstreamclub.org)

9) Emasculation

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.

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Femme Fatales | Jean Harlow

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.

Femme Fatales Jean Harlow Red-Headed Woman

Harlean Harlow Carpenter (March 3, 1911 – June 7, 1937) (via doctormacro.com)

“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?”

Jean Harlow George Hurrell 1933 Dinner At Eight

by George Hurrell (Dinner At Eight, 1933) (via doctormacro.com)

Femme Fatale Jean Harlow

(via doctormacro.com)

Actress Jean Harlow

12th August 1932 by Clarence Sinclair Bull (via doctormacro.com)

American actress Jean Harlow

15th June 1932 (via doctormacro.com)

Hells Angels Jean Harlow

by Margaret Chute, Hell’s Angels 1930 (via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow Blonde Bombshell

(via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow Platinum Blonde

(via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow femme fatale

(via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow Actress

(via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow film noir

(via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow Smokes

(via thingscanhope.tumblr.com)

Jean Harlow Swim Suit

1934 (via doctormacro.com)

Jean Harlow Clark Gable Red Dust 1932

with Clark Gable in Red Dust 1932 (via doctormacro.com)

Femme Fatale Jean Harlow

(via shhshesabombshell.tumblr.com)

Jean Harlow Femme Fatale

(via marisacm55.tumblr.com)

*All biographical details obtained from:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Harlow

*Quotes obtained from:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jean_harlow.html

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Noir Music | Jazz in the Rain

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.

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Video Game Noir | Heavy Rain (2010)

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.

Video Game Noir Heavy Rain

My Copy of Heavy Rain

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 Mars Heavy Rain

Ethan Mars (via gendergamers.wordpress.com)

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 Heavy Rain

Scott Shelby (via cheshirecatstudios.com)

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.

Norman Jayden Heavy Rain

Norman Jayden (via playstationeuphoria.com)

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 Heavy Rain

Madison Paige (via technologytell.com)

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.

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Noir Crime Fiction | Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Noir Crime Fiction Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins

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…

Seduction of the Innocent vs. the noir definition:

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.

4) Misogyny

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.

5) Redemption

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?

Noir Crime Fiction Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

6) Eroticism

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.

9) Emasculation

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. 

Terry Beatty Seduction of the Innocent

A page from Terry Beatty (via herocomplex.latimes.com)

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Noir Quotes | Raymond Chandler

Noir Quotes Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

 “I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”

Raymond Chandler
Farewell My Lovely
1940

Noir Quotes Farewell My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

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Noir Comics | Lil by Mike Young and Marc Crane

Noir Comics Lil Marc Crane Mike Young

Lil Issue 1: Pulling at Strings…

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.

Lil Issue 1 Noir Comics

what’s in the duffle-bag….

“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!

Noir Comics Lil Mike Young Marc Crane

classic femme fatale

4) Misogyny

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.

5) Redemption

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.

6) Eroticism

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.

Lil Noir Comics

knock, knock…

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.

9) Emasculation

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.

Noir Comics Lil

hot coffee…

Despite small concerns with Lil as a character, I’m elated by Lil as a noir comic. I eagerly await more issues, and strongly recommend it. Get over there and check it out.

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Crime Movies | The Usual Suspects (1995)

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects 1995

(via via yengecvebaykus.tumblr.com)

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Recently, I felt the urge to slip into the neo-noir resurgence of the early/mid 90s (when the film industry was still riding waves made by Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs). Though free of the stylistic direction of Tarantino, The Usual Suspects (1995) delivers a gritty dip in the bizarre mythology of the criminal underworld. In true ‘Parker’ fashion, a group of hardened professionals make random acquaintance one night in a police line-up, and decide to embrace fate and go into business. Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne), an ex-cop gone robber, proves the reluctant hold-out in a scheme that cannot proceed without him (like Richard Stark’s Parker), but he eventually surrenders to peer pressure.

As the five goons sharpen their act and embrace initial success, they’re horrified to discover the invisible strands of Keyser Soze (a legendary underboss) playing manipulator. They’re eager to distance themselves from the violent villain but they’re tragically clasped in a network of unseen players they’ve cannot hope to escape.

The Usual Suspects (1995) vs. the noir definition:

1) The Seedy Underworld

The setting is the stale savor of a career criminal’s haunts; police holding cells, hospitals, dive bars, city docks, and the jagged high-rises of the criminally organized.

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey

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2) The Anti-Hero

Each of the five brings their unique skillset to the table, but it’s Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint (Kevin Spacey) who narrates the film. Dean Keaton is the most likely cast anti-hero (as he’s the only member of the crew with a femme fatale counter-point), but I could just as easily cast Verbal in the role– stuck in muck they can’t rinse.

3) The Femme Fatale

Edie Finneran (Suzy Amis) is the only femme fatale in the film– she’s used as leverage by Keyser Soze against Dean, and thus he navigates the 5 men to his desired ends. Her screen-time is pitiful, but her impact undeniable; Dean would never do Soze’s will without the threat of harm towards the woman he loves.

The Usual Suspects Dean Keaton

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4) Misogyny

No misogyny worth mentioning. (the unwitting ‘damsel in distress’ angle is a central theme yet it’s not portrayed in a demeaning way)

5) Redemption

The entire crew wishes to be free from Soze and go about their lives; thus they’re in a constant state of trying to redeem themselves from his grasp. Additionally, Verbal (as the lone survivor) must talk is way out of lasting trouble with cops.

6) Eroticism

No eroticism worth mentioning.

The Usual Suspects Crime Movies

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7) Loss of Innocence

Soze’s story, his inception even, is born out of a horrible story that involves the raping of his wife and the killing of his children. Keyser arrives home one night to discover his family is being held hostage by some rival gang members. They’ve done unspeakable harm to his wife and terrified his children. Rather than bend to their demands, Keyser himself shoots his wife and kids, then all but one of the gang members. He left the man alive as a witness that he could not be intimidated. In the film he’s described as  “a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop, and Keyser Söze will get you.”

8 ) Smoke

Beautiful nods to the noir genre are found in the employment of cigarettes in the script. We even get a lovely ‘flick of the cigarette to light the gasoline’ moment. Exquisite.

Crime Movies The Usual Suspects 1995

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9) Emasculation

See Keyser Soze. This man, rather than suffer the emasculation of begging for his wife and kids, killed them himself. Juxtapose his story with that of Dean Keaton (and the other usual suspects), who were ensnared by Soze because they allowed themselves to fear for their familial relations.

“How do you shoot the Devil in the back? What if you miss?”

As a piece of noir, The Usual Suspects meets the meter beautifully in a few aspects but as a whole misses the mark. As a crime movie, it’s superb. It’s a fun film to watch, and is easily spoiled by online reviewers. So if you haven’t seen it, go watch it before you read anything else.

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Noir Art | Joe Webb

Noir Art Joe Webb Antares and Love VI

Antares & Love VI

British collage artist Joe Webb (1976-Present) has been making waves with his bizarre visual juxtapositions and eye for mixed media harmony. I first discovered his work on Tumblr (where he’s quite fashionable), and was struck by his stunning use of vintage photography. The inclusion of femme fatales and glamorous dames of yesteryear I found particularly charming, making him the first mixed media noir artist to be included on noirWhale.com–

I tracked down Joe on Facebook, and asked him if he would be gracious enough to answer a few questions about his art, and his affable and easy manner was refreshing. Thus, for the first time ever, we have a noirWhale.com artist interview: (Thanks Joe!)

1) Why so many vintage/noir images?

“I just love the look and style of that era. And as it was so long ago now, the ideas I explore in my work; of ghosts and missing people, mirror the fact that these people are mostly gone now. I like the fading fuzzy quality of vintage prints too.”

2) Is there underlying significance to the series of famous film noir femmes with leading men cut out?

“I like the idea of the leading man missing, becoming mysterious and revealing alternative realities in the layers underneath. It gives the work an enigmatic feel which draws you in.”

3) Which artists/directors/photographers are you biggest influences?

“Rene Magritte every time!”

Joe’s art is wonderfully eclectic, and boasts a variety and complexity not captured here. For our purposes, I’m focusing specifically on his most ‘noir’ themed efforts, and will refer you to his various online galleries for a full perusal of his work. (Also, you can purchase dazzling prints here.) Pertaining to his artistic process, he obtains his unique medium in second-hand book and thrift stores. He’s said of this routine,  “I like to accidentally stumble across things that can then become a piece of art. There’s an element of serendipity to it.”

Noir Art Joe Webb Mono

Mono

Artist Joe Webb Mono II

Mono II

Art by Joe Webb Kissing Magritte

Kissing Magritte

Joe Webb Art Reunion II

Reunion II

Collage Art Joe Webb Daydream IV

Daydream IV

Joe Webb Collage Absent Minded

Absent Minded

Collage Joe Webb Absent Minded II

Absent Minded II

Noir Art Joe Webb Absent Minded IV

Absent Minded IV

Art Noir Joe Webb Absent Minded V

Absent Minded V

Joe Webb Antares and Love I

Antares & Love I

Artist Joe Webb Antares and Love II

Antares & Love II

Joe Webb Collage Artist Antares and Love III

Antares & Love III

Noir Joe Webb Antares and Love VII

Antares & Love VII

Noir Art Joe Webb Antares and Love VIII

Antares & Love VIII

 Please support Joe! Like his Facebook Page! Buy his Prints!

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Femme Fatales | Bette Davis

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.

Femme Fatales Bette Davis

Bette Davis. April 5th, 1908 to October 6th, 1989 (via womenoftheperformingarts.tumblr.com)

“I’m the nicest goddamn dame that ever lived.”

Ruth Elizabeth Davis, simply ‘Bette’ to those of us who recognize her, was born on April 5th, 1908. As potentially the greatest American actress of all time, books are filled with her film exploits (she appeared in more than 100) and other professional accomplishments– culminating in her tragic battle with breast cancer which ended her life at age 81.

She was the first actor/actress to ever reach ten Academy Award Nominations, and she won the award for Best Actress twice. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked her as the 2nd greatest female star of all time (she was second only to Katharine Hepburn). She was also the first woman ever to receive the Lifetime Achievement award from the same organization.

Stylistically, she’s known for intensity and perfectionism– characterized by a penchant for confrontation. Costars, studio executives, and film directors frequently ‘locked horns’ with the starlet, who was unflinching in sharing her opinions and issuing demands. Her candid approach, curt tone, and signature cigarette became recognizable trademarks, neatly folded into the femme fatale archetype by the hard-boiled authors of the era.

“My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.”

Bette didn’t arrive in Hollywood until 1930, and was greeted by a surprising amount of failure. She was told she didn’t “look like an actress,” and failed her first screen test. Hilariously, she relates in a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett, “I was the most Yankee-est, most modest virgin who ever walked the earth. They laid me on a couch, and I tested fifteen men … They all had to lie on top of me and give me a passionate kiss. Oh, I thought I would die. Just thought I would die.” Her break arrived in the mercy of George Arliss, who gave her the lead in The Man Who Played God (1932) after her disappointing flops in many unsuccessful films. The success of the picture earned her respect, and more importantly a contract with Warner Brothers Studios.

She had to fight the unforgiving press, who teased her first husband Harmon “Ham” Nelson for earning only a tenth of her income (he took home $100.00 per week, she $1000.00). Ham refused to allow her to purchase a house until he could afford it himself. (During this period, Bette had several abortions).

Famously, Bette took Warner Brothers Studios to court in order to free herself of her contract. She felt that they had consigned her to mediocre films and were ultimately halting her career. She lost, but the trial was important to the development of Hollywood as we know it today.

She was cast in several memorable films, Marked Woman (1937) and Jezebel (1938) particularly, and it was during this period that she began to cheat on her husband (with Directors William Wyler and Howard Hughes). They were soon divorced. She collected 4 husbands before her death, though each marriage didn’t last; three ended in divorce and one made Bette a widow. Sadly, as she declined in her late years her reputation as a ‘bitch’ became the popular refrain. ‘Bitch’ or not, she was one helluva talent.

Her feud with Joan Crawford is legendary, and whether the hate was sincere or exaggerated its certainly entertaining. I’ve appended a wonderful anecdote about the inception of their catfight:

A little investigation shows that these two cinematic giants were reduced to duking it out over, what else, a man. Namely, the slightly less legendary, Franchot Tone. Bette starred alongside Franchot in the 1935 film Dangerous, a part for which she won her first Academy Award. Tone played a handsome architect to Bette’s alcoholic actress and she was soon smitten.

Said Bette  “I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately. Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.” It’s a pity this debonair actor inspired decades of tit-for-tat cat fighting.

Joan Crawford, at that time, was MGM’s reigning sex symbol. Newly divorced and on the prowl, she invited Tone over for dinner, only to greet him naked, in her solarium. Whether it was the nudity or the possibility of free tanning sessions, Franchot was hooked and Joan made sure Bette knew about it.

(visit : http://www.queensofvintage.com/bette-davis-vs-joan-crawford/ to read more)

Bette Davis is inseparably attached to the femme fatale archetype, and is possibly the most recognizable film noir starlet of them all. Her success is hardly measurable, the reach of her films universal. There is nothing I can say about her that hasn’t already been said, so I won’t try. Thanks for the memories Bette.

“In this business, until you’re known as a monster you’re not a star.”

Femme Fatale Bette Davis

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 Bette Davis Now Voyager 1942

for Now, Voyager 1942 (via bogarted.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Life Magazine

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Bette Davis Whatever Happened to Baby Jane 1962

in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) (via camberwellfoxes.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Autobiography

Promoting her Autobiography (via christopherniquet.tumblr.com)

Film Noir Bette Davis

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Bette Davis Film Noir

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Bette Davis Femme Fatale

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Bette Davis Actress

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Actress Bette Davis

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Bette Davis Femme Fatale

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Bette Davis Smoking

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Smoking Bette Davis

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Femme Fatale Bette Davis

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Old Bette Davis

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Bette Davis and Falcon

with a Falcon (via robertpina99.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Hairstyle

getting her hair done (via pollypocket3674.tumblr.com)

Bette Davis Backstage

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Femme Fatale Bette Davis

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Bette Davis

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Ann Dvorak Joan Blondell and Bette Davis Three on a Match 1932

with Ann Dvorak and Joan Blondell. Three on a Match (1932) (via miss-flapper.tumblr.com)

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis

with Joan Crawford. (via i-love-old-hollywood.tumblr.com)

Femme Fatales Bette Davis

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Bette Davis Femme Fatales

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*ALL biographical details were obtained from:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bette_Davis

*ALL quotes were obtained from:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/b/bette_davis.html

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