Category Archives: Noir Comics

Noir Comics | Criminal Volume 2: “Lawless”

Noir Comics Criminal Deluxe Edition Cover

My copy of the Criminal Deluxe Edition

The following is my review of the second installment of the noir comics series Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Mr. Brubaker has said that the reason he created Criminal was so he could write several noir crime fiction stories featuring unique characters under the same umbrella. So it is with this second trade paperback in the series. The characters of the first are either gone entirely or make fleeting appearances throughout. Because this story differs enough from the first, I’m going to run it through our noir definition so far:

1. The Seedy Underworld

We return to Central City in this trade, a blacker shadow of New York than we are typically comfortable with. The Christmas season is our time-frame, though it’s lacking in spirit and cheer. The most prominent returning hub is a bar called The Undertow (originally called The Undertown, but the neon ‘n’ has been out for years). Symbolism drips from the name alone, because we can infer that those who visit such a dive are being “towed” deeper into the underworld.

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Tracy and Ricky

Tracy and Ricky Lawless

2. The Anti-Hero

Tracy Lawless has just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with a chip on his shoulder. That chip being the murder of his little brother Ricky. The pain Tracy feels is caused more by the guilt of past sins against his brother than by the murder itself. He has always felt that he abandoned him to an abusive father and a bed-ridden mother in a selfish act to crawl out of that hell. He’s in Central City for revenge and closure, closure that he may never find.

3. The Femme Fatale

Mallory. She may be linked to the murder of Tracy’s brother Ricky, she oozes sex appeal, and there is no end to her cigarette supply. Need I say more?

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Femme Fatale Mallory

sexy tendrils of smoke caressing her skin...

4. Misogyny

Misogyny in this noir comic is hard to write about without dropping spoilers. But let me just say that the same theme of emasculation presents itself where our femme fatale is concerned. Tracy is warned that he should be wary of Mallory’s advances, because it may in fact lead to his downfall… (Also, it’s somewhat implied that she has an insatiable sexual appetite. Think Angelina Jolie’s character in Gone in 60 Seconds, turned on by crime, raunchy in the extreme. Very misogynistic writing).

5. Redemption

“Lawless” is drenched in the theme of Redemption. But I would argue that it is a selfish brand at best. As much as Tracy may believe that he is attempting to redeem his brother from unjust murder, he is truly craving redemption for himself. Throughout the entire story he is driven by guilt not by love. Criminal volume 2 is about redeeming a damned family.

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Tracy

infiltrating his brother's old crew.

6. Loss of Innocence

Tracy and Ricky share the trauma of an abusive childhood. Their father, Teeg Lawless, is one of the most brutal sonofabitches ever to pass through Central City (We learn his story in volume 3 of Criminal). His horrendous impact on his children casts a pall over the entire plot. You can’t “get” Tracy without “getting” Teeg.

7. Eroticism

Rounding out this near perfect example of noir crime fiction, the theme of eroticism does present itself in several ways in “Lawless.” I will mention two of them: 1) The leader of the Ricky’s old gang is really into S&M (you don’t see anything crazy, but it’s implied) and 2) the femme fatale Mallory at one point dons a nun costume for some sexy foreplay with Tracy.

Noir Comics Criminal Lawless Teeg's Abuse

the pain of an abusive father never subsides.

“Lawless” is a feather in the cap of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ noir comics catalog. The art was better than “Coward,” and the script was masterful. Well done. (Below is one of my favorite pages, split into three different images. The getaway is taking place on Christmas Night, and the red and blue color motif was breathtaking).  My Criminal Deluxe Edition is from

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Noir Comics | Scalped: Casino Boogie

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Cover

Volume 2 of the Noir Comic Scalped

Volume 2 of the noir comic series Scalped is a masterpiece of modern fiction. The trade paperback is made up of 6 individual comic book issues (called “floppies” by the initiated) that come together to tell one cohesive story “arc”  in Jason Aaron’s world. Mr. Aaron used each of these sections to tell the story of one of the characters on the Prairie Rose Reservation. What really amazed me was that each “floppy” covers the same night; the grand opening of the Crazy Horse Casino.  The author’s ability to tie each of these characters and their stories together over the course of “Casino Boogie” was awe-inspiring. Reading this trade it’s hard to determine who the main character of the story is, because Jason gives such care and development to each individual that he introduces us to. It dawns on me that the Prairie Rose Reservation may be the main character, and each tragic resident just another aspect of her existence. I’ve struggled with settling on the very best way to review this noir comic, simply because of how it jumps around so rapidly character to character. So I’ve decided to spend a little time on each character’s section.

1. Dashiell Bad Horse

Dash’s angle is treated in the first issue, gritty, fast-paced and violent to an extreme degree. Despair and Bondage are resounding themes of his character. We haven’t been given much of a glimpse at his past at this point, but it doesn’t take much guessing to assume that it’s pitiful. Dash portrays strong emotional resentment towards his mother and his heritage, and constantly wants to escape but lacks the means. He’s the quintessential anti-hero backed in a corner, spiraling ever downward to impending destruction. My one complaint with this section of the trade is that the artwork gets rather muddy. It seems like the inker/colorist combo for the first couple issues was brutal, because in some panels its hard to see what R.M. Guera drew. Noir comics should be dark, but not unreadable.

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Red Crow

the overwhelming weight of being the chief.

2. Chief Lincoln Red Crow

On the night that should be his greatest triumph (the opening of his casino), Red Crow must cope with disaster after disaster after disaster. He mingles among his thousands of guests, politicians and beautiful women spilling compliments and oozing gratitude, posing for pictures and shaking hands. While behind the scenes he is hounded by creditors, bribe-seeking officials, and tribal traditionalists who all want their pound of flesh. The pinnacle of this chaotic hell is when he finds his personal office ransacked and burgled, his dogs murdered and their blood used as paint for obscene messages. Jason Aaron does an amazing job of humanizing this would-be villain from the first trade, and breaking our hearts when Red Crow utters, “he didn’t have to kill the dogs.”

3. Diesel

Diesel is an intriguing character because he provides a look at Native American racism from an opposite angle. As a 1/16th Chicktaw Indian, he has lived as an outcast from both white and rez communities. His whole life he has wanted to be an Indian brave like his ancestors, but all of his peers have mocked and ridiculed him for it. As a result, he is hardened, violent, and a very outspoken traditionalist. He’s the one who ‘redecorates’ Lincoln Red Crow’s office (putting his life in danger to do so). Couple that with a struggle of machismo with Dash and Diesel becomes a very dynamic character.

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Dino

life wasn't too attractive...

4. Catcher

Catcher is the village idiot/drunk of the Prairie Rose Reservation. The only ‘catch’ is that he really isn’t. He is one of the few Native American’s left on the rez who believes in the “thunder-beings” (the creators of their people) and he is very outspoken about the visions that they share with him. He believes that Dash will play an important role in the future salvation of the tribe, and that the road is as bloody as it is long to get there. We get the feeling that Catcher will be a sort of guardian angel over Dash, and that his past with Gina (Dash’s mom) will complicate things. One of the coolest things I have seen in any of the noir comics I have read is when Catcher sees the “totem” or “spirit” animals of the characters in the story.

5. Dino Poor Bear

I believe that Dino’s character was introduced to show us the realities of rez life. He, like Dash, dreams of leaving everyone behind and escaping his fate. Sadly, the reality of this ever happening is slim at best. He is a single/teenage father to a baby his grandmother is raising, brother to a boy with a disability and a drug-addicted pregnant sister, nephew to a diabetic amputee, and friend to a bunch of drunk nobodies. Lastly, he’s a janitor at the new casino, and is tasked with cleaning up the mess in Red Crow’s office. It’s there that he has one of the most illuminating scenes in the book about the importance of his Indian heritage. I won’t spoil it, but its magnificent.

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Catcher Owl Totem

No one believes poor crazy Catcher

6. Gina Bad Horse

Gina’s chapter is a look at the past, particularly at moments and decisions that have cause hellish waves in her life. She spends much of her time in introspection and dwelling on regret. We catch wind that she has a past with Red Crow and Catcher, and that the events of today are a direct result of their shared history. We also get to meet one of her dear friends as she visits him in prison, and we guess at the injustice that placed him there. We know what the final page of this trade paperback will be, but its gravity is not diminished by our knowing.

Dashiell teaches us the pain of despair

Red Crow teaches us the weight of responsibility

Diesel teaches us the fruits of intolerance

Catcher teaches us to reconcile our future with the past

Dino teaches us to hope for something better

Gina teaches us it’s never too late

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Dashiell Spider Totem

this image is really blurry, but he's covered in spiders and webs

Noir Comics Scalped Casino Boogie Red Crow Elk Totem

this was my favorite image in the whole trade

 “this is a crime story, all right (a neo-western/political/historical/Native/ultra-violent/black comedy crime story, to be precise), but it’s not relying on any of the usual props from other genres for its survival. None of the aforementioned super-types, no horror, no fantasy or sci-fi, nothing. Not an elf or an angel in sight. And for an adult-imprint monthly in the current sales climate, that’s both refreshing and pretty bloody brave.” -Garth Ennis October 2007

The realm of noir comics will never be the same after Scalped : Casino Boogie. A believable story from an unbelievable creator team: Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera. I’ll be adding to our noir definition soon!

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Noir Comics Giveaway | Criminal Vol. 1 Winner!

Congrats to Jessica C. ! She is the winner of Noirwhale’s very first Noir Giveaway! I’ll be putting Criminal Vol. 1 in the mail today! Here is here Noir Definition:
“Beautiful dark shadows neon lights Smoking Anti-Hero detective seductive murderess.”

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Noir Comics Giveaway | Win a Free Copy of Criminal Volume 1 !

Noir Comics Criminal Coward Brubaker Giveaway

This noir comic "Coward" by Ed Brubaker can be yours!

“Coward” was the first noir comic that I ever read, and it was the catalyst for my love of the genre. I owe Mr. Brubaker more than he’ll ever know for that. I’ve met him a couple times, signing at Emerald City Comic Con 2010 and 2011, and he is a terrific guy (basically my hero). So, just as Ed Brubaker gave me the gift of noir, I wish to pass it on! Starting now and running until midnight this Sunday June 12, 2011 is NoirWhale’s first Noir Comics Giveaway! If you would like a chance to win this trade paperback (pictured above) here is what you must do:

1. Subscribe to by clicking on the “I’m ready for noir!” button in the right-hand sidebar. (just under the noirwhale tag cloud).

2. Post a comment on this post of your very own Noir Definition in 10 words or less!

Submissions will be accepted until midnight Sunday June 12, 2011, so don’t delay! Please note that you may only comment once, and the winner will be determined and their noir definition posted on Monday June 13. I will mail the free copy of “Coward” to the winner at my own expense! Keep sharing more noir, and check back on the first Monday of each month for my next noir giveaway!


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Noir Comics | Luna Park

Noir Comics Luna Park Cover and Chad

noir comic "crime-travel"? put me to sleep

I realize that I have a weakness as a critic. At least so far as my blog posts have been throughout my website’s existence. The weakness is simply this: If I like everything in the noir genre then what good am I to my audience as a critic? The noir comic Luna Park by Kevin Baker and Danijel Zezelj is helping me to remedy this overly positive oversight. In my opinion this graphic novel has been given way too much hype and acclaim for its contents. Not only was the story convoluted and confusing, the entire plot concluded with a whimper.I will defend my position, but first let me comment on the good stuff.

Noir Comics Luna Park Alik and Marina

a practiced femme fatale...

Danijel Zezelj‘s artwork in this noir comic is astounding. Surprised? So was I. The grittiness of his pencil work gives the characters a noir depth and definition that is possibly unmatched in the genre. Simultaneously the backgrounds, settings, and vistas are picturesque and unforgettable. Literally frameable quality on nearly every page. Danijel also did some work recently in Scalped volume 7, I’ll review it later and hopefully share some pics of his fabulous work on the rez. His art in Luna Park is the only redeeming grace of this noir comic.

Noir Comics Luna Park Fun House

Danijel Zezelj's noir comic artwork = 6 to midnight

Kevin Baker has received an incredible amount of support and acclaim as a novelist. He even wrote a New York Times best seller called Dreamland. If you take the time to scour the reviews for Luna Park you will find an ecstatic group of Baker-ites lauding his accomplishment with this noir comic. I strongly disagree with their claims. Here is an example:

“Kevin Baker’s Luna Park is the most satisfying story I’ve read–in any medium– in years. Thrilling, moving, beautiful: This is a work of supreme entertainment, of uncompromising art. Perhaps the greatest work of one of America’s greatest writers.” -Darin Strauss, Chang and Eng 

What I will give Mr. Baker is that his tale has a strong beginning. Alik Strovitch, a washed up Russian immigrant and hired muscle of crime-boss Nicky D., eeks out a living on Coney Island bullying prostitutes and intimidating business owners. The first thirty pages put us smack dab in the pursuit of the American dream with the beautiful gypsy femme fatale Marina gripping us by the short hairs. Alik made us hope for his dreams of leaving his crime and drug-centric lifestyle behind and sharing his future with his muse. Then he learned of her hostage love-child, and how it shackled her to the dark East Coast indefinitely. His dreams could never be. Then Luna Park got weird.

Noir Comics Luna Park Femme Fatale Marina the Gypsy

Marina the Gypsy, an excellent femme fatale

Kevin Baker began to introduce historical characters and situations from the Mother Country, and implied that these individuals were respectively Alik and Marina. More historical characters, more implication; add a dose of time travel, Alice in Wonderland, and and some WWII stuff and you have the rest of the story. Perhaps I’m an idiot and just didn’t get it, but I felt like he was grasping for something that wasn’t there. By the last page, I was relieved when this noir comic was over. Wired Magazine was quoted on the back cover and they called his book a “crime-travel” comic. I hope that any future “crime-travel” authors execute their noir comics in a less confusing way.

Noir Comics Luna Park Crime Travel

I would frame this. So whimsical.

I bought my copy of the noir comic Luna Park from I took these pictures myself using my wife’s camera, I really need a scanner. Tomorrow I make my big Criminal announcement….

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“Coward,” a Criminal Edition of Noir Comics

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Brubaker Phillips

one of the greatest noir comics ever created

Those of you who interact with me on a daily basis know that my affection for Ed Brubaker‘s Criminal series runs deep… too deep… like, suspiciously deep. All I can say is that I see it as a crown jewel in the realm of noir comics. Perhaps my infatuation stems from the fact that “Coward” was my first, and you never forget your first (that was more sexual than I intended). The best part about reading Brubaker is that you can tell that he is a huge noir crime fiction fan, and that he is as invested in his characters as you are. Perfectly counterpointing his creative narrative is the seedy pulpy art style of Sean Phillips. Seriously, this creative team could not be more elite. We are talking Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan style noir comics team up.

So, I’m settling into a bit of a tradition here on the first part of any series that I review will be held up to the noir definition as has been previously described. I believe this will give us a great foundation for evaluating any work in the noir genre.

1. The Seedy Underworld

Noir York City. Present day. Crooked cops, crooked schemes, and a pay day around the corner. Superb.

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Setting

just a taste...

2. The Anti-Hero

Possibly the best character in any noir that I have read, Leo Patterson plays with the reader’s emotions because he is so dang likable. He takes care of his dead father’s best friend Ivan (an Alzheimer/Heroin addicted old man) with a tenderness that can only be described as familial. Also, he cares for each of the people he works with, and he won’t take chances with their lives. He isn’t a risk taker, and he follows his own code to a fault. Because of this, Leo has gained a reputation in the criminal underworld that is two-fold: Some say he is the best thief in the business and others say he is a coward.

“Prisons are full of assholes who valued their own lives only slightly more than other people’s. And I’m not ending up on death row because some moron listened to too much hip hop growing up.” -Leo Patterson a.k.a. “Coward”

3. The Femme Fatale

A dame what goes by the name of Greta is the femme fatale for this noir comic. While she plays the typical role of causing the anti-hero to compromise his code, she also becomes the catalyst for the new code which he adopts at the end of the trade (no spoilers this time). She also is always portrayed (and treated by Leo) as an equal, a confidant, and a partner, which is definitely a stretch for our noir definition. A revision required perhaps?

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Femme Fatale Greta

the plot (like so much smoke) thickens...

4. Misogyny

One of the most interesting aspects of this noir comic is its lack of traditional misogyny. Ivan, the demented old man that Leo cares for, is the only one who seems to show any disrespect for women. I think there is method in this because I believe that Brubaker wrote Ivan into the story as a representation of the “old-school” noir crime fiction, a time when women were objects instead of equals. Ivan represents a dying age, and his misogyny looks childish compared to the genuine respect and care for Greta displayed by Leo.

“Does what it take to survive change you —  to the point where you are no longer who you are? To the point where, though your body survives, the deepest part of you — the human part– does not?” -Tom Fontana

5. Redemption

Leo grew up in the world of noir crime. Back in the old days, his father Tommy and his “Uncle” Ivan ran the most successful pick-pocket crew in New York City. But now things are different, and Leo is struggling to come to grips with all of that. His father was shanked to death in prison, and Leo is terrified of ending up the same way. Ivan, Leo’s only living representation of that bygone era (and by extension his father), is a constant reminder of how things will never be the same. “Coward” is a classic story of a son striving to redeem his father by escaping his own seemingly predestined fate (Luke Skywalker).

Noir Comics Coward Criminal Greta Leo

babies and bullet holes

I love this book. I love this series even more. READ IT! (I got my copy of “Coward” a Criminal Edition from Also, check back with me the first Monday of June! I’ll be making a big announcement concerning “Coward”!

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“Noir On the Reservation” Scalped: Indian Country

Noir Comics Scalped Indian Country Dog

Bob Dylan enjoys Scalped: Indian Country as well.

Scalped: Indian Country is the very first trade paper back of the Scalped series. I picked it up because a good friend of mine recommended it while we were on a road-trip to Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, Washington (If you want pics of that trip, check out my Facebook account). Knowing my penchant for noir, his exact words were: “Its like The Sopranos on an Indian Reservation.” Simply stated, I was extremely pleased with the story, and I rank it with my very favorite noir comics. I feel that the easiest way to break down this review would be to hold Scalped: Indian Country up to the noir definition that we have already created.

1. The Seedy Underworld

The Prairie Rose Indian Reservation is the setting for this noir comic. Litter-strewn highways, trailer park junkyards, feral dogs, and a brand new shining casino provide the backdrop for the characters. One of the very best depictions of a villainous underworld I have ever seen. If you can read this and not be wracked with “white-man’s guilt” then you are either don’t have a heart or you aren’t white. The art is so filthy in this noir that you will feel filthy touching it.

Noir Comics Scalped Dashiell Bad Horse

Dashiell Bad-Horse, uhh....pardon the profanity in the image....

2. The Anti-Hero

Dashiell Bad-Horse is about as hardened as they come. He grew up on the Prairie Rose when he was young, and he left (or escaped) as soon as he could drive. He joined the army, fought in Iraq, came back and joined the FBI, then found himself in prison. He is more crooked and brutal than any detective novel anti-hero I have ever read. And he uses nunchucks. Totally a tragic bad a** anti-hero, but you can’t help but root for him.

“…SCALPED is Jason’s distinctly American Western-slash-crime story about the people who had this country first. Starring Dashiell Bad Horse, the rare film noir protagonist who’s actually as cool as his name, this is the riveting tale of one mean cop with a big damn secret.”  -Brian K. Vaughan

3. The Femme Fatale

Dashiell’s ex-girlfriend Carol is the femme fatale of this noir comic. She is also the biggest slut on the reservation (in addition to being Chief Red-Crow’s daughter). You may have already guessed some of the problems this relation would cause. Well, Dashiell comes home to the Prairie Rose, working secretly for the bureau on a deal that got him out of prison, and it doesn’t take long for Carol to become the manipulative seductress that any great noir needs.

Noir Comics Femme Fatale Carol Red Crow

Carol Red-Crow is sluttily draped all-over that jukebox

4. Misogyny

Jason Aaron is the author of this noir comic, and he has got the misogyny down to a science. There are only two female main characters in the story, Gina Bad-Horse (Dash’s mom) and Carol Red-Crow the slutty femme fatale (the rest are strippers, old women, and prostitutes). SPOILER* And one of them is scalped by the end of the first trade paperback *SPOILER . One of the greatest scenes characterizing this misogyny is towards the end of the trade when Carol provokes Dash into angry, sleezy, aggressive sex. It seems that in this story a woman’s only value is her ability to wield sex as a weapon (and with all the sleeping around Carol does, she has definitely honed hers).

5. Redemption

Possibly the greatest theme in this entire noir comic is that of redemption. Redemption not only of Dashiell Bad-Horse but of each individual living on the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, and redemption of the men that put them there. Can men redeem the wrongs caused by the misdeeds of their forefathers? Can Dash be redeemed for walking out on his family and Indian heritage? Can Chief Red-Crow redeem his people through taking money from the white-man? Each of these questions and more are asked by this excellent author/artist team. Also, if you recall the noir definition, “illusions of order” and “intellectual control” rear their heads in this tale as well. These themes are most prominent as Dash uncovers his mother’s past bit by bit. The revelations are astounding as they unfold, and easily entice  me into the next trade paperback.

Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera have made me an instant fan of Scalped, the most compelling noir comics series to hit us in quite some time. (I purchased my copy at ECCC ’11. )

Noir Comics Scalped Indian Country

Me enjoying an excellent noir comic


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