Tag Archives: Ed Brubaker

Songs of Goodbye; Review of “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies” by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Mannequin gaze from a femme fatale

Notice her tiger stripes of shadow? She’s deadly.

The newest window into the world of “Criminal” is fogged with sorrow & deception. Ellie (a.k.a. Angela) standing on a lonely beach serves as bookends to this noir comic. Her mannequin gaze invites us into the book and betrays the ice that must flow in her veins; she’s our femme fatale, a predator. The choice of setting is deliberate. The shoreline is a symbol of stark contrast – an area where the colors don’t mix and where there’s more below than there is above. What’s lurking in those depths? What lies beyond that horizon? This place is where Ellie contemplates the memory of her dead mother and a life she never knew. A life of love.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies pg. 3

page 3

The story appears simple in the beginning: Two addicts (Ellie & Skip) stuck in rehab & falling in love. We want to believe it’s that simple. It makes sense to us. But it isn’t simple, and it’s clear from early pages that there’s only one way this will end. You see, Ed Brubaker gives us an untrustworthy narrator – what’s more, he tells us she can’t be trusted within the first few pages: “All junkies are liars on some level” she says. This conceit is exceptionally noir. It creates a level of discomfort that most readers aren’t okay with. We like our narrators to be honest with us. It’s easier that way.

“I don’t like pretending to be something that I’m not.” (she says as she pretends to be something she’s not for the rest of the book)

Barring a whole synopsis, sufficeth to say that Ellie’s goal is to seduce Skip and convince him to give up his father’s location (who’s been hiding in witness protection). She has powerful motives for doing so (a blood debt to settle), and when pleasure fails to win Skip’s trust, she has no choice but to turn him over to pain. She hates herself but it’s difficult for the reader to hate her. We actually admire her for the ‘honor among thieves’ aspect of her sacrifice. Ellie owed a debt and she paid it in full. (The inevitability & deception is beautifully tragic. Textbook noir crime fiction).

A central theme of the novella is how Ellie romanticizes drug abuse. She frequently turns to the works of fantastic musicians and artists and points out how influential drugs were in the development of their most impactful contributions. She argues that drugs weren’t only helpful, but essential to some of the greatest works of art known to mankind.

“What if drugs help you find that thing that makes you special?”

Her own mother was a heroin addict, and Ellie had problematic proximity to the practice of abuse during her formative years. Ellie saw drugs as deifying – a means of escape & transformation. She said that her mother floated like a beautiful bird when she dosed.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies pg. 15

page 15

Music also permeates the story. Ellie speaks of a mixtape she found after her mother’s death. It was a cassette made for her father; songs of love & longing from parents she never quite knew. The tracks are all written by addicts, and ooze with sorrow, conflict, desire, & hope. For her, music is a time machine. Each song another injection of sweet nostalgia (isn’t music like that for most of us?) (Here’s a link to a playlist featuring the songs mentioned in the book)

“I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning.”

A few years back my parents divorced. Their song was “Babe” by The Styx. It didn’t strike me until now that theirs was a song of goodbye. How could their relationship have ended any different? I wonder which of them chose it? Or if they ever contemplated the real meaning of the song? “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies” is full of songs of goodbye. Goodbye truth, goodbye innocence, goodbye love.

Postscript – A note on the quality of this graphic novel:

I’m struck by the thickness of the no-gloss pages and the overall quality of the work as a whole. Sean Phillips is as good as I’ve ever seen him – perhaps cleaner in his line work than I’ve noticed in his other Criminal novels. The coloring style is a bit different but after an additional read through I felt that it works. It’s pastel in many areas and there are lots of page breaks where white space is left to breathe. This gives the appearance color splashes & and a highlighter effect. I wonder how conscious the creators were of this choice? It actually adds to the sense of incompleteness which comes through the narrative poignantly through Ellie. Ed Brubaker’s script is intentional and well-paced – in some areas reminiscent of Frank Herbert: where a character is thinking one thing, saying another thing, and acting out something entirely different. These multilayered moments can be difficult to follow if you’re unfamiliar with the style, but I feel that Brubaker executes this wonderfully (and the comic format is perfectly suited for the task).

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Noir Comics | Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Noir Comics Fatale Ed Brubaker Sean Phillips

Fatale by Ed Brubake and Sean Phillips

Fatale is a noir and horror genre cross-breed from my favorite creator team, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Brubaker’s tale is his most complex and twisted yet, spanning a half-century of events told in tandem. Phillips’ art is an exercise in style, his own now-so-recognizable as it enters its fully-realized maturity. I was delighted to trudge through muddy uni-sized panels as dark as any noir and darker for their horrific tilt. Taken as a whole, Fatale is cosmic Lovecaftian noir orbiting an undying femme fatale.

Noir Comics Fatale Josephine

(via dadsbigplan.com)

Where the complexity of the plot intimidates, it’s important to pay close attention to the characters and events as they unfold. Fatale is not a lazy reader, to be taken in random snippets on assorted afternoons; It’s made to be read in the deep throat of night, white knuckles turning pages and reexamining panels for hidden, less-obvious, details.

Noir Comics Fatale

(via comicsalliance.com)

The setting is split between our present-day and the 1950s- with the same seductive and ageless woman in the center of the action.  In former times, we see San Francisco reporter Hank Raines falling into the fatal perfumed pitfalls of classic noir fare. While in our day, Nicolas Lash discovers a secret that sets him on a perilous and dark trajectory, dooming him to repeat the past. The woman that spans the century in question, Josephine, breaks the archetypical mold of the femme fatale, becoming a creature of fantastical power and influence. Most femme fatale themes within the noir genre deal directly with the idea of resistance, but what if you are physically unable to resist her? What if you must obey? This theme of helpless obedience, of complete power wielded by the female lead, comprises the central theme of this groundbreaking noir comic.

Horror Comics Fatale

(via superpunch.blogspot.com)

We need more creators who aren’t afraid to push the noir comics genre into new realms. Brubaker and Phillips have been staking new boundaries for years, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Fatale Josephine Sean Phillips

(via itsadansworld.net)

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Noir Comics | Criminal: Bad Night by Ed Brubaker

Noir Comics Criminal Bad Night Ed Brubaker Sean Phillips

Criminal: Bad Night Cover (via islingtoncomic.blogspot.com)

Criminal: Bad Night by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is the best volume in the series. This arc is the one that sent me over the edge from “series-admirer” to “series fanboy.” Phillips’ art is moody and personal, as dreary and sleep deprived as the insomniac protagonist, and Brubaker’s pulp style never disappoints. The book is riddled with plot twists and heinous discoveries, and is a first-hand witness of a man’s plummet into madness.

Noir Comics Criminal Bad Night

(via comicsforserious.blogspot.com)

Here’s an overview of the plot:

Jacob Kurtz is a nearly crippled widower with a past proclivity for counterfeiting. He spends his days writing a serial-style comic called “Frank Kafka” for the local paper and his nights trying fruitlessly to sleep. He’s completely caged by his loneliness and unwavering routine. His health problems are largely a result of an undeserved beating he received when it was believed that he murdered his wife, in reality she had been the victim of an unfortunate car accident that left her body hidden for months. Now, Jacob is a recluse who’s seeking nothing by privacy and four hours of sleep a day; if he can get it. So absorbed in his own timeless drudgery, he’s completely  unprepared for the one Bad Night.

Noir Comics Criminal Bad Night

(via comicsforserious.blogspot.com)

He visits a local diner nearly every night, takes his normal spot at the bar and checks the day’s paper for his latest “Kafka” installment. Behind him in a booth of their own, a man shouts obscenities at a woman and perches on the edge of violence. Tensions inevitably flare, but are quickly defused when the couple are expelled from the restaurant. Jacob puts this strange encounter from his mind, but is quickly reminded when he drives past the woman from the diner walking home in the rain. The inciting incident for the whole noir comic is when he decides to offer her a ride.

Noir Comics Criminal Bad Night

(via comicsforserious.blogspot.com)

I could do a whole noir definition run-down on this graphic novel, but it’s the fourth book in the series and I’ve already done it for the three previous. Ed Brubaker who is a master noir story-teller, he doesn’t need me to point out why. It’s noir, okay? Trust me. Better yet, trust Brubaker and Phillips. Additionally, I don’t want to ruin the plot of this one. It’s one of those books you wish you could go back and experience again for the first time. Once you know the end, you see it from the beginning.

Noir Comics Criminal Bad Night

(via comicartappreciation.tumblr.com)

Bad Night is one of the greatest written examples of a femme fatale in the genre. She’s text-book perfection as far as plot goes, and Jacob’s interactions with her couldn’t be better. This book is cerebral noir, most of the action happens between the ears, and it’s that much more frightening because we’ve been down those dark corridors in our own psyche. The only difference is, Jacob believes in what he finds there, and swallows wholesale the rationalizations and imagined conspiracies. But we never do that, we’re smarter than that…aren’t we?

Please read Criminal: Bad Night. If you only read one noir comic ever, please read this one.

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Noir Comics | Criminal Volume 3: The Dead and The Dying

Noir Comics Criminal The Dead and The Dying

the final chapter of my deluxe edition (pictured: Teeg Lawless)

Criminal: The Dead and The Dying is a completely magnificent noir comic. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips have a raw chemistry that lends authority to their comics; You’ll feel like you picked up a piece of vintage noir crime fiction off the shelf next to Hammett, Chandler, and Cain. I know that I am a hopeless Brubaker fanboy but I believe that this series defends itself (so back-up haters).

In this volume, the story worms into the 1970’s and focuses on the lives of the “old guard” of Center City. This previous generation of criminals is just as dysfunctional, corrupt, and depraved as the current. We are made privy to decisions that created the outcomes experienced in the previous two volumes, and the curtain is drawn back on the complex connections between each of the characters and their underworld. Jake “Gnarly” Brown, Teeg Lawless, and Danica Briggs are painted in bold unforgiving strokes and chipped by adversity in one of the most heart-wrenching plot-lines yet.

Noir Comics Criminal The Dead and The Dying Cover

The Trade Paperback Cover

Second Chance in Hell

From the previous volumes, Jake “Gnarly” Brown is known to be the barkeep/owner of The Undertow in Center City. This chapter of The Dead and The Dying bridges the gap between his “up-and-coming” career as a talented boxer and his eventual disgraceful post as the washed up operator of a seedy establishment. It’s revealed that Gnarly’s father was hired muscle for Walter Hyde in the 1950’s and led to his successful rise to the top of the crime world. Thus, for good or bad, the Brown and Hyde families became inseparably connected. Growing up, Gnarly was great friends with Sebastian Hyde (Walter’s son and future crime lord), but their relationship became strained when they both showed interest in the same woman: Danica Briggs. As Sebastian dove deeper into the crime world, Gnarly was unwilling to follow. Their schism ends in a whirlwind of violence that destroys a friendship and robs Gnarly of a promising career.

Noir Comics Criminal The Dead and The Dying Second Chance in Hell

End of a Friendship

A Wolf Among Wolves

Teeg Lawless is a bastion of blind violence and the unfulfilled American dream. He returns from the Vietnam War to a country divided, an estranged wife, and children he doesn’t know. His spiral is painful trip through child abuse, infidelity, and alcoholism. Every moment he seems on the verge of killing or being killed, and worse he seems split on which he desires more. Working with the Hyde family, sleeping with Danica Briggs, blacking out for days, delivering beatings, and making getaways between pitiful tearful moments at home comprise this chapter. He represents the lost generation of men who died in Vietnam long before they came home.

Noir Comics Criminal The Dead and The Dying A Wolf Among Wolves

The End of a Marriage

Female of the Species

Danica Briggs is a femme fatale who was made by the racism and abuse she was forced to endure. Forced into addiction by thugs, she regains some semblance of self-control and power through the sexual manipulation of men. As in all noir comics, she is male-defined but Brubaker takes it one step further. He showcases the events that led her to her definition, and reveals that not only was her character male-defined but also male-created. Were it not for the horrors she was subjected to, she would have had a much different life; perhaps she would have had a normal life with Gnarly? The most intense scenes surround her pregnancy, and the scandals that stole her child.

Noir Comics Criminal The Dead and The Dying Female of the Species

The End of a Life

Criminal: The Dead and The Dying is a tragic look at the frailty of human character and gouges at morality in an immoral world. The volume painfully depicts the cost of clinging to principles of righteousness in the poisonous fume of lust, greed, power, and sin. In the noir comics Criminal series, the characters that aren’t “dead” are certainly “dying.”

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Noir Comics | Scalped: The Gravel In Your Guts

Noir Comics The Gravel in Your Guts Cover


The fourth volume of the critically acclaimed Scalped series was full of powerful turning points and reversals in the story-line. Jason Aaron’s Indian Reservation-centric thriller is THE comic that all other noir comics are measured against. There honestly could not have been a more perfect title for this chapter of the story, because it’s gut wrenching and deeply disturbing. Before launching into an analysis of what I felt the most important aspects of this volume, I would like to say that it was nearly impossible to locate in the first place. I checked amazon.com and they were sold out, when placing the order they said that it would ship within 2-3 months. Additionally, they had NO OTHER sellers at the time that were providing this comic in its used state or otherwise. So I located a completely separate online comic book seller that had one issue left in stock and I purchased it again. That’s right, I purchased it from amazon (expecting to wait) and from the separate seller I had found who guaranteed delivery within 3-5 business days. Well, 3 weeks later I had still not received the comic, and all of my queries to both amazon and the other seller were going unanswered. At this point, the most infuriating thing was the fact that I had the fifth and sixth volume sitting on my shelf, but I didn’t want to skip a section of the story. Eventually, at the beginning of the fourth week it finally came, and I was able to dive in hungrily (and then the other copy came a week later).

There were essentially five events that I found to be extremely significant in this noir comic. I’ll give you a brief overview of each.

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Carol Ellroy

Minutes before the Tragedy

First, we found out why Carol Red Crow hates her father, and how his cronies caused the death of her baby. The father of the child had stolen money from the Chief, and was trying to leave the rez with Carol and his unborn grandchild. While they were on the road out of town, Red Crow’s men pulled alongside them and began raining bullets on them (not knowing that Carol was in the car). They eviscerated Carol’s beau, and a stray bullet plunged into her womb, instantly killing the child. Since then, Carol has had no interest in a relationship with her father, and has gone off the deep end in the drug world.

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Dashiell Bad Horse

Suicide isn't the answer

Second, Dashiell Bad Horse almost kills himself. He had been reminiscing about his childhood, and a time when his father had shown up at his house completely wasted. His dad proceeded to do cocaine in front of him, and said “I don’t ever wanna catch you doing this shit you hear?”

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Drug Abuse

another bad decision, learning to use drugs

Third, Dashiell’s self destructive tendencies take their final plunge when he asks Carol (who he’s been sleeping with) to show him how to do heroin.

“Tapping into the heart of noir, Jason Aaron tells a story that is really many stories, and which all have the same ending. It doesn’t get much more inevitable than knowing the ending through most of the book – but here’s the key… you don’t care. You turn each page just as fast, maybe faster, wanting to know how each character winds their way toward that conclusion. And that’s why I love noir, and why Scalped is a work of art.” – Ed Brubaker, January 2009

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Dino Poor Bear

On his way to make deliveries

Fourth, Dino Poor Bear starts doing shady deliveries for the police in order to make money for his family. This leads him to being in various horrible situations.

Noir Comics Scalped The Gravel in Your Guts Chief Red Crow

praying for the first time in a long while

And finally, Chief Red Crow reaches a turning point and decides to take his reservation back.

Scalped: The Gravel in Your Guts is a very hard noir comic to read because every character is plunging deeper and deeper into their bad decisions and the consequences they are incurring appear to be overwhelming any possible hope for a brighter future. Jason Aaron refuses to pull any punches, and constantly brutalizes his characters. I’m reminded of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, he said of writing a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.” Noir comics are written by sadists.

A parting note, R.M. Guera and Davide Furno deliver BIG TIME in every issue. I’m never disappointed.

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Film Noir | “Criminal” by Ed Brubaker Bound For Film


Criminal is going to be a movie.

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Noir Comics | Batman’s Gotham Noir

Noir Comics Batman's Gotham Noir Cover

you had me at Brubaker...

Here is a delicious noir comics announcement from ifanboy:

DC is finally reprinting the classic Elseworlds story from 2001 by the creative team behind Criminal. The story is set in Gotham City in 1949 and stars hard boiled private detective Jim Gordon, and if you’re a fan of Brubaker and Phillips’ work on Criminal picking up this one is a no-brainer. If all of that’s not enough, I highlighted this book on one of our vault video shows way back in the first year of the show, back when we were young and fancy free and didn’t have professional lights. Check it out.

I’m a bit hesitant still, even though Batman’s Gotham Noir looks amazing, Brubaker in 2001 is a far cry from Brubaker now. I recently read some of his earlier noir stuff and it really doesn’t hold a candle to his newer entries. For example: I didn’t like Sleeper….GASP! Are you surprised? don’t be, it’s way over-hyped and underdeveloped. Especially if you’ve read Incognito, which is extremely more enjoyable as a noir comic. Nevertheless, I’ll be purchasing, reading and reviewing this one soon. Thanks for the tip Zach S. !

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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 Amazon.com.

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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 Quote of the Week #3

Noir Quote 3 Ed Brubaker

Mr. Ed Brubaker

These quotes come from Ed Brubaker, the author of many a noir comics masterpiece. He tweeted both of these last Friday (June 3rd), and I just knew that I had to share them for my next noir quotes segment. The first:

“Every Friday I’m going to teach one thing about noir on Twitter. It’ll be the same lesson over and over again.”

and the second:

“Noir is about character, the plot doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. It’s just a vehicle.”

I LOVE the first noir quote simply because its so funny. Almost every piece of noir crime fiction teaches the same lessons, because every anti-hero makes the same mistakes. And if you know anything about Brubaker, you know that his writing lives and dies by the both of these statements. Keep reading noir! Enter the Criminal Giveaway if you haven’t already!

image from grouchoreviews.com 

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