Tag Archives: Noir

Book of the week 40: Mystery Men 5

1. Mystery Men #5 (Marvel comics)
This is the last issue of a shockingly awesome miniseries about a ragtag team of 1930’s pulp heroes set in the Marvel Universe. If you haven’t read any of the previous issues, I highly suggest you go and check them out. In the pages of Mystery Men, writer David Liss and artist Patrick Zircher have introduced five brand new and very unique heroes into the history of Marvel. This reads like a very pulpy story and because of this some of the new heroes aren’t very typical. Still, this series has all the traits of a great Marvel comic. Whether you like everything from Captain America to X-Factor, or you´re totally burned out by events like Siege, Schism or Fear Itself, you can’t go wrong with this title.

Mystery Men is (very noirishly) narrated by Dennis Piper, AKA The Operative. The Operative is basically a Robin Hood-esque cat burglar. His pinstriped three-piece suit complete with gloves and a hat is complemented by balaclava (which is totally my word of the week!) face mask. This guy has no superpowers, but in this issue we learn where he has acquired his fighting skills, burglary techniques and thick skin. The series opens with The Operative’s investigation of the murder of his girlfriend. His search quickly leads him in the direction of a dark figure from his own past. Along the way however, he meets four eclectic allies: Sarah Starr, AKA The Aviatrix, the sister of his deceased lover but also a female pilot with her own set of Rocketeer gear; Ezekiel Wright, AKA The Revenant, a Broadway stagehand who uses his skill in visual effects to fight crime; prof. Lewis Green, AKA Achilles, an archeologist who has been tasked by the adversary to retrieve the magical amulet which gives him the powers of the hero of Greek myths at the price of other people’s lives; rounding out the Mystery Men is The Surgeon, a doctor who’s been horribly scared when his house was set on fire because he was tending strikers. Now wrapped in bandages he keeps on playing doctor, his favorite prescription being justice preferably administered through a syringe.

The villains are a group of industrialists who are getting rich by actually causing the Great Depression, lead by an evil maniac, known only as The General. The General in turn is a lackey of Dr. Strange villainess Nox, who has him abducting and sacrificing children to return her to her true form. Last issue our heroes managed to save all but one of the children that where still kept prisoner. The one still missing is the baby of aviator Charles Lindberg, who is especially valuable because his fame will give his death a greater emotional impact throughout America, thus intensifying the power of the demonic ritual.

This final issue sees the group getting back together to thwart Nox and The General for good. As can be expected, it’s full of action. As I mentioned in my review of issue 4, I really appreciate the dynamic panel layouts that Zircher uses for the action scenes. They give the flow of the story a nice acceleration, while also showing how wild and chaotic fights can be. This, together with Liss’ skillful use of pacing the story through different page layouts (ranging from nine panel grid pages, to full-page spreads, and everything in between) makes this a superb read.

I’ll try not to compare the art style with that of other artists, as I am wont to do. So let’s just describe it as a slightly photorealistic version of the Marvel house-style (not surprising as I have found out Zircher is a Marvel veteran), with very effective use of blacks and shadows. Both characters and the scenery look very much like they really are from the thirties, which I guess means that Zircher has put a lot of research into this project.

This issue offers an interesting and satisfying open ending to a wholly original series, set in the continuity of the Marvel Universe. It’s a shame that a title like this may get overlooked because it ‘doesn’t matter to the overall continuity’. I’d like to congratulate Liss and Zircher for creating a landmark stand-alone miniseries. In a mere five issues they have developed a cast of three-dimensional characters that I hope we will see more of in the future.
Art:9               Writing:9.5                 Overall:9

Book of the week: Criminal. The Last of the Innocents #3

I’ve had a good week. I’ve won a comic book (Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors #1), what’s better than free comics? Thanks to Freaking Awsome Network, Image comics and creators Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert!!! This week reviews of Criminal and a whole lot of Marvel comics: SHIELD, Captain America & BuckyGladstone’s #4, Walking Dead, X-men etc…

1. Criminal. The Last of the Innocents #3(Icon)

The creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continues to amaze. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I first read Sleeper (published by Wildstorm). While I don’t enjoy Brubaker’s mainstream stuff nearly as much, mostly every work by Phillips is perfect as far as I am concerned. I think I’ve read the first three volumes of Criminal and lost interest somewhere along the way. This latest volume however (The Last of the Innocents), seems to have reinvigorated the series. It has certainly reinvigorated my interest in it.

The previous volumes of Criminal have been loosely interconnected continuity-wise. As far as I can tell though, The Last of the Innocents thus far stands alone. As I wrote in my review of the second issue, Criminal tells stories about characters making some morally reprehensible decisions. Case in point is Riley Richards, the main character in this story, in good noir storytelling fashion, we watch the story unfold though his eyes. In the first issue we came to know him as a successful urban banker. In his private life however, things have been looking down for a long time. His marriage is a joke, he knows his wife is cheating and he’s badly in dept to a loan shark. Additionally he has become estranged from his friends and family in his hometown Brookview. At the end of the first issue he devises a plan to ease his woes: kill his wife and pay his dept with her money. In the second issue, that’s exactly what he does, and in this issue we follow him on the day after the murder. As it turns out Riley is a conniving son of a bitch, who doesn’t shy away from killing his spouse or manipulating his best friends to obtain an alibi (even if this messes up the sobriety of his recovering junkie best friend). Although his plan was well thought out and executed perfectly, in this issue some cracks start to show and we also learn that his father-in-law is pointing a private detective at him, because he suspects Riley’s hiding something.

Art by Sean Philips, from Criminal. the last of the Innocents #3.

Art by Sean Philips, from Criminal. the last of the Innocents #3.

Not only is Ed Brubaker responsible for making Captain America cool, his most important qualities are his fascination with pulp noir stories (be prepared for some narration through caption boxes) and the sublime way he writes morally grey characters. This last asset is what the Criminal series revolves around. A fun little fact is that he has always wanted to write for Archie, and in this series every character is an analogue for an Archiecharacter.

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker channeling Archie comics in Criminal. The Last of the Inocents #3.

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker channeling Archie comics in Criminal. The Last of the Inocents #3.

If you are accustomed to Sean Phillips’ art style you’ll agree at how well it fits the dark, sometimes macabre, sometimes desperate stories that are told in this series. I wouldn’t do the artist any justice to compare him with others, because his style is both very unique and ever-changing. This has never been truer than in this volume of Criminal where the flashbacks are told in the wholesome style of the good old Archie comics. I don’t think I’ve seen Phillips flex these kind of muscles before, but he pulls it off wonderfully. As far as I can tell, Archie comics should add Sean Phillips to their stable of artists. This change of art style provides the story with some comedic relief, while also adding to the feeling of lost innocence as referred to, in the title of this series. It’s not just the dirty Archiepages that made this book my pick of the week though. The pages that tell the story of Riley in the here-and-now are amazing as well.

Sean Philips is a master of facial expressions. Art from Criminal. The last of the Innocents #3, published by Icon.

Sean Philips is a master of facial expressions. Art from Criminal. The last of the Innocents #3, published by Icon.

I was stunned by Phillips’ effective use of different types of body language and facial expressions. Especially in this story where the protagonist is lying through his teeth and (flat-out acting each time he’s in public), it’s a huge benefit that the artist is a master in facial expressions. The reader can clearly witness the different faces Riley puts on in different surroundings. I’m very curious to see how this story concludes.
Art: 9.5                       Writing: 9.5    Overall: 9.5