I’ve no sooner decided that superhero comics bore me than the universe, mediated through the generosity of my sons, sends me an apparently endless stream of comics in other genres: investigative journalism, space opera, fairytale epic, domestic comedy, and now Hollywood noir.
It’s 1948. Our narrator, Charlie Parrish, is a Hollywood writer. Traumatised by his experience in World War Two he can’t write a thing, but he keeps his job by secretly taking dictation from his friend Gil, who has been blacklisted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee and so can’t get any work in his own name.
A beautiful woman is murdered in the first couple of pages, and the crime scene is altered to make it look like suicide. Charlie sets out to investigate and uncovers as much corruption, secretiveness and deranged viciousness as Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade could ever have wished for. He also gets beaten up quite a bit and gets involved with the beautiful woman who has replaced the murder victim in the film they’re all makng. He and Gil have a difficult relationship, not helped by Gil’s alcohol intake and his tendency to want to speak truth to power without regard for the consequences. Some real characters appear: Clark Gable knows Charlie from his war days, and Dashiell (‘Sam’) Hammett gives advice on how to flush out a murderer.
The plot is still thickening at the end of Act Two. Trails have been laid that may lead to interesting places – for example, will we be given the details of Charlie’s war experiences? I can’t find any information about how many more Acts are to come. Act Three is due out next month, and then who knows?
Brubaker and Phillips have been a team for more than 16 years, and the work feels seamless. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colouring deserves a mention for its wonderfully evocative moodiness. The shadowy details of Hollywood behind the scenes may be a little hard for my ageing eyes to make out when I’m reading at night, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s a page I’ve lifted from the Image website:
The books, each a compilation of four original comics, are beautifully done. There’s none of the generational lossiness or iffy registration that bedevils comics from a couple of decades back, and the four original covers reproduced up the back of each book are stunning.