As we’re showing a great film this month that deals with illegal activity, violence and hidden identities, we decided to showcase some of our favorite crime comics of the past few years to go along with it. We’ve got troubled detectives, cowardly bankrobbers, fast talking con-men, and a mild-mannered diner owner from the Midwest. Check ‘em out!
A History of Violence (originally published 1997)
While the original graphic novel by John Wagner (creator of the perennially successful Judge Dredd) and Vince Locke is actually quite different from the film, the two share a sense of how important violence is to the comics medium, not to mention American culture in general. Tom Mckenna (Stall in the film) is a hardworking diner owner in a Rockewellian Midwest. After a brutal attack, we are taken back in time to his upbringing in the big city, and how a spectacularly risky robbery was to change his life forever. The book spans about 20 years, and features a lot more backstory than its adaptation, so fans of the film should check it out if they want to inhabit the pulpy world of A History of Violence for a longer time.
Criminal Volume One: Coward (originally serialized 2006-2007)
Leo is a pickpocket working the streets of the nameless city in an attempt to just get by. When a crooked cop named Jeff gets the idea for an armored car heist, he strong-arms Leo into the job despite the fact that it violates the code that has kept him alive since the disastrous “Salt Bay job”. Wouldn’t you know it, the heist goes sour, and Leo is forced to go on the run again, this time with Greta, a recovering heroin addict who Leo cannot refuse. The world of the Criminal series by scribe Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Philips is an intricately plotted mesh, where old scores are settled, seedy bars operate as integral parts of the city’s nervous system and the constant threat of violence hangs in the air like a pall. The “coward” of the title shares more than a few similarities with Tom Mckenna/Stall, but you’ll have to check out the comic to find out why.
Goldfish (originally serialized 1994)
David “Goldfish” Gold is a confidence man, who’s returned to his hometown for one last job. The target? His son, who he hasn’t seen for the past ten years. The only thing standing in his way is the boy’s mother, Lauren, who has in his absence taken over organized crime in the city, using as her headquarters the Club Cinderella. And she’s not likely to let anything get away from her.
An early work by mega-popular comics creator Brian Michael Bendis, Goldfish touches on many of the same themes as both the film and print versions of A History of Violence, namely ideas about family, identity and what it means to be “a man”. Bendis has since gone on to helm other noir comics projects like Powers, Alias and Sam and Twitch, but this book that he wrote and drew on his own remains an excellent outing.
Stumptown (originally serialized 2009-2010)
Finally, this month’s book list wraps up with a personal favorite of Graphic Content creators Erin and Matt, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown. The first series follows private investigator Dex Parios, who follows in the grand hardboiled tradition of probably being too smart for her own good. When hired to track down the errant granddaughter of a prominent casino boss, the wisecracking sleuth quickly finds out that she’s in over her head. The book is an ode to the bygone era of detective shows like Magnum P.I. and The Rockford Files, and is a must for those who enjoy their mysteries quick-witted and punchily-written. Much like A History of Violence subverts expectations in its gruesome depiction of violence and absence of heroism, Stumptown subverts expectations by giving us a female protagonist in a male dominated genre.