By Andrew A. Smith

Scripps Howard News Service

 

Jan. 18, 2011 -- Original graphic novels are hitting bookshelves like a tsunami these days, but DC’s Vertigo Crime line is always welcome. They’ve released another winner, Noche Roja ($19.99), that is nerve-wracking from first page to last.

 

Writer Simon Oliver (The Exterminators) wisely placed his story in one of the most genuinely lawless and frightening places on Earth: northern Mexico, near the U.S. border. One glance at Google will attest to how law enforcement there is virtually non-existent, how hundreds of young women continue to disappear annually and how narcotraficante gangs battle each other with military-grade weapons. Northern Mexico is one location where ‘30s-style crime noir stories continue to work well, because it is similar to the U.S. settings of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler: places that fake being civilized but are incredibly dangerous.

 

As is typical of crime noir stories, our “hero” is a cynical outsider with a dirty past and a lousy present. Jack Cohen is an ex-policeman and occasional private eye who sells security systems to McMansion owners, and stays drunk to quiet his nightmares. He’s hired by a Mexican social worker to investigate a series of murders of maquiladoras (female factory workers) that are even more brutal than usual. Cohen’s trip south of the border is a Conradian journey into the heart of darkness – his own, and the political conspiracies, brutal class structure, powerful drug cartels and sexual perversion he finds there.

 

Jason Latour’s art is more stylized than I like in a book where it’s important to see expressions, postures and subtle movement, but it’s still clear (and gritty) enough to do the job. This “Red Night” will be a chilling one for the average reader on the safety of the couch.

 

NBM is another publisher whose original graphic novels (often imported from Europe) are usually among my favorites. But Miss Don’t Touch Me Vol. 2 ($14.99), by Hubert and Kerascoet of France, was something of a disappointment.

 

Maybe it’s because I had so much fun with the first Miss Don’t Touch Me, which introduced the naïve but courageous Blanche, whose poverty consigns her to a whorehouse in early 20th century Paris – but by dint of her determination remains a virgin. This is achieved by Blanche becoming a dominatrix who does not allow the customers to touch her, a curious sexual niche that becomes a sensation and the whorehouse’s biggest draw. This farcical narrative was buttressed by a murder mystery, all of which came to a happy ending, turning the novel into a sort of 1930s-style screwball comedy.

 

However, the second volume is more Oliver Twist than Thin Man, where Blanche is buffeted by economic and social forces beyond her control, compounded by losing her heart to a gay man. She is no heroine here, but merely a victim. Add the return of her selfish, alcoholic mother, and Miss Don’t Touch Me Vol. 2 is more tragedy than farce.

 

Hopefully this is merely a second act, and there will be a third Miss Don’t Touch Me that will allow our heroine to prevail. As it stands now, the second volume is just depressing.

 

REPRINT ROUNDUP


Most people know Our Army at War as the DC title that introduced Sgt. Rock, and later took that name. With Showcase Presents: Our Army at War Vol. 1 ($19.99), we can see what it was like in its infancy.

 

Our Army began in 1952 during the Korean War, but also during what many consider the highlight of war comics: Harvey Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat at EC Comics. Interestingly, the stories reprinted in this black-and-white behemoth (OAAW #1-20, 1952-54, 512 ppg.) only occasionally tip their hat to Kurtzman, especially in the use of the three-panel zoom (mostly by writer Robert Kanigher, who used the technique promiscuously the rest of his career).

 

Most of these stories are fairly by the numbers, with heroic Americans learning life lessons during combat adventures that often border on the absurd (first in the Korean War, then after the 1953 armistice mostly in WWII). But it was interesting to see so many familiar names, especially Ross Andru, Gene Colan, Jerry Grandenetti and Irv Novick, and even more interesting that due to the consistent house-style inking – mostly by Joe Giella – how amazingly similar these divergent artists were made to appear.

 

Conclusion? This book is valuable for the comics history it reveals, but don’t expect much excitement.

 

Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at capncomics@aol.com.

 

Views: 208

Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on January 21, 2011 at 9:09am
Speaking of archival reprints of war comics, the Marvel Masterworks edition reprinting Battlefield (from the "Atlas Era") ought to be shipping any week now. I'm looking forward to comparing and constasting the stories in that volume to those in its better-known counterparts.
Comment by Mr. Silver Age on January 22, 2011 at 1:36pm

I'm sorry to hear you didn't like MDTM #2, Cap. Like you, I really enjoyed part one when I discovered it this summer, and I was looking forward to #2. So while I'll probably get #2 to continue the story, like you I'll hope there's another part to get it back on track.

That happened with another volume I enjoyed (and also discovered this summer, Isaac the Pirate. Part 1 was really enjoyable, an exciting pirate story in which people don't reflect the stereotypes that you expect. So I was looking forward to Part 2, except the reviews indicate it's no longer so pirate-oriented and goes off on a tangent that most people found uninteresting. 

I can recommend both books in the Ordinary Victories series by Manu Larcenet, which is a two-book story. 

I hope you'll keep reviewing NBM books and others like it, as there are a lot of excellent comics there that often don't get enough coverage. They deserve it and no doubt really need it.

Comment by Captain Comics on January 22, 2011 at 4:24pm
I review NBM books regularly, MSA -- although I don't talk much about the Trondheim books, as I don't much care for his art style. (I think I even reviewed Isaac the Pirate when it first came out, back when the world was young!) I've got a couple in the to-review pile right now ...
Comment by Mr. Silver Age on January 22, 2011 at 5:21pm

That's interesting, as I tend to like his style. I read his Nimrod and Oddballz comics from Fantagraphics, and I like some of his storylines better than others, but the art style usually worked pretty well I've never invested in his Dungeon books, but I hear pretty good things about those, and I may try them.

Obviously, I'm fairly new here, and this was the first review I'd seen, so I'm glad to hear there are more coming. I actually almost missed it, as from the headline I thought the column was on one comic I wasn't sure I had much interest in. I'll check back on some of the older blog posts--and make sure I open upcoming ones, at least to check what all's there.

Did you review the second Isaac? I'd be interested if you agree it went off the rails. 

Comment by Captain Comics on January 22, 2011 at 5:43pm

I can't remember if I even read the second Isaac! I'll have to check the bookshelf/old columns. If I did, the lack of memory is a sure sign I didn't like it.

 

I don't always put everything I review in the headlines, because I may review lots of books in a column -- it can get unwieldy to mention them all. I mention them all on Twitter/Facebook teases, though!

 

As to Trondheim, that's what makes horse races. If you'd like to review them, feel free!

Comment by Mark Sullivan (Vertiginous Mod) on January 22, 2011 at 8:45pm
Count me as one who was most interested in the lead title!  Jason Latour, the artist on Noche Roja, lives in Charlotte. He was at the Minicon today, so I asked him about the book. I'm always curious about the process used to create an OGN. He said he was in discussion for a year before starting on the drawing. He insisted on seeing the full script, so that was done...then it took another year and a half to draw. As he pointed out, the page count makes it comparable to drawing about eight monthly comics, but of course all the work has to be done before publication. I got a look at a copy--as well as his issues of Scalped--and I'm looking forward to reading them.
Comment by George on January 31, 2011 at 12:31am

"But it was interesting to see so many familiar names, especially Ross Andru, Gene Colan, Jerry Grandenetti and Irv Novick, and even more interesting that due to the consistent house-style inking – mostly by Joe Giella – how amazingly similar these divergent artists were made to appear."

 

Gene Colan has complained about how the DC inkers made all the artists look alike in the '50s. That was the rigidly enforced house style; as one critic wrote, the inkers made even stylists like Toth and Kane look like "the same journeyman advertising illustrator."

 

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