Noir has always been a dark place, and Assailant Comics' 5-issue mini-series, Black of Heart, fits right in there. It deals with the dark places that hide in a man’s soul, whether that man wears a badge or wields a blade. It’s a hard-boiled world where the thinnest line often separates cop from criminal, and monsters hide in plain sight with their masks of men.
“My first year in homicide, and I’m chasing a ghost. A murderer and a rapist . . . six cases under my belt before the mutilated bodies of women started showing up in alleyways. Cut-up and sprawled out. Nothing to do but clean up the mess and try and answer the hard questions . . .Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Somewhere a proud, black heart is beating.” - Black of Heart #1
Charlton captures the essence and patois of the genre perfectly, packing the work with flawed souls and soul-searching self-recriminations. Kind of like Raymond Chandler had picked up his pen and started writing for comic books but then had a chance meeting and dinner with Hannibal Lecter. It's a new and vastly unexplored area of the genre, which usually focuses on crimes of monetary gain and passion. Charlton’s Vulture is calm and cool under pressure, doing what needs to be done to keep his little art project going at any cost.
But, with the way this work is going, Charlton and artist Hollenbach may just be pulling out that beating heart and showing it to you. Hollenbach mixes a palette of photorealistic images with a jagged, stark pen, reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz's work from the '80s, punctuating his noir-perfect blacks and greys with bloody reds and glaring yellows, used sparingly but with incredible power. It’s gruesome and unflinching, particularly the opening page of issue two, where we get an unexpected and deeply chilling perspective on the Vulture’s crimes, first-hand.
Black of Heart is a great addition to the noir field, taking it in a different direction, full of dizzying twists and turns and a classic, vintage style that feels both fresh and authentic as you follow the story in. If you’re a fan of the genre, pick this up and enjoy the dark, dark ride.
Verdict: FOUR Vintage Black Mask Anthologies out of Five