Founded in 2004, Hard Case Crime quickly made a name for itself in the pulp mystery field by seeking and publishing modern talent and reissuing vintage pulp classics for a new generation of readers. Drawing on the things that made the old books so chewy delicious, the new books were filled with strong women, hard men, dark-hearted heroes, plans that went wrong as often as they went right, and that great existential darkness that lies at the heart of the genre.
Now, Hard Case Crime has teamed up with Titan Comics to bring those dark delights to the illustrated page and has brought on two modern veterans of the genre to bring it to life. Christa Faust, author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Money Shot, and Gary Phillips, essayist and author of the Nate Hollis Investigations comics, originally published by Vertigo, as well as the Martha Chainey mysteries, have teamed their abundant talents to bring a desperate tale in a New York not so far removed from the one we know now.
These two esteemed authors have set their tale in a gritty, nasty Times Square best known for its crime rates, squalor, and some of Martin Scorsese’s best work. This is Times Square before Disneyfication, when the thrills were plentiful and cheap and life was cheaper. Bouncing from sticky strip clubs to cockroach-infested exploitation-film theatres to squalid tenements, they keep the action brisk but still manage to bring out the vulnerabilities in their lead, the peepshow booth babe, Roxy Bell, even allowing her to find moments of softness in the harsh world she lives in, while caring for a sick relative or asking for help from the ex she broke up with.
Artist Andrea Camerini steps up strong to illustrate Faust and Phillips' dark world, capturing the gritty, neon glare of the Square and the darkness of a city still trapped in a nightmare, aided by the talents of colorist Marco Lesco, who keeps his palette as vibrant as a tale like this can handle. Especially unnerving is the lush Pepto-Bismol pink of the Peepland Venue, almost jarring in comparison to the rest of the city on this depressing Christmas Eve.
All in all, if you’re not familiar with noir, this is a great introduction to the genre. You’re in the hands of two master storytellers working in a genre they obviously love. And if you’re already a fan, sit back and enjoy the ride they’re going to take you on, with every dark and greasy twist it has in store for you.
“Hi, Honey. First time?”
“Let me explain how things work around here. For your tokens, you get a live nude girl.”
“But that’s it. You want a real show, you gotta be a little more… generous.”
Verdict: FIVE Sticky PeepLand Tokens out of FIVE.
For more information on Hard Case Crimes books, visit www.hardcasecrime.com.
For more information on Christa Faust, visit www.christafaust.com.
For more information on Gary Phillips, visit www.gdphillips.com.