Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Month: November, 2015

NOIRVEMBER 020 ~ Hannibal

From the outset, you know you are watching two broken guys circle each other through the chum of life until they eat each other. And in doing so eat themselves. Which they’ll do slowly so they can continue to spiral down and down until they drill into the bedrock of the human spirit.

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But Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter aren’t the only things plotting their own demise, there’s another man. And each week he laboriously carved out his name on a tombstone until it read BRYAN FULLER.

The above might be slight dramatic hyperbole, but there’s no doubt Fuller – who created the TV version of events – gave zero fucks when it came to anyone else’s thoughts or vision on this show. The fact it got cancelled after three seasons is heartbreaking but the opposite fact that it lasted such a goodly timeframe is insane. We are left with a perfect storm of longform storytelling, character dissection [sometimes literally], and a unique vision that could never last but would always burn brighter than it would exponentially.

And I’ll admit, I didn’t care about this show when it was announced, nor when it launched. Really, who the hell wanted or needed more Hannibal Lecter in their life? I’d read the books – right up until HANNIBAL when Thomas Harris somehow forgot how to write human people or dialogue – and I’d seen the movies. The RED DRAGON novel was adapted twice for the big screen so to hear it would get the small screen treatment filled me with nothing but rock solid meh.

But then I watched the first episode anyway. My daughter was born, and seemingly allergic to sleep, so I’d pace the house with her on my chest and eventually I stumbled across the show in some late night programming. I was like a slab of meat in a freezer – I was hooked and chilled. From here on, I looked forward to my daughter acting the midnight loon. I was all in on this show I never knew could touch me like this. The tone of the show, the style of the narrative, the class of the experience won me over.

Hell, with the way I was watching it, the whole performance was even improved. I was bleary-eyed, disoriented, a little emotional, and pretty unsure what was awake reality or dream fugue just due to the lack of sleep so all of that made the viewing hold more impact because it was tenderising my subconscious and staying with me for days in stomach churning and unsettling ways.

So it was with little shock to know that with something this good, it was destined to fail.

By the end of the first season, you got that uneasy feeling this couldn’t last. The show was horrific, grotesque, erudite. It was the sort of thing that would grossly turn away many while so desperately appealing to the few that they’d see it as a tome to study. But deep inside you knew this was televised suicide. There was no way ABC would ever commit to more of this sort of thing. Antlers busting out of people, blood spilling like Cronenberg was at the hose, human totem poles, and the goddamn girl who couldn’t see faces. It wasn’t just eerie, it was graphically intense on an iconic level – and it’s the ones you remember that soon you’ll never forget.

Hannibal was often shown as The Stag, a ghastly all black creature with long antlers. This figure haunts the show’s more visceral moments and it stands as a fine representation of the noir streak within Graham/Lecter as they can’t stop their descents. It’s heady stuff when you dig in, and there’s really no other way the show allows you to watch it.

This was high literature nightmare fuel on a standard station and it could not stand.

After that brilliant debut season, I was certain the team at HANNIBAL HQ could not and would not keep up this breakneck twist. If they wanted to live, they’d evolve and adapt.

Instead, Fuller came back more determined to deliver his vision of events. He wasn’t going to touch much of the Harris novel for the second season either. He was going to spearhead a campaign of horror and brutality unlike most shows would ever dare to envision, but he wouldn’t do it in a slasher manner to appeal to the gore crowd, instead he’d couch it all in delicious scenery and delicate interplay, so we would never forget this was a character study. A goddamn character study, right to the end. It’s a ballsy move and one that also failed them in the end, as was perhaps their design.

William Graham says this a lot as he inspects crime scenes through the eyes of the killer. “This is my design.” It’s a phrase that soon brings a hollow gut whenever you hear it because you know you are about to see the kind of act that lays waste to brains and innocence. And the phrase works for the ethos of the show, also. Everything, every piece of fabric worn, every intricate death tableau, every camera angle, every choice to harder knock the wind from your torso was all by the design of Fuller and his team. And they would not ever yield.

There’s something perfect about the opening sequence of Season 2 where we are dropped in media res to observe Hannibal Lecter and FBI’s Jack Crawford fighting to the death in the future and then we spend the season building up to that moment. Because a sense of impending dread and death is exactly what the show needs looming over it. You have to feel the tension, in your jaw, across your shoulders, as you wait each week to uncover more of the jigsaw that builds to two of the lead characters attempting to destroy each other.

Season 2 is one long and large noir spiral because both characters want this resolution. They need the conflict to come, no matter the personal cost physically and mentally. It appears that each gets the upper hand at times, but realistically they are both sinking. Each relying more on the other in a toxic symbiotic relationship that finally comes to a head in the third and final season. A season I didn’t expect to exist and I’m not certain how Fuller made it happen. But damned if I’m not over the moon that he did.

In Season 3, HANNIBAL doubles down on what it is. Dr Lecter goes to Europe, Will Graham all but openly pines for him. There is no jumping on point, no easy access. Even if you’ve watched every episode, you still need to pay attention. Fuller knows the show is going to die and he doesn’t care. In fact, I am certain if the show took off and got 6 seasons, it would have become rubbish. Though let’s all be real and acknowledge that Fuller never would have let that happen, he would have kept pushing the boundaries until they had to take him off the air. As it was, the baby in the pig in S3 is a moment where I paused and thanked the many lords above that I hadn’t tricked my wife into watching this show with me because I’d now be divorced.

By the final sequence, you are watching two people descend and you realise this has all been about them doing it together. Neither wants to fall alone because they plan to embrace, literally, into the very final plummet. As they hack and tear at Francis Dolarhyde, the Great Red Dragon, and his blood spills and his life flickers out, this is a noir crash of violence as a sex scene. Hell, it’s more personal and passionate than much of the fornication you see in media these days. This is the noir crescendo as orgasm, complete with post-cuddle, and then the curtain fades. In short, it’s brilliant and is so wonderfully satisfying that Fuller and co were able to wrap the show up with such a thematic and beautiful send off. Graham and Lecter choose their end and it’s satisfying for us as well as them. It’s a release of the tension of trying to be anything but their worst.

As rich as the tapestry of the story is, you’d need a separate book to do it true justice, so instead let’s celebrate the fact Bryan Fuller wanted to ensure the process of making the show itself was a noir tale. And every creative decision was a definitive stake in the ground that this was their design.

Late in the game, Hannibal says: “Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black.”

And that’s exactly what the lifeblood of the show was and for three glorious years we all stood in the moonlight and felt the energy consume us as it pulled us all down, down.

CURRICULUM ADDENDUM

You can access every single tv script for all 3 seasons of the show at http://livingdeadguy.com/shows/hannibal/ – and it is well worth your time to investigate, imbibe, and enjoy.

NOIRVEMBER 019 ~ Ultranova

The way ULTRANOVA plays out and the genres it skirts and bounces off and dances between make it a strange beast to endure and then quantify. But before then, before the words and the hyperbole and the refined brain kicks in, while your lizard brain is still reacting and rubbing your belly from where you just got hit hard, all you can think is how goddamn good this comic is.

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Chris Peterson and Chris Ryzowski on art/colours over a Ryan Ferrier script deliver unto us, the weeping masses, a sci fi noir comic that you need to read more than once. And every time you imbibe it, it slams a meaty fist into another internal organ until there’s nothing left of you in your apartment but a black bag of mush holding a comic and the coroner has no idea what the hell happened.

The intro to this story is short and straight enough. A spaceship was out to kickstart a dying star and when they stopped and ceased contact a one-man ship went out to ascertain the problem and lend a hand. From there, it’s a trip down into the darkness by the light of a giant star.

The ship is littered with the bodies of the dead crew, all of them bludgeoned to death and left in pools of their own brain shards and blood. Our lead, Cale, walks through all this and yet doesn’t bail. That’s his first wrong move. You see a spaceship abandoned but for the dead bodies, you bounce. But he’s an upstanding man and watching someone fall because of their righteous and dutiful nature is just more heart-wrenching for us all.

Once his personal ship disengages, and he is stranded, the ship reaches out to him through one of the dead bodies and Cale is lead to the Throne Room where one of the research monkeys seemingly soaked up the star’s version of the Quickening and became an extension construct of the celestial body and now is looking to scatter itself into the cosmos with the demise of the star that will wipe out billions of lifeforms in its solar wake. Yup, heady goddamn stuff.

Cale is confronted with this megascience of warped light haunting and he performs an exorcism of violence without a second thought and it’s this instant reaction that is telling when the final pages are not. The creative team leave our narrative resolution ambiguous, or at least they definitely do not hold your hand through the final steps, as we are left on the images of Cale realising he’s struck down the chimpanzee too late, the shield generator is destroyed, and the ultranova is about to occur. So we close on Cale taking the throne in front of the star’s rays and then opening his eyes to reveal them afire with the light of the star.

Our intrepid hero takes the throne, he accepts the star into his brain/body/soul, he bonds, and with that connection he forces the star to live on. He doesn’t let it die and as such he saves billions of lives and he is heroic in his journey. But he is also left at the end of his road. He must remain bonded to the star. He makes the choice to sacrifice himself in a way that doesn’t end him for the greater good but rather sets himself up to struggle and strain for the rest of his unnatural existence for the greater good.

It’s a huge call and when Cale does this he is reaching up and dragging fingers through the dirt of his own grave as he breathes within it. Then he’s settling in to stare at the inside of his coffin for what will feel an eternity and will actually be one in some metrics of counting. It’s brutal, self-inflicted, and utterly gorgeous.

ULTRANOVA. Noir. Brilliant.

Buy it now for 99c.

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NOIRVEMBER 018 ~ Bonnie + Clyde

CRIME DOESN’T PAY is an old crime comic they used to put out and in it the criminals always had to come unstuck, or usually flat out die, just so the book wasn’t glorifying crime and criminals and fuelling a whole generational shift to just taking what we want because that Baby Boomer work ethic surely wasn’t going to stick, right?

It’s a pretty weird thing to consider such a mandate as if media has a totality of causation when it comes to making people do things. If so, why don’t a large majority of people live happily ever after like all the stories have told us will happen in the last few hundred years?

And every censor got it wrong anyway because while the comics caper of ensuring we only showed criminals biting the dust in the end would somehow lead to a positive lesson being learnt was no doubt done in earnest it was also all surely undone by one simple flick.

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Y’see, in BONNIE + CLYDE, the eponymous criminals are really not happy, they’re not very good at what they purport to do [“We rob banks!” they love to exclaim more than ever prove], and in the end they die in a rain of gunfire. Their story ends in that black warning of death and along the way we even see sexual dysfunction as Clyde struggles to be able to perform for the ever-willing Bonnie. The whole affair is actually quite cringe-worthy to observe and yet I can’t imagine this flick was the deterrent many old school hardliners might have hoped.

Why?

Well, there’s this little mental glitch whereby Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty are just so goddamn good looking that this big cross country mess still comes off as glamorous well before we consider the sad and silly and deplorable aspects. Dunaway wears this hat and she’s gorgeous. The fact she’s crippled by some low self-esteem and is clearly self-destructive is forgotten as we see her make holding a gun in a photo look badass.

Because the dirty little secret is that people will often make poor choices if they are going to look good along the way. Send them a hint of a promise at looking fantastic or mysteriously alluring or straight up sexy and people start trampling over the people they love just to line up to fall down. This is why noir works because we often do know it’s the wrong choice but we make it anyway for the immediate gratification. We trade off the outcome in the hope of living in the moment. Or we probably just know 9 out of 10 people will look back and still think it was all worth it for those glorious minutes.

It’s why crime isn’t short on customers. It’s a gamble, maybe you won’t get caught, but if you do maybe it’ll be worth it. You watch Bonnie and Clyde do their thing, pushing each other further and further into the bank robbery game until there’s nothing left but to double down, or so they feel. There are always options but the truth is they start to like it, and they see the end coming so that’s all the more reason to seize the moments because they are now a finite commodity. You’re not going to waste what little you have left feeling regret or remorse or just plain boredom.

Noir means you went in for a penny and now you’re down for a pound.

Warren Beatty plays that idiotic truth perfectly as he constantly bounces from one bad moment to another because he doesn’t know any other way, doesn’t trust himself to find a way, and so plays off owning the bad because that means he never failed at trying to be good. He’s an idiot, a child, and a firecracker and yet it’s all these things that make him so alluring. You can just as easily read his behaviour to mean easily pleased, spontaneous, and capable of anything. Bonnie certainly gets caught in his dangerous contrails and from there it’s all over for her.

As you watch, you see why these two fall for each other so easily and while you don’t feel it [mostly because you are removed from the situation and so can be analytical without the pressure] you can instantly see why it would happen. The acting, the deft direction from Arthur Penn, everything brings this tale of downfall together so you only ever feel sad for these people. The criminals. These thugs and violent idiots. You feel for them, like maybe you could help them, if only they’d just help themselves a little. But they won’t. And in the end, you can’t look away.

You’ll watch two people walk themselves across their nation into certain death because when noir is this pretty then it is not to be ignored.

NOIRVEMBER 017 ~ Rick Remender

The great artists create an oeuvre of theme over time. You step back, you look at so much of what they’ve done, and you realise they’ve been attacking an idea or a problem for years in a variety of ways and genres. Then you get to build contrast and connections between projects, and understand how the times reflect the work, and hopefully build a longform thesis about their work.

It recently struck me that Rick Remender has been building a mega-tome of noir built on the bad decisions of dumb/stupid/angry/confused/sad men. It’s rare the world conspires against Remender’s finest, but it is often these men pollute the surrounding environment with the toxicity they harbour inside. In the end, we see masculinity as a problem not a cure. In the end, it’s always about hard choices.

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FEAR AGENT is the OG masterpiece for Remender in this vein. Drawing from years of ‘lads sci fi’ from vintage EC titles like WEIRD SCIENCE and WEIRD FANTASY, and classic Jack Davis/Wally Wood-style iconography of the square-jawed spacepack hero who solved problems and shot death rays in the future, Heath Huston is a lead character who encapsulates all the manly qualities men have. He drinks, he swears, he punches, he’s recalcitrant; he’s a loveable rogue, and he quotes Samuel Clemens constantly, to boot. He’s the epitome of the hardened male hero who is flawed but who still does good through gritted teeth.

And yet Huston so rarely feels like a hero. Not in any real heroic sense.

He’s dumb, brash, frustrating, and his past holds a multitude of sins where he’s been the problem in the equation. The biggest reveal of this is when we look into his past, when an alien invasion has hit Earth, and the consequences are bloody and violent, and Huston strikes back at the Dressite empire by going through a wormhole and delivering an explosive payload to their homeworld that decimates trillions of their kind. But instead of fighting the good fight, we come to see all he did was wipe out civilians and innocents, and children, who had nothing to do with the war as the Dressite military was already acting separately from their home world orders.

Heath Huston is an intergalactic terrorist, and that’s just one of his many problems. He’s estranged from his wife – because of course she wants distance from this fleshbomb of morose failure – and he starts to make time with a new lady, Mara. But it’s complicated. In fact, it’s downright hard work. And when he’s caught in a pressure locker situation where she wants to kill a man but Heath feels that might not be the finest tactic – despite his prior transgressions – her victim gets the jump and kills Mara right in Heath’s arms. And Heath damn well knows he let it happen. Why? Because he’s a piece of human shit, basically. It’s more complicated than that, human pieces of shit most often are, but at its core, Heath is walking rubbish. He’s refuse, he’s trash, and while he has his place and his purpose he’s mostly just stinking up the place.

It’s always fascinating to peer into what makes a man so hollow and Heath tells his ex, Charlotte, and we get to hear the ethos of the damned. Heath recounts a tale that gives him another jot of fighting spirit and the tl;dr of it is this:

A man lives a hectic modern lifestyle, works his ass off, is a walking ulcer with worry and stress and seemingly gets no rewards – the wife and son barely cast an eye his way, the wheel turns day in and out and he’s not getting off. So, eventually the man dies, and he’ll barely be missed, and so we place into context all that worry and stress because in the end, what the fuck does it matter? It’s a sad mindset to stumble upon but it has a nihilistic freedom to it that’s like a cool breeze across your face.

And it’s not like Heath isn’t cognisant of his mindset and worldview. At the end of a surprisingly successful mission, he lays back with a pretty lady and thinks, “Can’t remember the last time I felt this good. / Then again… / …I can’t remember the last time I’d done anything to give me reason to.”

And he hasn’t done much, but it’s nothing to fret about either. Because the world provides, the whole mess endures, and you make a blip on the landscape and try to have fun as you do it. So what if trillions of Dressites die because of your mistakes?

It should then go without saying that the whole series ends in death. Poignant, truthful, and completely sacrificial. In its own warped way. Heath faces his death, he chooses his death, and he likes to believe it’ll mean something. We would all like to think so. But sometimes death is just release, it’s just us finally accepting that we have to walk away from our mess. Death is the end and carry ourselves high or not, save the day or ruin it, it comes to us or we come to it and then that’s it. Our spiral has a finite end point and we disappear in that apex.

From this titanic creator owned effort at exploring such heady issues through sci fi, it seemed a perfect fit that Remender would go on to infuse such morality and social discussion into his cape comics at Marvel. First up would be the Punisher and it seems obvious but we get one hell of a level up.

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Frank Castle watched his family die and so he spends the rest of his life fighting crime as the Punisher. It’s a simple and clear origin story. So where do you go from there? It’s clear the guy has chosen his path, he’s resigned to a lifetime of blood, and he’s a very noir character in this self-defeating sense of the term.

But there is always that one aspect that was not Frank’s choice, that was taken out of his hands, and that was the death of his family. The Hood, underground criminal scumbag, resurrects Frank’s family but he can’t accept it. He can’t accept that this version of them is real, but he also can’t accept what this would mean to him, what it would make him, and where it would take him. So he sets his newly returned family on fire and he stays the path.

Frank Castle will always be the Punisher. Until he dies. Which is the only way it ends. Proven by Remender shortly after this as Daken [Wolverine’s son] battles Castle, soundly defeats him, and then slices his body apart before decapitating him. In a world of titanic superpowers, of course Frank meets his end outmanned and cut to shit with his body dumped in an alleyway. Daken even comments on how Frank seems settled in this course. Possibly even relieved. Because walking the downward spiral is hard and long and reaching the destination is relief.

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However, this is the Marvel Universe and death is never the end. And so we are blessed with pulp tales of the Franken-Castle for as long as it takes for the inevitable reboot to occur because in the Marvel U time is a flat circle, and you maybe hopefully pick up something new on each spin. When written by Remender, it’s usually a darker layer in which to trap your problems and hold them closer to your chest. Frank simply chooses to get straight back on that noir trail, killing criminals, fighting until he dies. Because true noir means you won’t even learn the lesson.

When given the opportunity to populate a new team for a new book titled UNCANNY X-FORCE, Remender grabbed his usual bag of tricks for compressing inner turmoil and giving it dwarf star matter. And let’s just pause to realise that Remender took an X-book, a book of mutants and spandex and all that fun crazy and turned it into a deep exploration of toxic relationships and noir spirals and what it takes to choose the worst things imaginable for perceived gain elsewhere while suffering insane internal blows to your soul.

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And when I say he did this with an X-book, I mean he did this with Deadpool. And Wolverine, oh so well with Wolverine. And a guy with metal wings.

The central problem in the UXF world is the decaying [and I mean rotting] relationship between Archangel and Psylocke. But it’s also a team book, so the frame for further drama is there.

The hook comes in the resolution of the opening arc, THE APOCALYPSE SOLUTION. The team have stumbled across a new incarnation of Apocalypse and so they go in guns blazing. And they find their target. Who is indeed the reincarnation of one of the worst and most hostile X-villains of all time. But this time they’ve come early and he’s still a boy. So, what do you do?

If you know you’re a noir character, and you’re most likely actively choosing to go to hell, well, you shoot that kid square in the head. Which is exactly what team rogue Fantomex does, and the rest of the team vacillate in how to respond, but they all kinda let it happen and accept it once it’s done. It might weigh on their minds but it isn’t a stone cold deal breaker for them as a team.

Every single damn character in this book is broken.

And it seems the multi-arc mega-story is designed to see if the creators can get the characters to grind up their own broken pieces into dust. Except for Deadpool, who is insane, and so he’s given a redemption hero arc which is just smashingly on point.

Psylocke is forced to kill her love. Wolverine is forced to kill his son. Fantomex takes a cloned version of Apocalypse and tries to raise him in isolation to prove that nurture can overcome nature. That you can not choose a noir ending as much as you do choose one. So far, Fantomex’s experiment might be right but the kid, Evan, is still a kid and this means comics has a long time ahead of it to ruin his spirit, and you kind of know they will, and thus the noir prophecy will be fulfilled. This is a bold attempt to feel hopeful but in the end you can see Remender is leaving this ticking timebomb of noir and it’s almost certain to go off and we just have to wait long enough.

Having ‘choice’ be the driving narrative force in UXF means the way characters choose to dirty their hands holds even greater weight. These downfalls are all very conscious, and often justified by the person, but having a reason doesn’t mean you aren’t still falling and falling.

After bringing noir to the cape game, Remender returns it to its roots on the creator owned streets. In a bid to quit writing superheroes, Remender launched some new books at Image and two of them are still ongoing but strike a deep masculine noir vein through their troubled and problematic leads.

BLACK SCIENCE is a straight up homage to the old EC sci fi books of old, and it’s a great effort at doing just that. It posits a family, and some extras, jumping from dimension to dimension without control of where they’ll go or for how long. The fantastical high concept is superb as it means new locales, varied theatres of war, and a chance to shake things up in almost every way at least every arc.

But deep down, below the surface, BLACK SCIENCE is about responsibility, and male stupidity, infidelity, and the difficulty of family. In short, it’s brutally brilliant.

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Grant McKay is a scientist who discovers a way to travel between dimensions. So of course he lets his kids anywhere near the device capable of such malarkey. This alone tells me he’s not serious about being a true man or any kind of hero. He’s careless and thoughtless and ultimately quite less of a person. And it’s nearly always because of his mistakes and faults.

The book’s narrative follows Grant, and his kids, his bodyguard, and a few other scientists attached to the project as well as their payrolling financial backer as they look to survive within each interdimensional stop. Yes, it’s like EC comics mashed up with SLIDERS – and, yes, that’s very very good as an outcome.

As the story unfolds, different characters step to the fore and we discover more about them. They become three-dimensional and we usually find new ways and reasons to care while also watching a handful of them die. The wanton death of characters is used to elicit response from readers very well in this book. You can never get comfortable and the excitement of this stems from the fact it’s often the characters making a poor, or noble, choice to end their own story so that those of others can continue in earnest.

At the centre, stands Grant and we see he’s a shitty parent, a failing scientist, and he’s been having an affair with one of his co-workers and it all comes to light as the story peels back. This unfortunate situation of the Pillar breaking and them all being sent hopping through time and space isn’t what has ruined his life. He was doing that just fine on his own well before this erratic and dangerous trip began. Grant could have been a plumber and he would have ruined everything he had amassed.

BLACK SCIENCE isn’t about this high concept sci fi insanity, it’s about what happens to the characters when placed inside this gonzo crucible. It’s about seeing exactly why they are choosing to walk down the path. Although there are many more attempts at redemption in this comic, and it perhaps could be a sign of Remender aging, maturing. Or it could just be the fact the series is ongoing and Remender wants to build things up before he starts tearing them down.

However, a comic certainly not stemming from mature age is DEADLY CLASS, wherein Marcus Lopez is a teenager in the 1980s who gains entry to a school for assassins. And yet we spend little time in the actual school, following the lessons, because it’s far more intriguing, and sometimes titillating, to watch teenagers skip class and do an assortment of dumb things. Especially when many of those things are orchestrating their very demise.

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Remender has stated strongly that much of the story grows from anecdotes he journalled when he was a teen. This is real life true stories of how to be a shithead and not get further in life and then it’s just given the ever so slightly tweaked adjust to fit the hyped up murder of the book’s setting. Even though many readers have assumed some moments/scenarios are made up for the book, Remender has said in the back matter/letters pages that you’d be shocked at how many things/moments actually haven’t been changed. Which is scary and exhilarating when you think about it.

Every teenager’s life [well, maybe every male teenager’s] is a noir tale. They make the worst choices, they don’t care, and they all pretty much end up in a hellhole of their own design. But then they hit their twenties and redemption can be considered. Sometimes.

In DEADLY CLASS, Remender shows the internal workings that go about establishing deeply held beliefs and ways to self-sabotage. Marcus is a pissy little guy, and he’s just as passionately pissy about killing someone as he is about slaying the wrong dragon to get to the princess, if you feel me. Every decision in his life is the worst and the hardest because it maybe quite literally is, at that point in time. To look at adolescence through that lens, that noir breeding ground of hatred and stupidity is genius because noir is built from such an emotional base, and teenage emotions are like erratic bursts of light stemming from fourth dimensional flowers [they make no sense and are most likely dangerous to us all].

For my money, I think DEADLY CLASS is the best thing on the shelves at present, and I absolutely know the end of Marcus Lopez’s tale is going to tear a hole in space/time with the deep gravity of it all, and I know I’ll blame Marcus for every moment of it all.

Tracking the noir of Remender over the many years shows us an appreciation for aligning the right character for the piece, and how noir can appear in any setting or genre. It’s also endlessly fascinating to see how the broken characters often hide their noir behind male bravado, or the excuse that they’re doing something higher, like responsibility is an excuse to wear yourself out. There’s a terrible lesson to it all but rarely does Remender offer his stories and lead characters as templates for how to live your life. These are cautionary tales, about different men, at different ages, on different places, all facing the same problem. And all struggling with it.

But it’s the admission you have a problem that’s the first step. The overcoming of it comes later, and never without.

NOIRVEMBER 016 ~ David Cronenberg’s The Fly

Is there anything more noir than the mad scientist?

The definition of hubris, they are nearly always their own downfall. And why? Drive, determination, a sense they should and can do good but eventually the world won’t let them. Physics won’t let them. And they know this. Because they are smart, but they push on anyways.

Maybe mad scientists are driven by hope. By faith. Natural breaking points of the scientific mind.

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In 1986, David Cronenberg was tasked with remaking a very pulpy old horror flick that was iconic but definitely goofy to its core. The original tale of a scientist swapping heads with a fly is a silly concept, in both ethereal thought as well as final execution, but redrafting it through the body horror lens of Cronenberg was pure genius. I’d like to believe it was producer Mel Brooks who thought to approach the Canadian master of nasty shocks.

Yes, THAT Mel Brooks.

So Cronenberg came in and the result is a movie that swerves very far away from camp and becomes a parable about the AIDS generation that’s both disgustingly ghastly and ferociously terrifying while also being a heartbreak of decimating proportions.

You can probably thank Jeff Goldblum for making Seth Brundle, Mad Scientist M.D. the perfect foil for himself in this flick. When Goldblum is charming he is world devouring and we instantly connect with Brundle. He is sweet and kooky and disastrously intelligent. He is a perfect storm for which Veronica Quiafe will fall into and we buy it in every moment because we fall there, too.

This noir is exceptional because Brundle isn’t hard boiled, Quaife isn’t a femme fatale, and the world they inhabit is one hopeful and we watch it stripped of hope.

It is all very very real, which isn’t something you’d assume would come to mind for this remake if you were there before it landed.

Teleportation technology is at Brundle’s fingertips and with it so close he has to push on. Many would slow down on the accelerator when they find true love but Brundle is the kind of scientist who was initially married to science and he was never going to divorce. He could have extremely passionate women on the side but this is his path. And that sense of being locked in is what makes everything that follows feel so locked in.

The moment the fly enters the transportation pod with Brundle we get that sense of dramatic noir where we know it’s all going to play out one way and then we have to struggle through watching Brundle try to swerve off this deadly track with no luck. And we quietly observe Quaife watch the whole journey, trapped in the boot, and we can only hope she survives the crash we know Brundle won’t.

As Brundle starts to change due to his melding with the fly, he has hope. He documents these changes and sees the positive side. The strength, the ability just to engage with such mad science. He is abuzz. We all know what happens when you meddle with the unknown. You get radiation poisoning. You destroy Japanese cities. You fall and everything about you, everything with you, all that you do it for, is strapped to you and so it falls also.

And Brundlefly, as he becomes, falls hard. His body changes in good ways that soon crest into horrific jokes on the physical form. His skin cracks, his system adjusts, and it’s never anything but destructive to him. To the man.

Through it all, Quaife loves him, and tries to help. She isn’t just out for herself, she isn’t going to walk. Love is the strongest tie that binds through noir. The second is lust. And they went from one to the other and now their fall is joined. His is to fall and hers is to watch.

Veronica comes to discover she is pregnant to Brundle and cannot be certain when they conceived. Though a dream sequence where Veronica is in a birthing suite and Cronenberg himself acting as the gynecologist produces a grotesque larvae from her loins is something that makes you certain she is in her own noir spiral, but it’s a wider angle, and it’s a slower velocity, but it’ll get her too and now she knows it.

By film’s end, we all know it’s coming. Brundlefly is done, he’s a biological wasteland of possible science turned into probable death. He tries to drag Veronica into one final teleportation, to join him, and when it goes awry he is left off even more damage, a man-fly thing shedding flesh and humanity as he melds with the telepod itself. The result a techno-organic disaster that it should have seen coming but it kept on dipping back into the inky well as if the cause of the problem would suddenly affect a solution.

Finally, the ever hopeful brain of Brundle has finally given up. He’s beaten. But he doesn’t want to drag anything or anyone else down with him. He has done enough in his quest for more and now, in his final moments and acts, he wants to do less. Less damage.

He grabs the barrel of the shotgun Veronica holds and aims it at his head and it’s hideous which only serves to make it more heart rending. He takes himself off and his noir fall ends in a wet thud.

The kicker of a noir coda is that Quaife is indeed still tethered. She is pregnant, and we don’t even need to see it play out, we know it’s not the happy ending anyone would ask for. It’s the noir of uncertainty, which can and will plague you until you die [or a sequel stars your child – shout out to Eric Stoltz].

And all because we want to rise up, we fall so low and hard. Brundlefly is an example of how drive is good but the directions we choose are more important. THE FLY is a beautiful elegy of caution, forever caution.

NOIRVEMBER 015 ~ The Vengeful Virgin

I’d never heard of Gil Brewer before. I found the Hard Case Crime copy of THE VENGEFUL VIRGIN in a discount bin for $5 and snapped it up mostly on the quality of the publisher, as well as a little on the title. Salacious pulp titles are better than Cards Against Humanity every single time.

The Vengeful Virgin (Gil Brewer, 1958)

The cover copy told me Brewer had also written “SATAN IS A WOMAN,” and a quote from Anthony Boucher, from The New York Times, informed me what I held in my hands was “A Cainlike story of greed, sex and murder, culminating in retributive horror worthy of Jim Thompson.” Bold words and so it was on tipping point to reach apex of my ‘to read’ pile and Bill Pronzini’s quote slid the nail in my coffin with ease as he said “[Brewer] produced some of the most compelling noir softcover originals of the 1950s.”

Yes, I was excited. And, yes, the book completely lives up to all of this hype.

The book opens with Jack Ruxton meeting Shirley Angela as he comes to perform some repairs and alterations to the house she lives in where she cares for her flagging stepfather. Naturally, a plan is hatched to dispatch of the old man and abscond with his bountiful dollars. Because that’s what two pretty young things consider when the passion and the fury takes over. They think they sniff a happily ever after because the lust fuels a whiff of satisfaction right now. They cannot keep their hands off each other and yet Ruxton still thinks, “I knew I’d never get enough of her. She was straight out of hell.”

He’s letting himself be led down, and why not? A short fall is better than the long flat most people face for their whole life.

So the plan is set but the execution takes a long time. They have too much time to think and worry and ponder. The tension builds, the opportunities to bail out mount. But neither stirs. They are dedicated to the path, this is premeditated murder in the first degree. Even when a nosey neighbour and Ruxton’s jealous and drunk ex stick their heads in the way, they find them pummeled back. There is no stopping this plan, there is no hesitancy in their desire. There is no hurdle too complex even when it’s more murder.

In the hustle of a possible discovery, Shirley stabs the neighbour, Mayda, in the back, killing her. They’re in for a penny, so they’re in for a pound, but weaseling out of this trap proves the kind of mental undoing that would destroy lesser people on the spot. Ruxton takes the body and decides to dispose of it in some nearby water. Ruxton enters into the messy business of staging her alleged death by driving her car around at night in the hopes it’ll be seen, and then slamming it into the canal. This sets up a car crash/drowning, but to account for the knife wound, he turns it into an accident wound by busting off a piece of the convertible soft-top housing and jamming the steel into the open wound. It’s gruesome business and the kind that doesn’t sell your soul so much as shred it up and feed it to the dogs. The three-headed kind who are waiting for you at your next stop.

Once you’ve gone that extra step, you don’t deserve any kind of happily ever after you were aiming for. And Ruxton certainly doesn’t get it. The deed is done but things begin to go shaky, his resolve is wobbly, the paranoia sets in. He diverts, steals a gun, he’s making all the wrong moves, and well knows it, but doesn’t really know how else to play it. He’s made big moves but in this world he’s not a big mover, he’s a guy who installs electronic equipment. He’s a nobody with delusions of money, promised him by some girl he barely knows, and which legally may be problematic even before then [due to obscure inheritance laws and rules, or so he’s told]. It all looks sour.

What follows is a frantic conversation between these blood cross’d lovers. He’s panicking, she’s a little fawny and clueless, and between them the errors and tension are thicker than a bank vault wall. The volleyed dialogue tears you through the pages and your heart starts to race with them. Brewer certainly knows how to make people yap and have it mirror the tone of the narrative at that point – seductive, frantic, suspicious.

The most fascinating aspect of the whole book is not that killing an old man is a risky move, or covering up another woman’s murder is a bold and terrible thing to do, it’s that these things are not Ruxton’s downfall. He’s lost from the very first line of the book because that’s when he meets Shirley. She is a girl with passion, a girl who draws you in, but ultimately she’s a girl who draws you down because she’s considerably unhinged due to this abundance of passion.

Ruxton knows this all along but he sweeps it away, partly for the lust, mostly for the money. But in the end, this decision is his undoing as Shirley becomes fixated on Ruxton’s previous girl, Grace, who hounds Ruxton and so Shirley starts imagining how he is playing her under the guidance of another woman. Shirley gets bad ideas in her head and cannot shake them. In fact, she inflates them constantly and in the final sequence of the book she gets loaded on whiskey and expands her problem big enough to engulf them both.

Brewer illustrates an image of Shirley, wielding Ruxton’s gun [because it was his choice to introduce a weapon to this venture and so naturally it will come right back in his face], stark naked in front of a fireplace. A raging fireplace. A scene of over $340,000 in bills going up in smoke. She stands there and she screams insanity at Ruxton and then she shoots him dead. Dropping to kneel next to him, she then takes her own life.

Only Ruxton doesn’t die, and he’s stuck, almost paralysed, watching her commit suicide, the money turning to ash before him, and then watching as the police do eventually track him down and take him in. He wishes he was dead, it would all be easier, but it’s more painful if he’s left to go to trial, to wait it out, and to eventually burn at the hands of others. It’s a fait accompli but he has to feel the dread anticipation, he can’t escape it. When you think it would’ve just been easier to die, you know you are below rock bottom. And he knows he has no one else to blame.

Gil Brewer writes a phenomenally on point description to start a chapter and it summarises Ruxton’s core problem, as well as standing as a lovely way to describe noir in its entirety.

“Doom. You recognize Doom easily. It’s a feeling and a taste, and it’s black, and it’s very heavy.”

NOIRVEMBER 014 ~ Batman

Not only won’t Batman ever get a happy ending, but he most probably shouldn’t.

batman noir

Besides the fact he’s Batman, he just doesn’t get to end up sitting by the beach sipping Mai Tais and getting tipsy. Though if he did you know he’d be shirtless, bare hairy chest out loud and proud, and the cowl still on.

That is not his final act, it simply can’t be based on pure inception of what he is and what he does. He’s fighting a war on crime. He’s fighting a war against the worst of the human spirit, something we have in ever growing droves. At what point would Batman ever feel like he’d won? Which case is big enough that when it ends so does he?

Batman will keep fighting until his cartilage is all gone, his knees have exploded. He’ll wear himself down to a broken nub and still be trying. There is no Bat Retirement Plan. There is only a slow drill into and below the batcave into your batgrave.

And, really, isn’t that what’s fascinating about Batman? And ultimately is freeing about him? Maybe he doesn’t always have to win. Maybe he won’t always win, but we know he’ll get back up, and sometimes win, until eventually he doesn’t.

Maybe the certainty of Batman’s bitter end isn’t in the how, or from whom, but really just the when. When would comics have the balls to truly can Batman, in the most wholistic and complete way, and make it stick? When do we see the final bell toll for this noir? Because every time we put it off we just dilute the whole story. Batman should be this longform noir where he slowly burns out in real time and then he eventually slumps over, dying the way he lived, exhausted and knowing it was coming.

This is a big part of what makes Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS so fascinating. We open with Batman retired, or believing he can be. But then he gets pulled back in. Because of course he does. And right there we have his eternal problem. He’s always going to want to get back into the game, or at least feel like he must. There’s nothing that escapes his eye forever and so you know he’ll be back into the rib busting business as soon as he can muster, which is exactly what we see. An aged Batman fights against the tide of time and man and every step, every punch, it’s all his decision. It’s all his fault.

And by story’s end, Batman is in the grave. But even that’s not the end.

The more Batman you read and you start to believe that his noir cycle is one that will never end. That’s the worst part about it and him and what he does. If he was slaughtered tomorrow at least he’d get some rest. But to dance with the ouroboros for all time and never ever end, well, that’s just going to frustrate him and break him and tire him but he’ll never choose to step out of the way.

A shame he’s a comic character because the medium is driven by perpetual narrative conflict, there are no true resolutions ever and all Batman needs is even a false resolution but he’ll never get it. He’ll be fighting for generations and that is his true noir ending in perpetuity forever and ever, amen.

NOIRVEMBER 013 ~ Gene Hackman

In the early 70s there were two titanically superb noir flicks delicately placed into new cinema canon and while neither of them immediately front as a typical noir flick you can be certain they are bleak to their modern core. And their lead actor brings the hollow games to the fore because no one in the 70s played a man downtrodden by the world and yet still marching forward like Atlas than Gene Hackman.

the french connection lobby card

In THE FRENCH CONNECTION, the role of Jimmy ‘Popeye’ Doyle is such a great updated turn on the old pulp detective leads, as they show his flaws, his determination, and his desire for progress no matter what barriers might be placed in his way. In the way he continually trudged onward, in a manner we can see is to his own downfall, makes him a perfect noir lead, but he’s also a new breed of this sad soul archetype. And this is because of societal boundaries towards narratives.

Doyle is, to put it bluntly, a scumbag. He’s beyond the loveable scamps of old, or even the hardboiled bastards, no, Doyle is a flat out terrible human being. He’s racist, abusive, a drunk, and his moral code isn’t broken, it’s just casually cast aside, buried over time, forgotten. Noir leads often march because they see the light, or they ignore the dark, but Doyle marches into the darkness and screams into it. He screams to master it. He’s a complex guy and at this time was somewhat indicative of a new way of telling stories. You could suddenly go real deep and dark with your leads and there was little filter.

This perfect cultural storm of time and inclination brings us this NYC detective who will go to any lengths to stop the roaring drug trade pouring into his city – which is about the one redeemable aspect of the character, his ultimate goal is something good. He’s just given far too liberal a set of tools and methods to make this happen.

There is little joy to be taken in watching Doyle, and his partner Buddy ‘Cloudy’ Russo played by Roy Scheider, beating suspects and owning the streets through impact and aggression. The job is not shown to be fun because at that time it was not fun – hell, it’s probably never ‘eff you en’ to be a beat cop of any level – and so we see how the sausages were made at this time. It’s hard work and while you want Doyle to win you almost don’t want to know how he gets it done. Which is exactly how practises like these are cultivated in the first place.

But you quietly urge Doyle to do just one more thing, terrible as it might be, if it’ll just get him to that shining light of victory. You lean forward, you allow, right up until you realise it’s not going to work. There’s only ever one outcome from this behaviour.

You see it plastered across the car chase, both what you see and how we now know it was made. It’s a reckless pursuit of something grander and even when it works you are left wondering what could have been the outcome had it not. And in that moment of blunder, would it all have been worth it? You know a single beat ‘no’ is the only answer. But you watch the chase, and you laud it, and it’s amazing. And, well, it does look pretty damn fine, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t love a fast car?

But is it amazing when a cop shoots a criminal in the back? Is that the moment you maybe start to turn away from Doyle? But do you condemn as you turn? Are we complicit in his noir downfall, or are we actually exhibiting the exact model that leads to societal downfall? We turn, but we allow. What else would Doyle do if he’s given rights to such barbarity by absence of reprimand or example? Or is this the necessary roughness needed to protect society from growing ill will and action? The poster tagline says Doyle is bad news-but a good cop. Do we hand off the responsibility of civil protection and then also hand across the right to complain when that job makes people sell their souls. It’s a set of super grey questions to ask which is the whole point of the flick. How far are we expected to go, and how far will we let others go for us? Never forget that we are at fault for helping Doyle fall, and all because we want to live in the good life his actions might possibly provide.

If he were successful in his goal. But the 70s were a great time in cinema to show us that the people promising you it’ll get better, the people promising you it’s worth the means to justify the end, are a bunch of bastards. And the bastards all quietly die on the inside, back when we thought people cared about that sort of demise. A flickering of the soul, a blackening of our hopes. All for the greater good.

Weren’t we all wrong?

Doyle is, and in the final sequence we see just how wrong when he chases drug kingpin Charnier into an old warehouse. Anyone half-familiar with cinema narrative structure knows this is the set up for the final reel showdown where the hero catches the villain, or perhaps is forced into killing him to end the madness. But this is not just noir it’s 70s cinema noir which means you have no idea what you are going to get.

Doyle is tracking this fiend when he sees a figure move, though can’t quite make out whom it is. He does the only heroic thing his dna understands and he opens fire. The figure is taken down but upon closer inspection we discover it is not Charnier, it is another federal agent. Doyle barely pauses, this should be cause for a broken career, no less a broken man, but Doyle processes it quickly and then moves on. He hasn’t caught his man so he needs to continue. It’s horrible in the most literal sense and it’s indicative of how black Doyle is on the inside. This friendly fire crime that’s cost another man his life doesn’t bother Doyle at all, he knows to do what he does he has to press forward.

Buy Doyle’s kind of forward is also very steeply downward.

Popeye Doyle is a bombastic noir lead, someone completely complicit in his every step down the path whereas 3 years later Hackman would play an entirely different noir man as Harry Caul in THE CONVERSATION. Caul is someone who has no idea the noir spiral is winding around him and he only feels it once it pulls tight, and it’s too late.

the-conversation-lobby-card

Francis Ford Coppola was hot off THE GODFATHER which swept some Oscars and is easily one of the best flicks of all time and while he was following that flick up with a sequel that some believe to be even better [I don’t] and just as many tout as the greatest sequel of all time [it’s gotta be right up there with DAY OF THE DEAD and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and ALIENS and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY] Coppola isn’t a guy who has ever wanted to be a one trick pony. Whereas most directors steer into the skid of the genre they initially dominate – and you get Scorsese’s crime flicks and Carpenter’s horror flicks – Coppola is the sort of guy who seems to engineer his career like he’s mapping his own professional noir as we see him go from being a master of the craft, a pioneer and innovator, to someone who is off the radar and disrespectfully forgotten, or ignored.

But before Coppola erased himself from history, he crafted a tale where someone was recording history and it led to their downfall. And now THE CONVERSATION stands as one of the finest pieces of quiet cinema you’ll find anywhere and you won’t quickly forget how Harry Caul’s world and mind are dismantled. Even though this team deliver a film you can instantly tell was destined to fail. Well, by that I mean it was destined to gain a lower gross and project a smaller tone so it so rarely gets held up against Coppola’s GODFATHER flicks or APOCALYPSE NOW. But it equally holds its own in that field.

It all begins with a simple task, record a couple walking and talking in the park. It’s mundane and even if it goes pear shaped you’d assume it’ll spill into a domestic problem. In a word: manageable.

So Harry Caul takes the job because he’s the best there is at what he does and what he does is peep on people and record their sound. He’s an aural kind of guy. But he doesn’t hear the thunder coming.

The fascinating thing about THE CONVERSATION is that from this initial premise, the story unfolds that what Caul thinks he’s listening to is not that, and it instead leads to the death of another man and a cover up whereby Caul can’t out the offenders. In the end, he’s left to stew in the belief he’s being kept under surveillance himself, his one true fear which we see early on that he safeguards against at all costs.

The narrative is thin because this was never about an epic governmental take down, this is the study of one man imploding. We watch Caul listen and relisten to one line from the conversation he stole and he’s peering into its abyss trying to work out what is down there. Suitably, he comes nowhere near cracking the code but watching how intently he draws focus and must prevail shows you how he gets led down in the end. He’s unilaterally afraid and yet has singular vision. A quality blindside – and it must be really high quality to work – completely takes him off the map.

You get the feeling if Coppola could have dropped another 45 minutes of Caul scrutinising the tape he would have. Because it’s that perfect vision of him not letting go and getting himself dragged down through tenacity and curiosity.

The story resolves with Caul hearing a playback of his own saxophone playing and realising he’s been tapped. He tears his apartment apart and there’s really no greater metaphor for noir.

The film closes on Caul alone, playing his sax, which is where the device most likely resides. He is utterly doomed to the bound and repressed life he has built himself.

NOIRVEMBER 012 ~ Kraven’s Last Hunt

It is a sad indictment of my admittedly shameful comic fu that it was not until 2015 AD that I read and imbibed KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT. I feel like had I read this eons ago it would have been as big a game changer as THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS.

I always knew about this book. I’ve always loved Kraven. But coming up in the game, as a pre-teen, it was hard to track down back issues but whatever was at the local newsagent was fair game. So when I started running the streets, spending a Saturday morning covering 20-30kms on my bike with my brother scouring all the four colour peddlers for their goods, all I found were a tonne of MAD Magazines [which were rad] and most stores wouldn’t stock the new Venom comics but they’d always have some Spidey. My earliest true hunting memory is getting drawn in deep to the MAXIMUM CARNAGE storyline and absolutely needing to get all 1 million of those issues. It was arduous and while I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Carnage and that pretty woeful storyline all it will make me think now is I missed KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT and everything else put in my path was mere webbed distraction until I could find this. This masterpiece.

Kraven's_Last_Hunt

Before I enter into the dark void this comic is, I want to ensure anyone who stumbles across this missive out there in space understands that KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT is some particularly amazing comic storytelling. I’m going to wager a strong amount – the sort of coin your parents bought and sold whole houses with – that this is the best Spider-Man story there is or ever has been. I say this because my mind is filling with good stuff, the aforementioned Carnage, the whole Venom-to-Carnage affair, the Clone Saga, those Ditko issues, Slott, Spider-Island, and nothing touches this story. Perhaps I’m missing something and if I am, GREAT, because that means there are even more phenom comics out there waiting to tickle my whiskers. But until then, I want to fill a bath, tear up twenty trades of this storyline and have the pages steep in the warm broth, and then soak until morning, ahhh.

J.M. DeMattis is a writer who I know I’ve read but his name has never stuck in my brainpan. I’ve certainly not sought him out. And it would seem I’d mentally blocked that it was the blessed Mike Zeck on art, and that I should have remembered and should have aggressively tipped me over the line years before. Though I never would have expected what we get in this story because it’s always sat in my head somewhere around maybe THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA, which for me means it’s wickedly good, it’s super enjoyable, it’s a touch dated, but the overall quality will make up for it despite it being something that maybe wouldn’t quite land today as strong.

Hell, no, KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT could drop in 2015 and people would lose their minds over it. It’s a comic about important things, that’s very very well made, and features a bare-chested Russian losing his mind. I can’t imagine what other check boxes the Eisner committee have in their clipboards [though they probably use Wunderlist on their tablet as they read through the nominees now]. This storyline has and does it all, no pretending, it will cross new paths in your brain and unlock visions.

With that promised, now let’s get onto the juicy stuff: this mainstream Marvel story is a noir masterpiece. Kraven hunts and kills Spider-Man in the first act and that’s the first marker that we aren’t following our webbed friend on this ride. No, this is Sergei Kravinoff’s ride and we are just strapped in to view it until it hits the last station in the line and blasts right through it in black flames.

The mental descent of Kraven is one of the most shocking ways to chart a villain’s downfall in a comic based around arguably the most wholesome superhero in the world. Superman might be safe but Spidey is downright alluring and yet this comic is intense and really resonates on an adult level. Perhaps this is because of the way Mike Zeck brings gritty determination to the page. Or maybe it’s the layered structure DeMattis plays the narrative through, making us work for it, thus making us think about every piece on the board and their moves.

There is no doubt Kraven is the antagonist of his own downfall. He’s trying to understand the American dream, he’s wrestling with it, trying to best it. In the end, he sees the hunt as the show of power, but once he kills Spider-Man he obviously feels he must become him. He should now own the American dream. But what he finds is wholly unsatisfying. What he finds is that his spirit is lacking for the job. In order to chase this seemingly unattainable perfection, he had to change himself to best hunt. The person he subsequently became was not ideal to represent that which he sought for so long. He spoiled himself and there was nothing to be done but accept this, hand it all back, and take himself off the board. It’s a sad indictment of how people chase glory and what it does to them.

Kraven is so single-minded that he never considers others and yet all Spider-Man ever does is consider others. His whole existence is for others, which is why it sucks to be Mary-Jane, especially in this book. But Kraven can’t quite handle this, he’s been working hard for number one all his life, his background, his struggle, it’s all been for number one. That realisation must’ve stung having come from a Communist location and essentially conformed to the capitalist ideal. He has become the antithesis of what his whole family did when they arrived on US soil.

Hubris is such a great accelerator for a noir narrative engine and here you see Kraven believe he’s right for the job and after inner scrutiny understand he’s not the man for the gig. So if he’s not for that, and his default position is as a man who fights for that, this storyline leaves him nothing and nowhere. Unlike when Wonka tells us about the man who got everything he wanted, this time it only serves to hold up a dark mirror in front of him and box him in with his ghastly reflection. Kraven places the gun in his mouth and we see his youthful portrait sullied with blood, because a visual can represent the entire noir theme of a man’s life.

KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT is a deliciously nasty analysis of what happens when a villain, who believes he’s the hero of his own story, suddenly realises his heart has been pumping black blood this whole time. It is also a deeply meaningful reminder to us that we should care for the context of every life lost, because it’s always a tragedy.

NOIRVEMBER 011 ~ Blade Runner

I first watched BLADE RUNNER before I was a teen. And while I loved it there’s no way I got so much of what makes it astoundingly great. I had no idea what film noir was and so I missed out on pretty much exactly why the aesthetic of the flick is so brilliant. I understood the brutal beauty of the skyline, the hard cool stench of the smoky streets, but I didn’t get the thick vein of homage running through it that causes the masterful juxtaposition of it all.

blade runner lobby card

This is a firm sci fi flick and yet it’s filmed, shot, and put together like an old film noir of the finest kind. Young Ryan did not have that knowledge but Aged Weary Creaking Ryan gets it, and the love for this flick grew exponentially. Because the balls to put a Vangelis score against what we can only imagine was Ridley Scott thinking he saw a vision of Beijing’s future and he actually did see that future and then have the language change to meet the sci fi parameters of this android populated Philip K Dick story and then infuse it with all of the film noir style tips has gotta be one of the wildest mash ups of all time at the time this debuted on the big screen.

Putting a close-cropped Harrison Ford into a nice dirty coat, having him eat on the streets and know the lingo, those Venetian blinds. This flick looks like it was made in the 40s, of both the 20th and the 21st Century. It’s a bold undertaking. And it paid off. Eventually. Obviously the earliest 80s people didn’t know what to initially make of it but sharper minds prevailed and we got the classic we know and love and revere today. And no doubt will tomorrow also.

But for today, I want to look at the plain noir aspects of the flick, of which there are a few.

I love that Rick Deckard, everyone’s favourite Replicant hunter, spends pretty well the whole flick getting his ass kicked. Deckard succeeds not because he’s a beast but because he refuses to succumb to beasts, despite them pounding him down repeatedly. But go back and watch THE BIG SLEEP and watch Bogart get slapped around there, too. It’s not the fight in you so much as the resilience. Because they won’t wear you down physically but you’ll wear them down mentally. It’s refreshing to see a sci fi hero just get handed around into a few beatings.

By the end, it becomes ludicrously fascinating because the final showdown doesn’t come off as one for the good guys through any skillset of Deckard’s except for his propensity to take a pasting and keep on ticking. He literally just waits out Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty until he shuts down of his own volition. It’s an intriguing low key and passive way to end the hero’s journey. Perhaps this unconventionality is why it flopped; it was up against E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL and everyone could understand that kind of structure and tone.

Deckard spends the flick hunting these Replicants – itself something we can never gel as actually being the right thing to do because of the moral and ethical quandary it raises in regards to sentience and thus right to life – but we follow Deckard because it’s Ford with the best haircut he’ll ever have in his life and these robots are violent. Though Deckard is also violent. It’s as murky as the real world. But through all his hunting, Deckard is pretty useless except for his hard-headedness. And it’s this in the end that saves him but also goes a great length to showing us why he’s wrong. Why our ‘hero’ is anything but one.

Rutger Hauer delivers the ‘tears in rain’ soliloquy and it’s still as haunting and captivating today as it was all the way back then. Through this final dialogue, despite having watched Hauer break Deckard’s fingers and act like most big bad level bosses are supposed to, from all that we get a speech about the beauty of the universe and it’s something we can understand. Something we can comprehend, we yearn for, and we mourn its passing in what might feel like empathy on our best days when we want to self-congratulate but really, when you are honest with yourself, you frown for the fact you’ve never seen something as beautiful as what is described. You’ve never even comprehended it. Because you’ve been too busy just standing back up from life’s beatings. We are all Deckard and when we finally land that killing blow to the man/system/whole goddamn world, we instantly see why it was wrong and why nobody else does it, at least not with any frequency.

BLADE RUNNER is a noir and it’s Roy Batty’s fall from the majesty of space into the very real and human surface world of our everyday existence. Suddenly the fact this flick represents our future is sad and crushing, we are all walking into the dystopia of man and we are doing so little about it. Climate change, mining, space junk, all these chickens are going to come home to roost and all we have is one gargantuan nest made out of our regrets and our fears, all of which we failed to ever act responsibly upon. An emotionless walking computer can learn to see it but we are blind eternally.

With the blinking passing of Roy Batty, we see the noir of mankind writ large, atop a grimy rooftop in the rain. Because that’s how we’ll all go, unclean, afraid we might fall, and looking up and hoping/wishing for the more we know we deserved.

However, depending on your leaning on the flick, there’s more noir to share around. You see, Deckard might be a replicant also. Ridley Scott certainly believes him to be – I won’t say intended him to be one because that implies external intent, whereas Scott’s side of the story just is, and we can still choose to buy it or not. And if Deckard is a replicant, well, that means his life is a lie, his clock is ticking, and he’s just going to wind down to the middle of the end in exactly the same way Batty did right in front of him. Deckard has already seen his own demise and has only to wait. It makes his silence as Batty powers down all the more weighted. That’s worse than being locked up in a cell awaiting sentence, it’s standing on the gallows and not being given a time nor any reprieve and so stand you will continue to do.

The final sequence of the flick shows Deckard and Rachael escaping with each other. Deckard is willing to go forward with Rachael even though he knows she’s a Replicant and her clock is ticking, albeit a little longer than Batty’s. Deckard is willing to take that heartbreak of knowing a finite time and then having to say goodbye to her. And if you take on board that he’s a replicant then it’s doubly as sad. Either way, those two are escaping down and they won’t reach the bottom so much as they will just stop the descent and become a barnacle on the side of the final journey.

BLADE RUNNER has stood the test of time because it is not your standard action/adventure fare. It’s thematically weighted and leaves us with post-viewing questions and for me the meatier the movie then the more I get out of it through hours/days/months/years of discussion. The only thing I never discuss and merely state is, the story is a downer. Hell, it’s the downfall of man. That’s a big concept to see lost in time like tears in rain.

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