Without Fear

Ryan K Lindsay – Writer

Month: November, 2015

NOIRVEMBER 010 ~ Green Wake + Pisces

The fact I love GREEN WAKE so much says a great deal about me as a person, I feel. This sad green book from Riley Rossmo and Kurtis J Wiebe is the comic equivalent of having your head held underwater and all you can see tangled in the reeds below are all the things you love.

green-wake7-riley-rossmo

I dunked my own head every month on this book and would do it again in a heartbeat if it were ever to return [which it no doubt will not, just yet another sad ending for it all]. The premise is that Green Wake is a town where people wake up to stew on their sins in life. It’s a melancholy purgatory and when murders start happening then Morley Mack and his offsider Krieger look into the affair.

From a pared down PI framework, to the sketchy and muted visuals from Rossmo, GREEN WAKE wore its depression on its sleeve. Rooted in grief, and self-reflection, Wiebe was open in admitting the book was therapy for him, a way to work through certain questions his mind couldn’t align. Or didn’t want to. Coming from that place to inform a town of murder and uncertainty is something that fascinates me because it’s real, it’s raw, and it means the story has meat on the bone. You don’t follow the pretty lines and then allow the story and pages to quickly fade from your mind like you scrawled them into your brainpan in invisible ink. No, GREEN WAKE stays with you because it’s so visceral, so poignant, and so very very damn well done.

You see, everything about this book screams that it’s going to be a weird, messed up, pseudo-psycho sci fi noir and that’s something that’s been done before. But with Rossmo’s art we instantly get something fresh, something brutal, and using that connection to the audience Wiebe manages to do the ultimate noir move and make us care. So when he pulls the rug out from under us we topple over and know we’ll never be able to stand again. It sucks because Mack’s noir spiral is as much about all of us as it is about him. The central concept of Green Wake is so universal that you walk away thinking about yourself, your life, and where you are going just as much as you consider this poor four colour bastard on the page.

That idea of how grief hollows you out, what it takes to overcome its firm and clammy embrace, and the realisation there is no ‘victory’ to be had or found over it sucks. You so desperately want it to be another way but there it is, right in front of you, and you knew it, you knew it all along, but you hoped. To fall from hope is to pack weights onto your shoulders before stepping off the tower’s top.

Ugh.

Sometimes the best noir let’s you think you’ll be the special one [because through the main characters we so often project ourselves and Morley Mack is a great lead for this]. You see that finish line and the crossing line is rotted and razor sharp and there’s nothing but empty space after it to drift off into but you still think you’ll be running more on the other side and you’ll eventually find happy bright land under your feet. You really believe, and then it switches.

The great realisation of GREEN WAKE is that Mack gets out, he manages to set himself free, he wins. But the whole reason he was there is because he wasn’t dealing well with his grief at all, his self-hatred for the car crash he caused that took the life of his wife. He fell within himself and landed in Green Wake. But then he got out, he forgave himself. The end, right?

Remember that question; can you ever truly forgive yourself? The real answer in so many of us is a flat firm ‘no.’ You might have good days, but you’ll have bad days, and in the end your heart is soured. You’ll fall back because you are broken and while you might look fixed from certain angles, and you might even still be able to serve your purpose, the truth is that you are broken. So Mack ends up back in Green Wake and that’s the eternal struggle.

You’ll never stop fighting yourself because you’ll never actually set down your tools.

GREEN WAKE was bold enough to know this and to show it, and the result is a book that’s mesmerising, and difficult at times, and so very incredibly important as a one-man noir.

INTERMISSION

Back in the day, I used to sling words about comics and I fell hard in love with GREEN WAKE and you can scope the following things:

An interview with Kurtis J Wiebe about GREEN WAKE Part I [LINK] + Part II [LINK]

Another interview at the end of the first arc [LINK]

Dan Hill’s OPENING CONTRACT column looked at the first panel of the first page of the first issue. It’s golden stuff [LINK] and you can buy Dan’s entire ebook of that column, with extra creator interviews alongside it all here [LINK], and trust me, you should pick this book up, it’s one of my prescribed must read books about comics.

And if you’re a tight ass, you can actually read all of GREEN WAKE here online like a webcomic [LINK] – spoilers, it also includes an issue I wrote that never made it to print but I collaborated on it with Nathaniel Ooten just because I really loved the script and he knocked it out of the park. My issue, a one-shot, is also very much about the chase down the spiral. Enjoy.

ADDENDUM

PISCES

This here is a comic hitting shelves right now and you need to be reading it. Written by Wiebe with art from Johnnie Christmas, coloured by Tamra Bonvillain, it feels like the spiritual follow up to GREEN WAKE and I’m all signed up to walk down the path into damnation with this story and team.

pisces

This comic has only begun this year so it’s fun to analyse the pieces we have so far and postulate how and where we are going to be led, or dragged. The first issues do not spoonfeed you so you can only nudge forward based on gut instinct. I like this. It assumes intelligence in the reader, it allows surprises, and it builds character and emotion when done well and this is doing it all very well.

PISCES is like HANNIBAL in the way it builds on the tone of scenes before anything else. We are following our lead, Dillon, a Vietnam vet struggling to settle back into the real world, and inexplicably we are segued into a weird sci fi body horror where everything is metaphysical and so the dread seeps into your bones. It’s gloriously unsettling.

Seeing into his days in ‘Nam, we see where Dillon has come from, and how disturbed warfare can be. It’s the perfect way to break a person into small pieces and then it’s a crapshoot which shards will survive. With this context built, we catch up with Dillon back home and you know it’s all no good and so it becomes a matter of discovering how bad it is, where he’ll go wrong, and for me I can’t stop wondering if it’ll all be his own fault. I mean, the world kicks us hard, so it’s never only our fault, but we each get moments, opportunities, and we take responsibility. So observing Dillon’s case, as this game can feel at times, is hard to do and made harder by these space-helmeted interludes where Dillon has no idea of what’s going on and we get few hints about time, place, or reality. It’s a four dimensional mystery and there’s no goddamn chance at all it’ll end well.

Some men are born to fade to black and watching them hold on can sometimes pain us more than the final blip at their end. PISCES is a study in us holding fast as we watch and wait for the inevitable, whether it’s in his past, his present, or this ethereal future.

NOIRVEMBER 009 ~ Joseph Gordon-Levitt

It makes sense Joseph Gordon-Levitt would fill the role of the modern noir archetype. While every other leading man has been busy feeding chicken fillets and carb paste into his pecs, JGL has been off to the side amassing a wildly erratic and hugely high quality body of work. When you see him on the bill, you know you’re going to get some effort. And you know his character won’t have the red carpet laid out for him in every respect, JGL is the pure everyman in every superb sense of the word and that’s why he’s noir to the marrow in his bones.

JGL can take a hit and keep moving through sheer force of will.

jgl

If you think about noir leading men, they are so rarely the action hero type. They might get in a lotta scraps but they’d be batting under .400 easy as to their success rate. Your noir man isn’t about being a dazzling icon, or about spending their time pumping iron, they are about grit. JGL has grit in spades and we never saw it coming, which makes it all the more visceral when it sparks on screen.

Launching into our cultural hivemind as a child star, JGL had the decks stacked against him. A goofy sitcom, a very specific pony-tailed look, I’ll be honest in thinking we might never see the kid again. But we did, in a little high school noir film called BRICK and it was the sort of performance, and flick, and script, and event that completely erases everything you had considered about a person and puts you in the palm of their hand. It’s a hard boiled high school romance from Rian Johnson, with a nuanced language created for these streets alone, and the tone of the piece was incredibly sombre. From there, JGL could do anything and you had to follow him just to know.

Now, who knew what would actually happen. He went from sappy sitcom to 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, which while endlessly viewable in that 90s melange of teen flick safety isn’t exactly high art. BRICK was high art and from there JGL would solidify himself as an icon in a new place, a place between the blockbuster stars and the pretty boys. Which becomes interesting because he is himself capable of carrying some very big flicks and he is a handsome dude in the old school sense. But it begins to feel like he is purposefully choosing his place in the world so he gets to dabble in some fascinating narrative machines, many which would be considered unconventional and certainly not safe but that means you always get a sense he’s drawing from a place of art not commerce, something we don’t see enough of in Hollywood.

Post-BRICK, I tracked JGL to THE LOOKOUT [purely because of Scott Frank’s involvement as writer/director] and I was completely won over. This subdued heist flick is all about tone and JGL plays a guy who has suffered brain trauma and is impacted for it. It’s a small performance, he’s not out to make this problem flashy, and the whole flick matches that idea. Play the low key, make the audience sit forward and pay attention. It’s one of those modern crime flicks that slipped past the radar but seems to get enough of a run with the people who matter that it is not lost. And while it’s not exactly a true noir, I do consider its downbeat end to be worthy of mention here because it showcases that different and flexible attitude to noir. JGL’s character doesn’t end up dead or in a cell, but his injured mind/body is a cell, and the guilt and isolation he starts with are still present and might well forever be. He is, for all real intents and purposes, still trapped in a cell and it’s his own mind.

His next real notable for me is the clincher when proving JGL’s versatility, and it’s one of his finest noir roles. [500] DAYS OF SUMMER is an amazing flick. It’s supremely heartfelt, it’s real in its hyper-unreality of love, and it’s the finest romance-comedy flick of the past ten years, hands down. And it’s in this real and wild depiction of love that it shows the real noir in the world as we process heartbreak and its infinite darkness. The love between JGL and Zooey Deschanel’s character is all the more bleak because it’s only 500 days, you could fit at least two score of these types of heartbreaks in your life if you were un/lucky. You could near endlessly find the girl, fall deeply into her, have her snuff your heart, and be spat out in time for the next and you know you’d do it again. And the final moment confirms this as we are offered a moment of hope, JGL meets the new girl, the next girl, and why that might be [probably should be] affirming, and yet all I can think is that he’s just signing up for another 500 day stint of ventricle tenderising before the bastard is ripped out again.

Which is all his fault because he runs headfirst into the field despite being told it’s poisonous. He knows with Summer that she doesn’t want anything serious and yet he pursues anyway, because he’s his own problem. In fact, he’s a straight up dick. He’s moody, rude, and pretty damn stupid. In order to get those little highs, those blissful romantic moments we all strive for, he’s willing to hand his heart across to get stomped. Because he knows the memory of the best time will defib him back in time for the next time. He is rotationally setting himself up for failure, and pretending he doesn’t know it each time.

Love is the ultimate destroyer because it’s always about betrayal.

I weigh in on INCEPTION being a noir in that way we follow the determined downfall of one man, but that man isn’t JGL, it’s equally impressive ‘actor’ [not star or pec stand] Leonardo DiCaprio’s show. But JGL holds an important role that acts as a bridge to the next flick I wanna mention and it’s this: JGL is the muscle of INCEPTION. Not Tom Hardy, the brick bat also on this crew, no, Hardy is the weapons guy, and JGL is the ass kicker. Now, JGL is my size [so those who know me understand why this role of muscle is fantastic]. JGL isn’t physically intimidating…well, not if you just take his actual dimensions as they are. But when you add in the way he holds himself, the certainty with which he moves and acts, when you measure how big he feels, suddenly the numbers go up. You believe JGL can kick anyone’s ass through sheer force of determination and drive and it doesn’t break the narrative or the world at all. It is this mettle that makes JGL shine as a noir lead and INCEPTION was the ultimate proof that he can do anything needed to drive a narrative engine into the water and still gun the pedal down.

Which is what he does in LOOPER, acting as Bruce Willis’ younger self and you start to believe that he most certainly would grow up to be that grizzled old bastard who could walk through stone. This is also doubly fitting because before Willis was the hardened action star, with the engine block head, and the weary eyes, he was a rom-com tv show star who didn’t look like he could stand over his own shadow [hyperbole klaxon: love you, Bruce].

By the time we hit LOOPER, there was no doubt in my mind at all that JGL could be the guy waiting when you travel back in time and he’d shoot you down before you’d taken a full breath of air from the past. JGL was walking diamond by this stage and so nothing in this flick seems out of his range, right up to the final dusty denouement that breaks your heart in its inevitability.

Noir has found a vessel in Joseph Gordon-Levitt because you hate to see him end in a ditch but you know he’ll put himself there time and again if it’s in the better interest of just one other person. He is that man and we are all the better for having the opportunity to see him operate.

JGL Addendum

I also love his music so why not treat yourself:

NOIRVEMBER 008 ~ The Shining

The first rule of THE SHINING is: forget the movie.

Yes, Kubrick made a horror masterpiece. The tone and timbre of that flick is intensely on point. Kubrick is a weird case in that he spent his career bouncing from genre to genre, defining them and mic dropping but he was never able to make THE definitive flick of those genres because his pieces were always more style over character substance. There are moments where this isn’t the case but on the whole people remember HAL before they can name more than one astronaut on the Discovery One, and before those men they probably remember the man-apes from the opening sequence.

And when it is that Kubrick makes a truly iconic character, it is because of their hollow nature. R. Lee Ermy’s Gunnery Sergeant in FULL METAL JACKET, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s married couple in EYES WIDE SHUT, and Alex in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. These are all fantastic monuments of the silver screen but when they meet their downfall, if they even do, it doesn’t sting as much because they kinda feel like they started on rock bottom. Which is the mammoth problem with Kubrick’s version of Stephen King’s greatest novel – Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance as insane from the start [or at least quite unhinged] so his drop to murderous father isn’t a fall so much as it is a restrained mental patient finally laying back under their restraints and accepting the darkness inside. It’s a lateral move, not downward.

the shining

The book however is a downfall as epic as any you will find, and it’s so utterly tragic because it is real. It’s a father always worrying he’s on the edge, sometimes nudging a toe over the line, but he wants to be good. He wishes he could be great but you get the vibe he’d settle for better than bad. But it all slowly unravels and it’s brutal to follow as you read.

Because, and here’s the dirty little secret, reading THE SHINING isn’t scary, it’s heartbreaking. Jack Torrance fails at his most important job and it kills us all inside, especially because we all knew he couldn’t really do it all along, himself included. Once we find out he once broke his son, Danny’s, arm because he lost his temper, well, the seeds of doubt were not only sown but they were fertilised and the liquid nourishment of alcohol was all it ever needed to grow more, with Torrance not having the mental tools to know how to tend to that garden.

The concept of the shattered man holding it together with trembling fingers is great noir fuel. Because you want it to go one way and when it goes another that’s killer, but when it’s his own fault for that downward curve, you just hate. You hate him, you hate alcohol, you hate the world for setting these things up.

The other major aspect of the book that the movie neglects, or at least adapts poorly, is the state of the Overlook Hotel. The hotel isn’t just haunted, it’s aggressively evil. It’s a conduit to our worst and so it aligns with Jack’s hidden interior to make it exterior. It takes over him, in a way, but it also feels like an acceleration of Jack’s natural timeline anyway. Even in the end, as Jack elects to try and save the Overlook from a volatile boiler, it feels like it’s Jack’s choice to do this. It’s is he who elects the method of his own downfall. But with him gone, imagine how much the world will improve for his family.

That’s not actual logic, but it is a choice made daily by people, sadly. And so, in that end, THE SHINING becomes this great exploration of one man’s inability to be good and so slowly spiralling down into pure evil until he implodes in and with it.

Yeah, heartbreaking.

RKL NOTE: THE SHINING was my favourite novel for well over a decade, in which I read it more than once, and found I could constantly just pick it up and flick through and lose myself for 80 pages. It’s amazing.

My new favourite novel is THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY by Michael Chabon. It isn’t really a noir.

NOIRVEMBER 007 ~ Sea of Heartbreak

When it comes to music, I tend to steer to the saddest shit possible and I don’t even know why. There’s something about that aural connection that makes my office need to soak up all the sads.

Maybe it stems from my father. His favourite band was The Platters. My lords, they are amazing. One of his favourites was ‘The Great Pretender’ and as a family we all loved it. Especially as Freddy Mercury also sang a version and we were and continue to be a huge Queen family.

Now imagine me, many years after my father’s suicide, really contemplating the fact this was one of his favourite songs. It’s kind of gutting. And yet I still love the song.

I also love ‘Twilight Time’ and ‘Harbor Lights’ and pretty well their whole damn ‘Best of’ album, which we owned on CD and spun goddamn daily in enjoyment, then in tribute.

blasko

For something more recent, I find myself in a crazy ear crush on Sarah Blasko because her music sounds like it’s scoring someone’s downfall. It is the perfect score to me writing, both my inner process as well as what comes out on the page.

But when it comes to a great noir song, I’ll always stop at ‘Sea of Heartbreak.’ Why?

The lights in the harbour

Don’t shine for me.

And with those opening words, my heart breaks. This song brings out the very best in noir in that it’s someone’s eternal turmoil over love lost. Because noir isn’t always death as opposed to life, sometimes it’s death inside as opposed to living. These lyrics paint a picture of a million words and only really talk about the emotion and the distance. It’s not a classical narrative story, it’s a response.

And you are allowed to fill in the gaps. Which is always the worst because my mind will always reach further than it needs to in order to destroy itself. I’ll imagine something so bad that it’s near impossible but that doesn’t stop its possibility being a complete curtain over my brain. So this song utterly stalls my brain and sets it floating on ‘this seas of tears.’

I am now certain you can only imagine what then occurs when you double-bill this song with ‘Teen Angel,’ an actual narrative song and the very saddest thing you’ll hear on this fine day.

‘Teen Angel’ is about a young picaresque high school couple whose car stalls in front of an oncoming train, and, well, it’s easier if you just hear it.

That fateful night the car was stalled

Upon the railroad track

I pulled you out and we were safe

But you went running baaaa-aack.

From there, the train hits, the girl dies, and when the young buck investigates to see why, oh why, would she go and do something so stupid, he finds his ‘high school ring, clutched in your fingers tiii–iight.’ We then follow him to her funeral and we know he’s broken for life, as you would be.

It is horrific.

It is also a song that featured on a 50-60s double cassette album of rock and roll hits that my father bought and loved and I listened to a million times as a kid. From ‘Rock Around the Clock’ to ‘Blueberry Hill’ to ‘Chantilly Lace’ these tapes had it all, and yet I never knew they held this piece of lovesick noir. And I knew the words to the song, I sang along, and it wasn’t until one day, in my late teens, I was in my car, tape jammed in, jamming along, when I paused and took stock of the words coming out of my mouth. I was floored. I rewound, I listened again. Why the hell was this even a song?

I took the tape home and played the song for my brother, he had also never really ‘heard’ the song before. We both stood there, paused, and that feeling that death is all around you, has always been around you, finally soaks in as you realise how comfortable you’ve become with it. How inured you are to things ending before they should. How much your brain protects you from the darkness all around.

All these songs, as bleak as the other side of the moon, and yet I can’t get enough.
As I write the downfall of so many characters, you’ll find these songs scoring their trip to the underworld, across the sea of heartbreak.

NOIRVEMBER 006 ~ Casanova

CASANOVA from Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon/Matt Fraction [and now Michael Chabon] is one of my favourite comics of the past decade. It’s this pop spy comic about being cool and flipping through realities while flipping reality the bird. It’s very modern, with very psychedelic old stuff inspiring the actual core of it. It’s just so goddamn good.

casanova

The book is currently in its fourth volume, of which I believe there will be seven, and each volume is dominant for its own specific and varied reasons, which in itself is an insane feat of artistry and skill.

The first volume is LUXURIA and it introduces us to our hero, Casanova Quinn, and his world. This arc is impossibly cool, the characters wild and spectacular, and the structure is just introducing one gonzo thing after another and threading a line that is Cass’ circulatory system. He travels to another version of reality and teams up with his superspy family to take down the bad guys. The chassis of the narrative could almost be clean if it weren’t for the detritus of experimentation and fun the creative team layer into every moment.

Volume 2 was GULA where we followed a broader case across each of the issues and we got a real build to a climax that certainly wasn’t telegraphed, and was something that brought integrity to the title and our lead. If Vol 1 set ‘em up, this volume hit ‘em so hard they split the stuff inside atoms.

These two arcs are stupendous things, really truly great comics, and I could bang on all day about it but I’ll never say it better than Tim Callahan did over seven years ago so instead I’ll link to his essay “Why ‘Casanova’ Matters” and hope you dig [LINK]

Buy, y’see, the book then took a long break, where everyone in the creative team dispersed to create anything from books with Tony Stark to stories about life and love and truth. It was heartbreaking but these were the financial realities of Image books way back when. But then, because providence is real and it loves us, the book was given a chance to return. Something that happens so rarely and so very much needed to happen here. And so we, the few who tune in, were gifted:

Volume 3 – AVARITIA, which put Cass into a new mission and really formalised his place with his story nemesis, Newman Xeno, as they build a Ying/Yang dichotomy. Intertwined, sharing good and bad. Cass tries to wipe him out on all the different realities, and naturally that kind of one-man genocide takes its toll. Here, we got a sense of the true larger scale of all of this, which is fun because the first two arcs certainly weren’t closed door mysteries.

Volume 4 is ACEDIA and it’s playing out now and it’s stripped Cass back a bit and we watch him build back up. Considering AVARITIA had quite a large climax it makes sense to reset Cass a little, take his memory away, and see if he rebuilds in the same way again.

Which brings us to what is to come – because this isn’t a recap, this is a crystal ball into which we might dare to gaze. I can merely postulate, but knowing that Fraction has mapped the story against the seven deadly sins, and he’s burnt through lust, gluttony, greed, and now sloth, this means he has superbia, invidia, and ira to go [pride, envy, and wrath]. In what order those will come who knows, though they say pride cometh before the fall, and noir is the ultimate fall, so I have to ponder:

Is the tale of Casanova Quinn going to be a noir?

I say yes.

Cass is a character who has been built up and shown to make terrible choices. He’s a broken man, not quite doing what’s right, but doing what he wants to think is right. Manning the ship a hard north on a compass he knows won’t ever work quite right. As a noir lead, we desperately want to see Cass succeed but he’s going to need to overcome himself before that will work.

To consider the alternative, could we stomach an ending to the whole mess that’s Cass getting his happily ever after? Would that suit Cass, has he deserved this, and would he even let it happen? You get the sense Cass knows he’s spiralling and he just wants to take a few key players down into the void with him.

I could see Cass sacrificing himself to redeem Newman Xeno, and then even that doesn’t yield a positive result, making his move pointless. There’s a nihilistic streak in Cass and one he uses to his advantage, because if you believe in nothing then you are set free. Cass is so free he spreads his wings and soars through galaxies. And we could, each of us, wonder a variety of ways Cass could ruin his own life/story/world but then there’s always the angle that he’s left fine, and he ruins it all for someone else.

Ultimately, the noir end I feel is coming from Ba/Moon/Fraction, it’s going to be something that I know will happen, I feel must happen, but I get that sense of impending dread that it’s going to crush me just that little bit. It’s not going to be easy and that’s how you measure the quality of your noir. If it lays out simple, it’s dead before it hit the ground. If it’s on its back, sputtering blood into the air, gasping out as you watch, well that’s magic.

CASANOVA is a study in how to look damn fine even in your death throes.

NOIRVEMBER 005 ~ John Carpenter’s The Thing

Imagine for a moment if John Carpenter’s THE THING had a happy ending. Or if it’s hero lead was a true action star, always right, and able to uppercut any and all problems. Hot damn, that would be one boring ass rote flick.

Imagine if THE THING was only a horror movie. A slasher flick. If it wasn’t about anything – though, yes, some slasher flicks are about something. Gah, what a shitty world that would be.

jc's the thing

I’m thankful I grew up in a world where John Carpenter made a remake of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and he made it as a paranoid sci fi SFX driven noir. I’m also thankful I got to literally ‘grow up’ in this world because for some reason the monkeys at the parenting button fell asleep one night and I got to watch this flick at a disturbingly young age. And I loved it beyond belief. I was the only kid in primary school able to work in quotes from Carpenter interviews in Fangoria when it came time to roundtable about our favourite flicks. But I digress:

Consider Macready. Our bearded lead [I’m reticent to apply the ‘hero’ label here] played to perfection by a be-goggled Kurt Russell. Now consider him more closely, forget the crazy hat, the gigantic fur coat, c’mon, he’s in Antarctica, strip all that away and who do you have?

Macready’s personal scene where we peek at the cards he holds so close to his chest is a phenomenally deft display of characterisation as he plays chess against his computer while sipping some J&B whiskey. Because of course he’s a loner and he likes his tipple. And when the machine beats him, he calls her a bitch and pours his drink into her, frying her circuits. Because of course he’s compulsive and bitter. And alone. And shunning the one ‘female’ in the entire flick.

If there was ever a hardboiled lead -this time solid frozen – then it is Macready. He isn’t infallible, he gets his ass kicked, a lot, but he constantly gets back up and he’s willing to do the difficult things, even when they make him look batguano insane.

With him set up, amidst a cast of other kooks, we then unleash the alien force that’ll tear them apart [literally]. With the case afoot, people start dying and we follow Macready as he struggles to stay alive and solve the case. But in a case like this, what if there’s no solution? What if there’s only harm minimisation?

And that’s the biggest problem with a noir world [real problem, not narrative/genre problem], sometimes you can’t solve a problem. Sometimes someone has no ‘good’ setting. In crime, this is amped up and played as true but when you escalate this viewpoint into a malevolent force of alien nature that’s planning to assimilate the entire world and destroy us all, you make the stakes higher [perhaps the highest without going intergalactic] and yet Carpenter chooses to still play it all small.

One of the finest scenes in the flick is set on and around a couch. Carpenter doesn’t ever lose that human thread to the movie that connects to us on the deepest level. Because at the end of the flick, with the battle ‘won,’ I always considered Macready to have saved the world when in actuality he’s no doubt saved the galaxy/universe. Left unchecked, the thing would’ve just kept on going [we can only presume] and he’s halted its path. For now. But we consider it a human victory because of the job Carpenter does. This isn’t ray guns and V-necked horseshit. This is noir.

And I should unpack one quick thing I said above, the solution is only for now. Macready is making a sacrifice for a W that is most likely not going to last. It’s certainly easily undone, by someone with a misplaced electric blanket, or an oil drill. I mean, if we told climate change deniers that they’re eventually going to thaw out our ripped apart demise then maybe we’d finally make some much needed world change.

But Macready makes this sacrifice and the flick ends on what should be a happy note, a win, but instead we get two men staring at each other across the snow and no matter how you run it, it’s the saddest ending ever because Macready might actually be the thing at this point, or Keith David’s Childs might be, or they might both be, or neither of them is. Roll those dice, look at the dual display, and no matter what you’ve got it’s heartbreaking and all for completely different reasons. Impending painful doom, a wasted opportunity to find salvation; it comes down to basic mistrust and the greater good. No man is willing to risk saving themselves lest they save the other and he turn out to already be turned. It’s so terrible in its poignant perfection.

The ultimate down ending sends us off with “Let’s sit around here for a while…see what happens.” and then the flick ends because we really don’t want to see what happens. It’s too much – despite when a Dark Horse Comics miniseries thought otherwise as it showed us both men rescued and the narrative cycle begun anew.

No, there is no second chance, Macready does this right, he does it til the end, there is no more. Poor bastard.

NOIRVEMBER 004 ~ Elektra

Elektra Natchios is a force of pure destruction. She is noir, straight up.

Elektra_3_by_Mike_del_Mundo

And while you could call her a black and white character – her world revolves around the binary relationship of life and death – it’s much more apt to describe her as a red lady. Because red is the colour of passion, of anger, and most importantly blood. It is life, and it’s the life you leave or the life you take.

Elektra is the torn result of two worlds viciously colliding. She is beauty and violence, she is a protector and an assassin, she is her mother and her father. She is the walking embodiment of polar opposites, but worse than that, Elektra is constantly choosing the one side on which she’ll die.

An 11 issue run with the character across 2014-2015 was illustrated by Mike del Mundo [with some assists from Alex Sanchez] and written by W. Haden Blackman. This run is easily one of the best runs from Marvel in that year, and it’s a phenomenal study of Elektra as a living and breathing downward spiral, and why she chooses to be this way.

The first issue opens with a split splash of Elektra’s face mirrored and her captions discuss the fact she looks like her mother but very much acts like her father. This split, this sensation of being torn apart, is a strong undercurrent given to Elektra in this run as there are multiple times where we see Elektra mirrored, or we have visions of her future. She is very much a woman in constant inner turmoil, and she always feels the need to choose, because if you don’t then you put the choice in the hands of the world where anything can happen.

Better to have control of your noir story than to be dashed upon the rocks of an organically occurring romcom cut short by precise tragedy.

So we have a woman shattered by her past. Elektra becomes the beautiful absence of her mother and the ruthless focus of her father. She is split, and her life hinges on the dichotomy of life’s absurd at all times. She fell in love with Matt Murdock only to have it fall apart, and upon their reunion by the time she realises she’s still in love, she’s murdered by Bullseye and only manages to get back to Matt to die in his arms.

Though she’ll be back. Because life becomes death, and in her world that can become life once more. Her fractured narrative, halved and twisted as it always is even means permanent things can become malleable. It should feel joyful but in her hands appears more cruel than anything else.

From the moment Frank Miller created Elektra in DAREDEVIL #168, she’s been problematic. She’s been a villain, a love interest, an antihero, a flashback, a return. But she’s always been lethal and the recap page even chooses to describe her with three words – NINJA. WARRIOR. ASSASSIN. – with the final word in red for emphasis. She’s skilled, she’s a fighter, and she’s fatal. She deals in death.

This connection to death, and blood, and red, is beautifully shown in the first issue, right after the split splash, we see Elektra dancing. She is tiptoed poetry, she’s amazing, and around her is coiled a red ribbon. It’s beautiful right until we turn into the next double page splash and the ribbon has become flowing rivers of blood rushing out of the people she is killing. Because she dances with death, and she makes it look beautiful. But it’s still death.

And as Elektra raises her bloody sai above her head, the red ribbon lashes out to form what you can only see as a love heart. She enjoys what she does.

It makes sense because historically, Elektra has been shown to be very good at her job. You look back at how Miller introduced her and it wasn’t long before she very efficiently and without emotion slides a sai into the torso of an informant talking to Ben Urich in a cinema. She kills, for money, and she knows it makes her hollow inside but that’s how she wants it. The murder of her father gutted her, and the slap in the face that inevitably comes from loving someone else and losing them teaches her not to try and fill that hole. So she cleanses herself with fire.

Upon this salted ground, Mike del Mundo and W. Haden Blackman declare their run an exploration of what it might take to force change upon this immovable object. And in doing so they wrest all agency back into her hands moving forward. The opening sequence of blood ballet discusses Elektra as seeing herself as “only reflections that belong to someone else.” She is only important in ways that are pivotal to others. And while she dreams of other occupations, other things to be, even when she is truly herself she knows she is still “someone’s assassin.” It’s still relational to others and over the course of this run that centrepoint changes in one very crucial way.

It all begins with a small shift, a nanometre of change to the usual scheduled programming. Elektra sees the Matchmaker – a hook up for killer contracts – and she is given a gig where the money is high but the job profile is different. Whereas everyone else will be hunting a retired killer known as Cape Crow, Elektra will be attempting to bring him in. This isn’t an execution, it’s a stay from one. It’s a rescue mission, of sorts. It’s something new and Elektra takes the job.

As she hunts down the whereabouts of Cape Crow, Elektra manages to form a team of sorts [if you want to align comparisons to the Scoobies, you can – Ms Natchios will kill you for doing it, though]. She stumbles across Kento Roe, a young gentleman and son of Cape Crow who is just looking to protect his old man. Though he lied about the funds to make this actually happen. And yet Elektra doesn’t kill him, she continues to look for Cape Crow and you can see she’s softened already.

But to say it’s a softening is a misnomer because it belies weakness, it might cause us to consider Elektra as less when this is most certainly not the case. Calculating is the word you were looking for.

It’s fitting that initially placed in direct opposition to Elektra is Bloody Lips – an Australian bastard who wears a lion’s head and eats the memories and abilities of others. He’s ghastly and laser focused and his one goal becomes to eat of Elektra, to feed of her life and her energy. Their dance is one that can only end in one manner and the longer the music builds, the greater the anticipation sits on all our tongues. But first, we need to know how Elektra will taste, we have to analyse and wonder and hope. And so her flavour is shown to us.

Amidst the chaos and the hunt, Elektra sets off to the underwater city and as she sinks like a biological depth charge she considers the water around her and thinks that “In the silence of the deep, there was just one voice–my own.” Because solitude would mean no consideration of others. It would mean she would have control.

Before Elektra can find herself alone, she faces her ultimate ‘other’ – her mother. In an altercation with Bloody Lips, Elektra stabs him in the head as he chokes her underwater. Both wake in a purgatory fugue state and Elektra’s mother instantly points out the folly of Elektra’s ways and deeds. It’s a brutal showdown until Elektra takes control of it all. Because her mother wants her to see her life as wasted, as boorish, as having no opportunity to make positive change. But all Elektra sees in the faces of those she has slain are the faces of killers and monsters. She only sees vindication in what she’s done and as she considers the orphans she has left behind, she suddenly sees how her own life plays into this wheel of depravity and change. The daughters of these monsters were better off left alone in a world without their parental problems rather than condemned to a lifetime to repeat the sins of their parents. Elektra finally understands how she was made, this origin of blood and fire, was most certainly for the best.

This is the first step towards Elektra owning her past and therefore her future. She’s not a past victim, she’s an emancipated warrior with any opportunity available to her.

This ability to harness her past, to own her suffering, to flip from being attacked to attacker personifies in the counter-attack she pours into Bloody Lips by actually slicing her hand and allowing him to feast upon her blood. Her essence proves too strong for him and seemingly drives him mad. Elektra is far too strong a woman for him to handle. So then she kicks him off a snowy cliff. It’s most assuredly a long way down for him.

As the case then further progresses, Kento, Matchmaker, and Elektra protect Cape Crow, they fend off would be assailants, and the day could be described as being saved. It’s not an easy path. The group goes on the run and Elektra protects them by inflicting the fight and the pain outwards onto their attackers. Our eponymous hero as protector comes to the fore and a showdown looms with the Assassin’s Guild and so she cuts her troupe loose. A choice she says is “Because I do not want to bury any more of my friends.” And yet you can’t help but wonder if maybe Elektra still wants to play all of this solo. If maybe she isn’t certain how she’ll turn out, and if protector isn’t a role she can keep up forever.

As the Hand, and a somewhat rejuvenated Bullseye, all converge on Elektra as she tracks the leader of the Assassin’s Guild, it almost feels like Elektra is being put back into her box. Alone, out for blood, and in the mist with the thieves of life once more. She must face her past within Bullseye, the man who once murdered her. She must assess all that she is and all that it’s for and come to the realisation that it’s a zero sum game.

She then steps up with a clear head and plays her role perfectly, dispatching many Hand ninja, taking Bullseye down once more, and then the final twist comes and it’s the final and definitive lesson for our recidivistic assassin.

Bullseye is blessed with a re-up for life as the Hand brought him back. As such, he bests Elektra and completely obliterates her skull. She wants to fight on, it’s what her DNA does, but she is down.  The lust to dive back into the fray is stronger than the flesh and she is held in limbo and yet she still manages, but it’s not to kill. The leader of the Assassin’s Guild is a small girl. Bullseye attacks her as well – because of course he does – and Elektra cannot bare to see someone else murdered by Bullseye. She doesn’t want anyone else pushed into their future six feet under by another psychopath.

In the end, Elektra fights for good. She always has.

It’s just always felt so very very bad. And dark. And bloody.

She slingshots out of her injuries to stage one last attack and while it doesn’t kill Bullseye, it damages him enough to send him limping away. He exits with a flick and attempts to replay the last time he killed her with a playing card slice across the throat. Elektra deflects the flat missile but it instead finds a new trajectory right across the little girl’s throat. Bullseye doesn’t even need to say it.

Stephen King once wrote [in the Dark Tower series] that ‘ka is a wheel’ – meaning that life and destiny go around and around. And so do we. Maybe we learn a few lessons and we’re better prepared next time we come across the same hurdle. Hopefully.

Elektra finds herself in a remarkably similar position to her first murder and she’s faced with two choices moving forward. She follows Bullseye to finish the job, and no doubt leaves the girl to bleed out, or she stays to aid the girl, allowing her sharpshooting nemesis to escape. Elektra is a killer and yet she chooses to protect. Furthermore, she chooses to actively save.

Albeit with the caveat that she is given the Assassin’s Guild. She saves so that she may be given the opportunity to destroy.

And this is Elektra’s final lesson and change on the ka wheel. She has become a hero, for the moment, she’s saved a life, and she finds herself chatting with Maria Hill about her heroic deed. But she’s not going to stick around the celebrate a life when there is walking death out on the streets everywhere. Elektra launches into the water, off to begin her new life. A life that’s filled with agency and purpose now.

The coda of this run has Crossbones and Sidewinder summoned to a Guild meeting whereupon they find Elektra instead. And she’s not here to convene business, she’s here to bury the Guild. Her final line is “I’m here to destroy it.” And it’s nice to see her referring to herself, no longer just a reflection of someone else or their thing to be owned, and she’s using an active verb. She has her own ideas, her own mission, and the goddamn wherewithal to do whatever she must.

Elektra has spent decades being someone else’s something. After this insanely well structured and delivered run from del Mundo/Blackman, she is now left as a lady of independent means, who knows what she wants, how to get it, and will get it herself.

Though it’s hard not to see Elektra is merely choosing the ‘right’ kind of killing, and that sort of activity will still leave you hollow, as we know she’s always wanted. She has accepted her noir ending, and is in fact using it for her own gain and the betterment of the world. Her downfall is our updraught, and that might just be the definition of bittersweet.

NOIRVEMBER 003 ~ Macbeth

Shakespearean noir sounds like some kind of mash up a Hollywood exec would churn out over his leafburger amidst ideas for kiddie giallo lessons and synergistic gun ballet anime/apps. But realistically they’re a Big Willie’s staple, he just gave them a different label:

Tragedy.

Shakespeare was constantly a dick to his characters. Othello is made to murder his faithful and loving wife. Romeo + Juliet playing revolving glass doors with their death scenes in a horrible tragedy. I can’t help but wonder that a modern day Shakespeare would have his people caught in school shootings and crushed by fallen space debris and would be made to watch as one is sliced up on Skype while the other can only watch and scream into the void.

Shakespeare was dark in his love stories and historical documents so when he finally went all out to tell a story about when a man become a villain, he brought witches and dagger assassinations and madness onto the page and stage with fury. He delivered a true noir masterpiece and cornerstone because the downfall of Macbeth, King of Scotland, is all about his selfish and stupid choices, and how one begets another. Each one a step into his own grave, and you know he knows it with every inch he advances.

macbeth comic

The play opens with three witches plotting. These creatures, depicted in various guises but always hideous to their core, are integral to kicking off the whole mess as they tease Macbeth with his future crown, which he knows he can only claim if the current king were to die. The witches are the cause of all this though they do nothing other than offer counsel, words, and a hidden prophecy that Macbeth knows will be a monkey paw [something that offers good and will always twist it to your demise] but he follows their words rather than shrug them off and live his own full life without striving for another person’s place and vocation.

Macbeth suffers the sin of ambition.

The witches, however, have no discernable motive other than to fuck shit up. They are malevolent but they hold no purchase in the world without the villainy of man. This time, Macbeth. They ably represent the fact the world is a cesspool and will constantly offer up opportunities for you to screw yourself over. If you look with even half an eye, you’ll find ways to sell out your soul for a donut, or maybe less. It’s the saddest truth of the world and it’s what makes being a good person so difficult, because you have to fight that world all the time and stay strong.

The first step down into the abyss comes when Macbeth becomes too intrigued by this future, this certainty he has tricked his brain into believing, into wanting, into making. So he murders the King, Duncan, and he ascends the throne. Though this alone does not secure him his place and he becomes desperate to stay there and so a plot of murder, assassination, and insanity unfolds.

The brutal aspect of this play is the fact Macbeth didn’t need to do any of this. And every time he murders, he wants to believe it’ll stem the flow, it’ll allow him to access the light at the end of the tunnel, but in his heart he knows the tunnel has no end, he’ll die in it. You know this because at no point does Macbeth even get happy about getting what he’s slaughtered to achieve. He never settles, he never enjoys, he never uses, he only clutches at ways to save it. It’s nothing but sad.

We watch Macbeth turn from masterful soldier to excoriated King who is slowly rounded by people who wish him the exact same treatment he saw fit to dole out at tale’s beginning. As the woods close in on him, and his defeat rises on the horizon, Macbeth holds fast to an aspect of the witches prophecy that he believes to be his saviour. They say no man of woman born can harm him and so he counts himself as blessed right up until someone delivered by Caesarian swims against that tide and beheads Macbeth, closing his tale and making all his efforts, all his apparent desires for naught.

Because greed is not good. Because killing for something you barely thought about before is stupid. Because men are weak and foolish and always want more and will forever be tricked by the shiny promise into doing dastardly things so they may hold but one more trinket. But once in their grasp, they realise the shine is gone and they are empty inside, often then looking to fill the void with the next hopeful trinket and thus the black ouroboros is fed.

Shakespeare noir is always fine but Macbeth is possibly the bleakest of them all, which obviously makes it my favourite – be damned those leg breaking actors who refuse to say its name. They knew what they were signing up for when they took on the darkest script of the middle ages, may their femurs and tibias be eternally damned to splintered pyres.

NOIRVEMBER 002 ~ CRIMINAL: BAD NIGHT

Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker make the best comics. Why? because the only four colours they use are black.

Their partnership had been bubbling along for years, slowly refining, seemingly waiting for their true mindmeld moment of resplendent glory. It’s so truly rare for a comics partnership to have this time, and breadth of projects in which to percolate. And it’s even rarer for the two in question to obviously use that time wisely, preparing, and then striking with ferocity.

They spent a few years on SLEEPER at Wildstorm and it is one of those comics that holds a special place for me. It exists in one of those golden bubbles of beauty within your life. I had finished my broke ass time as a university student, I had excess cash as a working man, and I was stepping back into comics. There was a big gap of quality work to choose from so I caught an LCS while on holiday and I spent a few hundred bucks. I returned home and in my bedroom/office devoured a few trades and out of that my love for SLEEPER was born. I can still remember the view, the way it felt like I hadn’t been about 5 years away from the four colour page.

SLEEPER was brilliant, and it’s certainly a noir in the sense that Holden Carver is definitely walking down a finite path and you feel it with every issue. I devoured that series more than once and it all felt like delicious entree to the coming of CRIMINAL.

For me, CRIMINAL is the main course of the Phillips/Brubaker banquet feast. It’s got all flavours, it’s the thing you waited for, and it is the book all else is judged against. It is crime perfection. Brubaker has stated a view of noir that very similarly rests in the same stone cold cradle as my own held thoughts/beliefs. Noir is about the fact you know you are doomed and you walk straight into it anyway.

With their opening mini [because CRIMINAL had not arcs but rotating minis within the same world] titled COWARD, we watched a very dark heist tale unfold and something special was transferred. But this was just a warm up. Because while it’s good, hell, pretty great, it isn’t their masterpiece. And when you can be as good as these two, you don’t settle or stop at a plateau and set up camp when you could be hitting that next tip a little higher, until eventually you are floating above the mountain and finding footholds in the ozone layer.

Next came LAWLESS and it also ends with a downbeat ending, though in a way a polar opposite to the first story. COWARD has our getaway lead caught by the cops whereas LAWLESS has our hard-hitting lead getting recruited by the wrong criminals. All bad things. All just priming the pump. And while the next go around brings us 3 one-shot tales of woe, it’s the fourth story of CRIMINAL that showcases a perfect noir and is my personal favourite of the entire run, though actually not their masterpiece [which we’ll get to, all in good time – don’t worry, a good noir eventually gets to everything, burning all to the ground, none are safe].

BAD NIGHT is the most pure noir Phillips/Brubaker deliver in CRIMINAL. It is liquid noir, it is the black hole resultant from a Large Phillips/Brubaker/Hadron Collider, it is so damn good. For me, it’s the noir manifesto taught through narrative.

criminal cover - bad night

We are presented the tale of Jacob, a down on his luck cartoonist with a nasty insomnia habit. He does his best to illustrate/write a little serial strip called FRANK KAFKA P.I. [a background Easter Egg throughout CRIMINAL which here finally gets unpacked more as we finally meet its creator] and he wanders his city by night and into the dawn where rest finds him as he passes out. Already, we can see his lifestyle isn’t conducive to making the right decisions and Jacob certainly doesn’t seem to understand what those are, nor does he seem to overly care. He talks about seeing his world “from the other side of the vanishing points.” He’s a broken and lonely man.

He meets a girl in a diner and things go pear shaped around her aggressive boyfriend and after a fight, and his flight from the scene, his internal monologue talks about why he had to jet, and it’s the perfect way to view the choices made so often, and so poorly, by noir leads:

“You never know what’s going to happen when you let chaos into your life…suddenly, just like that, someone is dead and your whole life is going to hell.”

And that’s exactly true, this is how it happens. It’s incremental. One bad choice begets another in the hopes to solve or rectify the first. It’s a progressive slide that doesn’t just land you dead, it gets you dying.

Jacob’s creation, Frank Kafka, has a square-jawed role to play in the story because he’s like a noir Jiminy Cricket on his creator’s shoulder telling him how he should have handled it. Which Jacob knows is the wrong way, he knows it’s absurd, because he even states that “In the strip, of course, Frank takes far more punishment than he dishes out, but that’s kind of the point.” Here we have Brubaker illustrating the core tenet of a great noir story in his own noir story, through his creation’s creation [yes, also his creation, you follow?]. Jacob is following muddy footsteps even though he knows, hell he engineers the fact, that “Frank is always in over his head, always making the wrong decisions.”

But who hasn’t chosen a little wrong before to let their life get a little wrong? Jacob bumps back into the woman, Iris, and takes her home after she passes out in his car. She then creeps into his bed and the night they spend together can only be hinted at. This is why we all choose the wrong, because the little wrong we get in return is so lascivious that it can only be intimated in hushed tones, making it all the more desirable as the brain fills in gaps it didn’t even know could be created.

Jacob picks up Iris, he takes her home, he lets her into his bed, he steps out to procure some coffee/pastry breakfast [what passes for nutrition on Planet Noir], in doing so he allows her the opportunity to rob him, but not before he brags about a counterfeiter past, which then prompts her boyfriend to return to enforce a ‘favour.’ And who is to blame? Jacob understands straight away, “My stupid choices, my stupid bragging. / My general stupidity…had brought this on. I had done this to myself.”

And there is your tombstone quote when the noir finally walks up behind you and knifes you with your own blade. I had done this to myself. That’s what always makes it so heartbreaking.Look back at every single step he took, all decidedly poor choices. All dominos in his slow demise.

Very quickly the heartbreak turns to a moment of allowed insanity as Jacob finds himself held hostage in his house by Iris and her boyfriend. When the boyfriend leaves one night to do some jobs she’s left guarding Jacob alone and they instinctually flirt, and he’s instantly smitten with her. This lady is holding Jacob hostage, she’s sleeping with her boyfriend in his house in wildly rancorous ways, and then she’s still flirting with him and he wants to believe that deep down she’s hostage in her situation and life, that there’s something real between them, that he can save her. Jacob is a fool and you know he knows it, he’s written himself before no doubt, but he can’t help himself. This is why femme fatales work so well in noir, there’s nothing like a pretty lady to make a man commit to the worst decisions.

“Soon I was even more lost than before…I was a primal urge. / With no thought, no fear, just naked desire. / But I didn’t care. / I didn’t care about anything but how she felt under me…”

As the thoughts above play through Jacob’s head, as he tears Iris’ clothes away in a sequence that’s just pure regret waiting to be understood, Frank Kafka stands beside and watches it all and it’s difficult to tell if he’s grimacing in tortured understanding or if he’s clenching his jaw tight to cheer it on in the only restrained way he knows how to party.

Once Jacob gets sucked into the undertow of the heist being pulled and starts to think he might be killed once it’s over [a thought seeded and fertilised by Iris], he considers killing the boyfriend to set them both free. She certainly makes it seem like she’ll be stuck if he doesn’t, which is a perfect way to play on that saviour chord to make Jacob pull the trigger on the wrong call, again. But like any good noir lead, Jacob is mostly good for getting pistol whipped and lead around on the collar by a woman, so he doesn’t take the opportunity. But Iris does. The hole he is in gets deeper and deeper and he’s hoping there might just be quiet salvation down below, so why not keep digging. Noir is such a fool’s game.

The second half of the story only gets harder to observe as you constantly see off ramps where Jacob could get out, but he continually pushes forward because he’s sure there’s a promised land at the end. Why would they build a highway straight down into oblivion? Why, because that’s the cruelest joke of all, you have the illusion of progress.

We see Jacob continue to mentally pursue Iris, they sleep together again just so he’s really on the line. They then go separate ways until, like two magnetically charged elements, they come crashing back together with force. Is Jacob being played by her? Do I even need to answer that question by this stage?

As the story winds up, we discover a number of home truths about Jacob that make us better understand just how responsible he is in his own demise. He was a terrible husband, who drove his wife away, who would have mental episodes, who was made of nasty things. It’s probably the way he still sees himself as the hero towards the end that drives the final nail into his coffin. He discovers a cop with a grudge and Iris have set him up, and in discovering this he gets an opportunity to turn the tables. Except he only wants to upend one half of the table, which obviously means everything just spills awkwardly, and mostly on himself. All because he continues to think there’s something real there with Iris. Delusional until the end, where his lens shifts and he finally sees the truth. Is this revelation too late? Again, look inside, you already know, man.

Jacob is the protagonist of his story and yet he is the strongest antagonist he faces. Such is noir. There might be cops beating on you, women exploiting you, your car careening off a cliff, but it’s all on your shoulders, and every heavy burden only serves to drive you down over time. In those final moments Jacob understands the velocity of noir, “there was no stopping.”

The story should end with Jacob dying in a fiery inferno, but you get the feeling that might be an end to all the tension, so instead he’s dumped into traction, alive with his disturbed thoughts, and everyone else abandons him. “I’m all alone.” he thinks as we leave him and the fact he finally also understands this is the very worst end that could come from him.

For my money, and it’s always good round these parts, BAD NIGHT is my favourite CRIMINAL storyline whereas THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT [which comes later, after THE SINNERS] is probably their masterpiece [though it’s an inverted noir, one where all the wrong choices work for the asshole and we desperately don’t want them to, and he lives happily ever after, bastard]. But if you are digging this post, or most anything I ever bang on about, and you haven’t sampled CRIMINAL then just get it all. Hell, get every single thing Phillips/Brubaker have done together because it’s all amazing from SCENE OF THE CRIME right up until the recently wrapped FATALE.

But for this one night, imbibe, and know BAD NIGHT is your narrative guide through the darkly invisible terrain of noir.

NOIRVEMBER 001 ~ My Noir

Welcome to my personal spiral, inked with razor steps, and you just can’t stop descending. At the bottom, you know what you’ll see, we all do, and yet we find ourselves there over and again.

I think we all have a problem.

It’s Noirvember in my office all month and you know I don’t suffer alone. So I’m going to write about noir all month long. My noir. My definition, my way, and the things I dig in that ballpit of loaded weapons and bad choices.

noirvember title 1

I love noir, I love writing, and I love some weird stuff, so this month the bar is set to discuss a trinket of noir every day. Sometimes I’ll do the obvious, hopefully sometimes I’ll bring a new slant to a thing you’d never considered within that chiaroscuro light. If you discover one new thing to go sample, rad. If you get to remember something cool from the past, superb. If you just feel hollow inside and start to realise everything around you is false and you are only slowly digging your own grave with every turn, every choice, every thought…

Welcome to my world, there’s only one direction you can move so let’s shuffle along to the end of the whole mess.

I find noir fascinating. There’s something painful and insane about watching someone slowly stitch themselves up in their own body bag through their actions and choices. That inevitable dread we all feel but society says we should ignore. The knowledge it all ends. It’s perfect narrative fuel.

And don’t get me wrong, I love other stuff. I do. Pixar have nearly paid out their mortgage in my brain, and you can’t get much further from noir than them. I dig old dumb action flicks, or sometimes I just want to laugh. I’d wager there isn’t a genre out there I don’t have some respect for a huge work in it. But much like our children, or our wives, we all have a favourite. Mine just happens to be the one that kicks me hardest in my guts.

You see, for me, and for my month, ‘noir’ means the perfect downward spiral for your lead character. I dig film noir, but that’s an aesthetic thing, I’m talking under the hood of the story engine we see the fuse has been lit the whole time and you can drive where you want, do anything with your final moments, but you will be facing forward as the final moment obliterates you. And it’s most likely been your fault all along.

That’s my noir.

Otto Penzler laid it all down perfectly in his Foreword of ‘THE BEST AMERICAN NOIR OF THE CENTURY” [2010] when he wrote, “noir is not unlike pornography, in the sense that it is virtually impossible to define, but everyone thinks they know it when they see it. Like many other certainties, it is often wildly inaccurate.”

This makes me feel better about focusing on my own noir, because I guess there might be shades of black, right?

Penzler goes on to then define noir in a way that’s stuck with me, informs how I see/feel noir, and is certainly how I try to write it also. He wrote, “Noir works, whether film, novels, or short stories, are existential pessimistic tales about people, including (or especially) protagonists, who are seriously flawed and morally questionable. The tone is generally bleak and nihilistic, with characters whose greed, lust, jealousy, and alienation lead them into a downward spiral and their plans and schemes inevitably go awry.”

Maybe now you see why I like noir. Keeping company with the worst people known, watching them fail, hell, making them fail. There’s more to playing god at the keyboard than just letting the characters find themselves. Sometimes you sharpen the punji sticks in the trap, piss all over them, and then lead a breadcrumb trail right across the top. Fun.

And I can’t tell you why I like those bleak ending, it’s not like I enjoy the bad stuff in real life, nor do I actually wish this upon anyone, there’s just something about observing the earnestness of someone, in a peppy or a bleak way, only to see it all disintegrate in their fingers that fascinates me. And it’s that kicker in the end I always focus on, Penzler also writes, “The likelihood of a happy ending in a noir story is remote…No, it will end badly,” and this is because these stories are populated by “the lost characters in noir who are caught in the inescapable prisons of their own construction, forever trapped by their isolation from their own souls.”

I believe writing is therapy and I guess by peering into my darkest places I find myself and hope to liberate something.

I am certain over the coming 29 days you will see my turgid soul laid bare. May you poke and prod it until it rises up to consume you before combusting under the weight of its own drama.

Noir: making me feel better about myself since 1982.

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