Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kiss Me Deadly: The Femme Noir Review.

Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries
Writer: Christopher Mills
Artist: Joe Staton
Inks: Horacio Ottolini, Mark Stegbauer.
Colors: Melissa Kaercher, Matt Webb, Michael Watkins
Cover Art: Joe Staton & Alfredo Lopez Jr.
Published by Ape Entertainment

There's just something about the noir mystique that keeps drawing an audience; the rain-slicked streets, the double-crossing, the messy lives often leading to messy ends. The notion of angels with dirty halos walking down the mean streets doing their best to do right in a world that doesn't much give a damn is an appealing motif that endures as a backdrop to entertaining and engaging fiction. Some of the toughest characters in modern fiction have walked those grimy avenues dealing out their rough brand of justice; Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Mike Hammer. Tough characters all, but I doubt they've ever dealt with the kind of trouble the city of Port Nocturne can dish out. Oh, there's the usual amount of gangsters, guns, and murder that's par for the course in settings such as these. But in this troubled city, sometimes it's best to expect the unexpected, the eldritch, and the flat-out bizarre. While the aforementioned gentlemen are doubtless capable of dealing with the mundane, in a crooked city like this sometimes you need someone with a bit more finesse. In Port Nocturne the law may be corrupt but lady justice is quite alive. And justice is blonde.

No one quite knows who she is or where she came from, but on the corrupt streets of a city that could give a damn about whether good people live or die she's the one person who'll stand up for what's right. There are theories, of course. Is she Laurel Lye, intrepid reporter? Dahlia Blue, the enchanting nightclub chanteuse? Or Vanessa DeMilo, the bereaved mafia princess? In a city reeling from crime, corruption, and the twisted results of Science Run Amok, it pays to have a woman like the mysterious 'Femme Noir' on your side.

It's rare that there's a book that can straddle that fine line between noir pastiche and old-school pulp, but Femme Noir manages with a style and aplomb that's to be envied. Writer Christopher Mills has created a world where gangsters, robot crime lords, and jungle queens from monster islands can rub shoulders without detracting from the noir sensibilities of FN's world. The initial mystery of who this female vigilante is draws the reader in, but the adventures themselves are so entertaining on their own that I really didn't concern myself with who the protagonist truly was, only that she kicked ass and took the appropriate number of names.

Artist Joe Staton's work has been something I've come to recognize over the years, and his style works very well in bringing Mills' world to life. Staton's work has a flair that lends itself well to the 1930s-50s style era of the work that is fantastic enough to allow for giant monsters and lost civilizations as well as robotic gangsters, but whose realism in moments of sudden violence works to drive the reality of the dangerous situations our heroine faces home. It's a mix that really works for this setting and makes it highly enjoyable.

The trade itself collects the entirety of the original mini-series which introduced the character, as well as a couple bonus stories and a sketchbook. The foreword by Max Allan Collins (author of Road to Perdition as well as creator of the badass mystery heroine Ms. Tree) provides an entertaining introduction. The book is well put together, with chapter breaks that feel more like the posters for an old-time adventure serial than comic book covers.

I don't want to give too much away, as reading the trade is entertaining as all get-out, but what I will say is that this is a character that deserves an ongoing title, or at least a series of trades like this one. In an industry that seems to rate it's heroines less on how badass they are and more on how little they wear, Femme Noir is a welcome breath of fresh air. She's a lady who'll kick your ass five ways from Sunday, can shoot blazing, twin-pistol death with the likes of the Shadow or the Spider, and doesn't have to dress like the Phantom Lady to battle evil.

Just don't call her a dame.



Christopher Mills said...

Thank you for the kind review. It's greatly appreciated.

Stacy said...

Thank you for the entertaining read. I look forward to more escapades featuring Port Nocturne's protector.