Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Noir Burlesque’

“She’s dressed to kill and I’m so ready to fall into her world full of strange fascination”

Titan Comics has their cool imprint, Hard Case Crime, and through that they bring us Noir Burlesque by Enrico Marini (translated by Dan Christensen). Let’s take a look at this sucker!

Marini is a terrific artist, and that’s a big reason why I got this book (I mean, who doesn’t love noir, right, but still, the art was a big selling point). It does not disappoint. The book is set in 1950s, (although it kind of feels more like the Forties), and Marini does a wonderful job showing the divide between urban and rural, before the suburbs really took off. Most of the book is set in the city (New York, maybe, although it’s not identified), but occasionally, the characters are in the country, and it’s a nice and weird contrast. In true “Golden Age of Hollywood” fashion, his young men are all superbly attired and coiffed, his older men are just on the wrong side of creepy, and his women are fabulously gorgeous (even the main character’s sister, who’s a salt-of-the-earth single mom living in the country, is stunning). The entire book is in gray washes except for Marini’s use of red, which feels clichéd, yes, but it still works quite well. The main woman, Caprice, has red hair, but that’s not the only time we see red, and Marini uses it judiciously and fairly cleverly, giving us nice splashes of color in this monochrome world. As is probably necessary in a noir book, Marini uses shadows well, especially when the main character is forced to perform a heist at a gangster’s house and one of his minders starts killing people – Marini doesn’t shy away from the bloodshed, but he also shows some of it with shadows, which is a smart choice. As it’s noir, the way characters relate to each other is also important, and Marini is excellent in that regard. When Pearl, the gangster’s daughter, is trying to escape her captors, she’s able to turn on the seductive charm, and Marini shows why the galoot guarding her would fall for it. Slick, our main character, stays stoic most of the time, because he’s navigating tricky waters, and that helps him deal with more emotional characters. It’s just a classic-looking book, as if Marini drew it based on a Barbara Stanwyck movie from 1947. It’s fun to look at.

The story is a classic noir kind of thing, which means Marini doesn’t color outside the lines too much but which means we get a nice, twisty kind of tale that keeps us on our toes. Slick owes his brother-in-law’s debt to a local mobster, Rex (interestingly, we never see the brother-in-law, as Slick ran him off). Rex, unfortunately, is engaged to an old flame of Slick’s, Caprice, because of course he is. Caprice, it turns out, has her reasons for marrying Rex, and they don’t have much to do with love, and of course, she still digs Slick quite a bit. Rex tells Slick there’s a way to clear the debt all at once – steal something from a rival gangster, Don Zizzi. Slick does, but that becomes an even bigger problem, and in the end, Slick has to figure out a way to get Rex off his back, not get killed by Zizzi, and maybe get away with Caprice? You know the drill!

The plot is fun, but Marini does nice work with the small details. The MacGuffin that Slick has to steal from Zizzi is one of the more inventive MacGuffins you’re going to find, for instance, and it adds a nice touch of weirdness and even verisimilitude to the book. The characters have interesting facets, too. Rex believes Slick wants revenge on Zizzi, but Slick doesn’t, for interesting reasons. The cop who was friends with Slick when they were kids isn’t one-dimensional, either, and he and Slick aren’t exactly friends anymore, but they’re not enemies, either. Caprice and Pearl need to be clever because they’re women in a man’s world, and they’re clever in both different and similar ways. The hoods that work for Rex are varying degrees of menacing and incompetent, but they’re certainly not dull. While the plot conforms to a standard noir template, Marini shows that you can play around inside that template quite a bit, and the book is more entertaining thanks to his deftness with the characters.

I’m a big fan of noir and heists, so I know I’m pre-disposed to like this. But it really is a gorgeous comic, and on the margins, it has some neat things you don’t always see in these kinds of stories, so that’s nice. You can find it below, and remember, if you use that link, we here at the blog get a tiny bit of it to keep the lights on. That’s always fun!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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