“I got my twelve-gauge sawed off, I got my headlights turned off”
I’ve been a fan of noir for years, so when I saw Noir Is the New Black offered from FairSquare Comics, I had to pick it up. The “twist” is that all the creators are black, and the stories star black characters. It’s honestly one of those ideas that I can’t believe hasn’t been done before, but here it is now!
Like the anthology from yesterday, this is difficult to review because of its anthological nature. It’s even harder than the Batman anthology, frankly, because there are a lot more stories to deal with. Some of them, annoyingly, aren’t complete stories, and I don’t know if FairSquare is planning on continuing with this format in the future or if those creators are planning on spinning off these “prologues” into longer-form comics. I wish they hadn’t done it, because most of the teasers are pretty good, and I don’t know if we’ll ever get more of them. The first three stories, in fact, are incomplete, but intriguing. “Vera’s List” by Tyrone Finch and Todd Harris is about a woman, Vera, whose husband died (he was an addict, but it’s not clear if he overdosed or was killed in conjunction with getting drugs) and who is killing everyone she feels is responsible. The POV character is the dead man’s brother, Levi, who’s looking after Vera even though he’s on her list, too. The entire story takes place in a flying plane, and it’s a nice little tense scene, but then it ends with Vera’s list far from complete. Brandon Easton and Dietrich Smith have “Gemini Vision,” which is about a woman searching for her twin sister and finding corruption high up in the ranks of the city’s elite (I know, shocking). It’s another nice teaser, as Lorraine discovers the corruption right at the end, but obviously can’t stop it in the space of a short story. “Ousley” by Greg Burnham and Marcus Williams is about a cop in the 1980s who discovers that the government is working with South American drug cartels to bring drugs into black communities. Another intriguing prospect that can’t be covered in such a small space. There are other “teasers,” as well. In “Neru” by MD Marie and Don Walker, a woman whose soul is being kept alive inside a robot body decides to figure out what happened when she “died.” Trowa Christopher Harris and David Brame have “The Circuit,” which is about a crime syndicate who’s trying to find out who killed his lover. It’s a bit convoluted, but the black-and-white-and-red art is terrific, and there’s far too much going on to be contained in such a brief space. Finally, Brandon Thomas and N. Steven Harris have “C.A.N.O.P.Y.,” which is about a mecha pilot on Mars who discovers that shape-shifting Martians (I assume they’re Martians!) are trying to kill all the humans. So that’s a big-scope kind of thing, too. None of these stories are bad, but it is frustrating that we only get tastes of them without any assurances that they’ll continue.
The stories with an actual ending are good, too, which is nice. “The Black Constable” by Nick Allen and Mervyn McKoy is a clever, twisty mystery set in Jamaica during the height of the sugar baron era. Mikhail Hardy and Eli Johnson give us a tale about a dude going into a known Klan bar in 1947 to avenge the lynching of his friend, a fellow soldier in World War II. There’s a story by Roxxy Haze and Pat Masioni in which Josephine Baker is menaced on her way to an important meeting (I don’t want to give too much away about it!). “Hart of the Matter” by David F. Walker and Mark Bright is a clever tale about a pulp writer who is trying to finish his latest book so he can pay off his debts. As this is noir, it doesn’t end well, but it’s still pretty clever. “Unfinished Business” is by Greg Anderson Elysée, Guile, and Eric van Elslande, and it tells the story of a P.I. hired by a rather fancy dude to investigate a missing person, which leads the detective to the Tulsa massacre of 1921. It’s not the greatest story, but it’s the only one in the book that brings in a male gay character, which makes it noteworthy. Erika Hardison and Karen S. Darboe have “Entanglement,” a fun murder mystery set in 1991. “Gluttony” by Dorphise Jean, Vladimir Alexis, and Walt Barna, is another fun, twisty tale, in which a presidential candidate is terrorized, seemingly by voodoo forces, but it’s not what it seems!!!!! Hannibal Tabu and Quinn McGowan have “Chasing the Night,” in which a young woman stalks an older, rich white guy who likes to pick up young black men in clubs and kill them. Finally, “Igbo Landing” by Melody Cooper and Eder Messias takes place on another planet, where a strange infection is spreading through a colony of explorers.
All of the stories have merit; some are better written or better drawn than others, naturally, but there’s not really any of them that aren’t entertaining in some way. As I noted, I’m a bit frustrated with the “to be continued” ones, but that’s just a minor annoyance. The stories are wildly diverse despite being under the umbrella of “noir,” as we get science fiction, historical fiction, a little bit of fantasy, as well as just straight-forward pulpy stories. The creators use the history of black people in America well, showing how it informs the present without being too blunt about it. The stories are just good, solid noir tales that happen to be by black creators starring mostly black people. It’s a bit sad that even today, that’s a big deal, but such is the state of the world.
If you like noir stories (and come on, who doesn’t like noir stories?), this is a good collection for you. Some of the stories, to be fair, don’t quite fit into “noir,” but those that don’t are still quite good. This is a solid anthology by a group of creators, some of whom are fairly well known and some of whom aren’t, but all have a lot of talent. That’s all you can ask for with anthologies – that the talent is good. It is here, and so this is a pretty good book!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆