Crime comics were big in the 1940s and 50s, but when adoption of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 limited the types and severity of crime cartoonists could depict, their popularity waned. In recent decades crime comics have gained in popularity and stature as several talented creators have worked to resurrect and reinvent the genre, both in fiction and non-fiction forms.
Stumptown, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth
Stumptown’s atmospheric art and tone make the city of Portland a character in itself in this modern noir comic with a fantastic female lead. Down on her luck and deep in gambling debt to the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast, hard-boiled P.I. Dexedrine Parios takes on a job tracking down a missing teenage granddaughter for the head of the Wind Coast’s casino operation. Expertly mixing familiar noir tropes with 70s era detective show elements (think Rockford Files) Rucka and Southworth pay homage to detective fiction while managing some new surprises.
The Last of the Innocent: A Criminal Edition by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Brubaker and Phillips have been responsible for some to the best noir crime comics of the past decade. The Last of the Innocent, perhaps their strongest work to date, follows Riley Richards as he returns to his idyllic hometown for his father’s funeral. Richards is restless, unhappy, and plotting to kill his wife. The trip reunites Richards with many of his high school friends, and he flashes back to his youth in scenes depicted in a clean, 60s-pop comics style that cleverly contrasts with the grittier art representing Richards’ present experiences. Fans of Archie Comics will find familiar characters and ideas, but The Last of the Innocent is a long way from Riverdale.
Lovers’ Lane by Rick Geary
Rick Geary has carved out a niche as the master of historical true crime comics, first with his Treasury of Victorian Murder series and now with his ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series. In Lovers’ Lane, a well-liked minister and his not so secret mistress are discovered to have been murdered in a park in 1920s suburban New Jersey. Their bullet-ridden bodies have been posed in a semi-embrace and love letters are strewn about the scene. Geary lays out the facts surrounding the grisly murders and subsequent investigation in precise, clear-headed fashion. As is often the case in Geary’s books, the crime remains unsolved, yet Geary’s extensive research and his skillful structuring and pacing ensures that the story remains fascinating.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Backderf recounts his complicated high school friendship with notorious serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. Drawing from Backderf’s memory and extensive research, My Friend Dahmer offers a vivid portrayal of a disturbed kid and the adults and institutions who failed him. Backderf offers no excuses for Dahmer, but is candid about the cruelty and indifference Dahmer faced from everyone around him (including the author).