Crime Fiction in Graphic Novels

When someone mentions ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novel’, for people not in the know it conjures up images of Batman, Superman or a bunch of folk called The Avengers. But comicdom is so much more than that and has come so far in the past twenty years. New and edgy writers have tackled a number of issues and transplanted them in to the graphic novel medium. Even today it is classed as newsworthy when a character in a comic comes out as gay. This would have been unimaginable in the 1970’s! Despite whether the star of the show is wearing a cape and cowl or a raincoat and fedora, issues of the day are being introduced to reflect the world we live in. No longer is The Joker simply a maniacal clown. The ‘relationship’ between him and Batman has been deeply delved into showing how interdependent they are on each other.

This is a similar scenario for crime fiction which was treated like the poor relation for many decades. Invited to the party but having to use the tradesmen’s entrance, this genre was openly sneered at. With the rise of literary stars P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Reginald Hill and others, they showed that crime fiction could be as literary as any mainstream novel. Writers were tackling the issues of the day and weaving it in to a crime novel. People had emotions and were not stereotypes as with the Golden Age of crime.

The world of comics has not had an easy ride. It hit the buffers in the 1970’s with many titles being cancelled by DC. Marvel wasn’t fairing any better. Times were tough. In the late 80’s I could see comics had stepped up a gear. Some milestones in comic history were to appear; ‘The Killing Joke’, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ ‘Watchmen’ and ‘A Death in the Family’ to name a few. These stories had an edge to them, as though writers were putting out feelers as to how far they could go and how much readers were willing to accept. The stories within these graphic novels expanded and pushed against the barriers. Writers had stepped away from childish adventures wrapped up in a single issue. Now we were treated to sweeping arc stories and peripheral characters had been brought in out of the shadows and fleshed out to show their human side.

In the early 90’s the world of comics exploded (in a good way). As a kid in the 70’s the merchandise was my few Mego figures. That was it. Now we had luxurious graphic novels and a plethora of breath-taking merchandise. Exciting new writers and artists were coming on-board. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place in my childhood heart for Jack Kirby, (who was way ahead of his time in my opinion), Jim Aparo, and the amazing partnership that was Marv Wolfman and George Perez. These guys pushed boundaries, but were limited by the powers that be of their time. It wasn’t until this new influx of talent in the early 90’s that stories in this medium were allowed to flourish and take chances.

One of the most exciting writers of recent times is Ed Brubaker. Well-known as the writer who resurrected Bucky as The Winter Soldier and masterminded the assassination of Captain America, Brubaker has also written within the crime fiction genre. These exciting crime stories include a new take on the gumshoe story in Scene of the Crime a spy story introducing a female version of 007 in Velvet and Fatale, a mash-up of crime fiction with a strong leaning to the macabre works of Lovecraft and Bierce.

Crime fiction in comic strip form had been adapted years before by the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Ed McBain and Mickey Spillane, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, with recent stories from Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. As with all things, the crime genre fell out of fashion, so it is good to see Brubaker reflect the shift in the world of books. Scene of the Crime does not stray far from the Chandler-esque model from the originals but is still multi-layered. More and more these days genres are overlapping with vampires, werewolves, spirits (the supernatural kind) mixing with a crime investigation which is why Fatale is so amazingly addictive.

As with crime fiction, people would sniff at anyone reading ‘comics’ which were not seen as a form of literature. Today it is a huge juggernaut and is now deemed another form of reading. Even Agatha Christie has joined ranks with some of her famous titles being given the graphic novel treatment. With many adults buying in to the double whammy of a thrilling story along with edgy artistry, it can no longer be seen as something ‘just for kids’. This is more mature stuff that is a serious contender and stands alongside any book form.

For me, it is a much more visual way of enjoying a good story. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest – and when I am not in the mood for reading, a graphic novel is a perfect means of entertainment. I get my fix of crime fiction as well as a feast for my ocular sensory system. Graphic novels are part of the massive impact on the world and goes hand in hand with huge blockbusters like ‘Avengers Assemble’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ as well as the many animated films released straight to DVD. And it doesn’t look as though this locomotive is going to run out of steam any time soon. For me, if anyone is reading regardless of what form it takes, then the fact anyone is reading at all is something that should be supported.

Click here to read the reviews of the three Ed Brubaker graphic novels.


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