Crime fiction can be great (just look at Ed Brubaker’s work on Sleeper and Fatale) but historical crime fiction?
I take a look at a soon to be released historical crime fiction set in the roaring ’20s about two unlikely partners who become assassins. Is it good?
Miss: Better Living Through Crime (Humanoids Publishing)
Originally published in French between 1999 and 2002, this collection is 192 pages long and quite the epic. I say epic because of the time period in which it takes place and how in many ways it reads like genuine history. The details Miss: Better Living Through Crime capture feel incredibly real. The characters, although a bit progressive for the times, are well-defined and bolstered by thorough back stories.
This book starts with a foreword from Ed Brubaker himself who gives it its just due props. I still remember a few of the essays Brubaker wrote about Film Noir, one of my favorite genres, and the importance of crime fiction. Needless to say his support for this book means a lot. From there the book begins and it’s a fantastic start.
Writer Philippe Thirault starts the book with a focus on the female protagonist named Nola. She’s from a poor family, a father who’s a drunk and a mother who’s a well known prostitute, and its here she gains her hard-edged view of the world. The story is tragic and makes the character instantly likable and interesting. Essentially this entire book is about her rise up from a hopeless little girl to a self made woman who doesn’t need love, but wants it. This character opens the book strongly, but as the pages turn she takes a bit of a back seat to the other protagonist, an African American man named Slim. He’s a fast talker and accustomed to working in the crime business. He’s on the verge of getting shot when Nola meets him and they quickly start working together out of necessity and they’re a good team. He came from a hard childhood too and the two characters connect further through their similar persecutions: Slim having to deal with racism and Nola dealing with sexism.
It’s hard being an assassin.
It’s too bad Nola takes a bit of a backseat since she opens the book so strong. You want to learn more about her, but it’s as if Thirault had nothing else to say about her. After we establish her messed up childhood and her taking control of her own life she’s just sort of there working with Slim. Beyond that she’s a bit in the background as Slim takes on more as her main gunman. Ultimately it would have been nice to see Nola take on more of the shooting, but it’s not like she’s disrespected as the story goes on.
A quick Google search shows this comic was on track to be made into a motion picture by Spike Lee back in 2010. No word on the film, but if it’s not out yet it’s probably dead, which is a shame. The comic contains four major arcs each focused on a different target for Nola and Slim to take on. It brings them to New York mostly but also Cape Cod and as they traverse the mean streets we get to see how hard it was living back in the ’20s. Because it was originally published as 4 installments the story never feels boring and certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome. Side characters come and go and come back again, which is refreshing as it helps keep the story on a track towards something a bit bigger. Generally it’s just an exciting time in American history given the race relations and prohibition and here’s to hoping someone can capture that in a film some day.
Seems to happen a lot in films doesn’t it?
The art by Mark Vigouroux and Marc Riou is rather superb, capturing the ’20s excellently through fashion and setting. There aren’t any splash pages or terribly action packed moments, but this is in large part due to the story being a crime noir with the drama resonating from the characters and the discoveries. The look and feel reminds me of Sean Phillips work on The Fade Out and Fatale. Both are crime noir comics and both are all about characters interacting with one another a lot of the time in the cover of the night. There’s a darkness to Miss that’s quintessential noir and it helps set the mood and tone as one where anyone can be listening and a plan can fall apart at any moment. On top of this the pages tend to hold many panels giving the read a slower pace that overall makes you feel there’s more bang for your buck.
Is It Good?
Fantastic crime drama that catapults you to another time and place. This one gives Road to Perdition a run for its money.
Look for it wherever books are sold July 1st.