‘Scene of the Crime’ and ‘Rock Bottom’ Find New Homes At Image [Review]
Here’s something that’s never been said before: it’s an interesting week for reprints. On Wednesday, Image Comics released new editions of two books which used to have homes with other publishers – a hardcover edition of Rock Bottom, the OGN by Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard that used to be with AiT/PlanetLar, and a deluxe hardcover collection of Scene of the Crime by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Sean Phillips, which was originally with Vertigo. And even though you’re probably already selling blood, semen, or ovaries (or all three?) to pay for this disgusting little “comic” “book” habit, you’d be well-rewarded if you squeezed out a little bit more for both of these beauties…
The last decade-plus has seen some of the best crime comics published since the days of Jack Cole’s “Murder, Morphine, and Me,” and the stark tension of Johnny Craig’s pages in EC’s Crime SuspenStories. Though the eighties and nineties flashed with rare bright spots of noir, those eras were overall bereft of great crime stories. The 2000s, however, were stupid with them.
Over the last fifteen years, crime comics have experienced a rebirth and an evolution that’s produced some of the most enduring stories in recent memory. David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker adaptations, Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera’s Scalped, Brian Bendis’ Torso and Powers, Whiteout by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets and many others have peppered the last decade-and-a-half like buckshot, with smart, edgy, tightly-written stories from the fringes of society. Now, a second generation of revivalists have thrown their fedoras into the ring with great books like Chew, Sweets, and Tumor, and more than a dozen years after the genre’s renaissance, high quality crime comics continue to be pumped out at rate that once seemed unheard-of. Scene of the Crime may have a lot to do with that.
Back in 1999, good crime, noir, and detective books were definitely trickling around the outer edges of the mainstream – Stray Bullets was a critical success and Whiteout was a smash – but nothing captured quite the same energy or attention as the first issue of Scene of the Crime: A Little Piece of Goodnight. Written by Ed Brubaker at a time when he was only beginning to get recognition, and drawn by Terminal City architect Michael Lark (Sean Phillips came on as inker for issues 2-4, right after The Minx was cancelled for being too awesome), the book showed readers something they had never seen before: a detective who looked like them. The protagonist was a modern answer to a Raymond Chandler detective while never looking or sounding like one – just a guy in his late twenties who looked like that dude in that band that sucked.
And it. Was. Perfect.
Jack Herriman is a private investigator with a past full of loss, heartbreak, and darkness, and who is nevertheless instantly likable and easy to relate to. A hero who gets the crap kicked out of him and doesn’t even get laid. Living above the art gallery of his uncle Knut, a legendary crime scene photographer, Jack works a kidnap case that soon becomes a murder, drags him through the dark side of San Francisco’s hippie scene, and sucks him into a family history of pain, betrayal and sickness that dredges up bad memories and unresolved loss from his own life.
The new edition from Image collects the Little Piece of Goodnight mini-series, the amazing short story “God and Sinners” from the Vertigo: Winter’s Edge anthology, a foreword by Brian Bendis, and scores of additional material. And while ComicsAlliance doesn’t condone lying, cheating, or stealing to pay for it, it would certainly be keeping in the spirit of things.
Rock Bottom is about a man named Tommy Dare who turns to stone and does not go on to fight crime or battle super villains. Because Rock Bottom is not a superhero story – it’s a human story about life, and all the mistakes, regrets, and chaos that it entails on the way to an inevitable conclusion.
A pianist with a popular band in Los Angeles, Tommy Dare is not instantly likable or easy to relate to. In fact, he’s kind of a scumbag. He’s fresh off a divorce after he cheated with another woman and got her pregnant not long after his wife suffered a miscarriage. He’s a selfish man-child obsessed with hanging on to his youth and eager not to get his “ass raped” in court. His words. So if something bad were to happen to Tommy, you couldn’t necessarily be faulted for not caring. Until it does. And you do. Beginning with his most valuable commodity, his fingers, Tommy Dare slowly, literally, turns to stone. It’s not the genetic gift of mutation, it’s not a superpower. It’s a terminal disease, and it’s going to kill him.
What unfolds is an emotionally powerful drama that unearths everything we try so desperately to ignore. Failure, insignificance, loneliness, and that paralyzing fear of the unknown, the abyss that’s always nearby and also just out of sight. It’s completely unlike anything else written by Joe Casey – who holds his love of black humor and frantic action in reserve to quietly explore the psychology of a man hurtling towards death. Casey’s script sucks you in like a vortex and holds you there; hits every pitch perfect note that you didn’t expect but couldn’t avoid. It’s arguably his most powerful work.
The same might be said of prolific artist Charlie Adlard, who employed a style on Rock Bottom that suited the subject matter so perfectly, it’s impossible to imagine any other way. Done in black and white with jagged, scraggly lines, the only shading in the book is the increasing amount of slate gray on Tommy’s body. The affect is arresting. Don’t let his work on White Death or a zillion issues of The Walking Dead fool you — Rock Bottom is the bleakest thing Adlard has ever done.
A powerful metaphor for terminal disease, Rock Bottom is not a superhero story. It’s a complex, melancholic human drama that you won’t soon forget.