The GeeksverseREVIEW | Scene of the Crime Deluxe HC (Image Comics)

REVIEW | Scene of the Crime Deluxe HC (Image Comics)
Published on Saturday, November 10, 2012 by
Fans of modern crime/neo-noir comics—and great comics craft, regardless of genre—would do well to seek out Scene of the Crime by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, and Sean Phillips, now available in a deluxe, over-sized, hardcover edition from Image Comics.

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Features a gripping murder-mystery plot and an engaging cast of characters.
  • Excellent art brings late-20th century San Francisco to life.
  • Abundant bonus features shed light on the history and creative process behind the story.

Cons:

  • None of note.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Publication Date: November 2012
  • Writer: Ed Brubaker
  • Penciler: Michael Lark
  • Inkers: Sean Phillips and Michael Lark
  • Colorist: James Sinclair
  • Letterer: John Constanza
  • Format: 128 page, full-color, over-sized hardcover. Collects Scene of the Crime #s 1–4 and the story “Gods and Sinners: A Scene of the Crime Christmas Mystery” from Vertigo Winter’s Edge #2, all originally published in single magazine format in 1999 by DC Comics under the Vertigo imprint.
  • List Price: $24.99 (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale on November 14, 2012

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Full Review

Editor’s note: Are you a returning reader wondering why this hardcover collection review isn’t under the Leaving Proof article category? Read this for the explanation.

Prior to his universally acclaimed stints working with Michael Lark on DC’s Gotham Central and Marvel’s Daredevil and his critically lauded creative partnership with Sean Phillips on DC/Wildstorm’s Sleeper, writer Ed Brubaker had actually teamed-up with both artists—with Lark on pencils and Phillips on inks—in Scene of the Crime, a short-lived modern crime/neo-noir title originally published in 1999 by DC Comics under its Vertigo imprint.

The main story in the Scene of the Crime deluxe hardcover is “A Little Piece of Goodnight,” a tale that comprised the four issues of the original Vertigo comic. The standard noir/crime elements are in play: Jack Herriman is a hardluck gumshoe continually hounded by memories of a dark past, his client is a blonde vixen who doesn’t seem to be telling the whole story, there’s the expected cast of police contacts and women caught up in tragic circumstances, what starts out as a straightforward missing-person case inevitably turns into a sordid homicide investigation, and an air of sex and violence heavily permeates the proceedings.

What Brubaker does however, is take these stock features and stretch them into new and inventive shapes. Herriman is an emotionally vulnerable twentysomething ex-junkie who makes his home and office atop a gallery owned and operated by his uncle—a forensic photographer-turned-artist—and his uncle’s long-time girlfriend, both of whom act as lovingly demonstrative surrogate parents as well as mentors to the young investigator. The setting of a late 1990s San Francisco is a departure from the spiraling towers and concrete canyons of more popular urban crime fiction settings like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Even the murder-mystery plot at the heart of the story, informed by themes and local history that can be considered unique to a certain degree to the book’s setting and late-20th century culture, winds along a circuitous path that should keep even the experienced crime/noir comics reader on the edge of his seat. At the risk of sounding flippant, “A Little Piece of Goodnight” puts me in mind of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep by way of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, a story in the traditional crime thriller mold that is also quite contemporary and transgressive.

At the time of Scene of the Crime‘s initial launch, Michael Lark was still in what can be described as his “clear-line” phase, perhaps best typified by his work on the retro-future-styled Terminal City. Sean Phillips, hired as the inker from Scene of the Crime‘s second issue, brings a somewhat grittier texture to the line work in the later chapters, although the overall finish is still quite distinct from Lark’s more heavily-rendered work on Gotham Central and Daredevil. The page composition and the panel-to-panel transitions employed in the book are solid and straightforward, favoring function over flash to the ultimate benefit of the storytelling.

The deluxe edition hardcover has an abundance of bonus features not found in the 2002 trade paperback published by DC/Vertigo. “Gods and Sinners: A Scene of the Crime Christmas Mystery,” originally published in Vertigo Winter’s Edge #2, a holiday-themed anthology comic that saw print a few months before the launch of the Scene of the Crime series, is reproduced in full. The story is surprisingly taut and dark, appropriately poignant while avoiding the maudlin tropes readers have come to expect from holiday entertainment fare. Also included in the volume are scans of the raw pencils and inks and a multi-page retrospective essay written by Ed Brubaker entitled “The Untold Story (and Scene of the Crime),” that recounts in detail the history and creative process behind the book and includes scans of the original story proposal for “A Little Piece of Goodnight” that Brubaker submitted to then-Vertigo editor Shelly Roeberg (née Bond).

Beyond its historical novelty as an early showcase of Brubaker, Lark, and Phillips’ talents as collaborative storytellers, Scene of the Crime stands firmly on its own as a technically proficient work of sequential art and an excellent piece of modern crime/neo-noir fiction. Highly recommended.

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