Scene of the Crime (Image Comics)

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Years before Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark teamed up on Daredevil and Gotham Central, they crafted this noirish crime mystery that previewed Brubaker’s award-winning series Criminal.

 

 

128 pgs., color; $24.99

(W: Ed Brubaker; A: Michael Lark, Sean Phillips)

 

Meet Jack Harriman. In his early 20s, Jack is a private detective inSan Francisco, living and working out of an apartment in an art gallery, Scene of the Crime, owned by his uncle Knut, a well-known crime photographer. Jack’s father was a policeman for the SFPD, and his old partner, Paul Reynolds, sometimes sends a case Jack’s way.

 

sceneotcrime coverOn the advice of Reynolds, a young lady named Alex Jordan contacts Jack to try to find out what happened to her younger sister, Maggie, who was last seen on her way to a meeting for a local commune, Lunarhouse. This isSan Francisco, after all, and some people are still trying to keep the hippie years alive. Jack pays the commune a visit, but gets an unfriendly welcome by a young man in a Rasta hat who thinks he’s a narc, and only vague responses to his questions about Maggie from the commune leader, Mitchell Luna. As Mitchell puts it, “Lunarhouse is a free community, and that means free from all of society’s little strings. We don’t ask for two forms of ID and a credit card.” Another commune member informs Jack that she does remember Maggie, but doesn’t know where she’s gone.

 

Going through the trash, Jack finds a message from Maggie and traces it to a rundown motel. He convinces Knut to go on stakeout with him, and finds Maggie easily enough, but the next morning she’s dead. When Jack goes back to Lunarhouse, it’s empty. Clearly, there’s something more going on than just a runaway and a hippie commune gone sour, and unraveling that mystery is the main arc of Scene of the Crime. Jack’s backstory is interwoven with his investigation of this case, and we learn why he’s such an old soul even if he looks pretty much like any number of guys in their 20s.

 

I really like the art of Scene of the Crime—Michael Lark (with an inking assist from Sean Phillips) comes as close to capturing the film of film noir in comics form as anything I’ve seen, and his work also gives you a real sense of being in San Francisco. James Sinclair’s colors are muted, and heavy shading features in many of the frames, reminding you that it’s a dark story even when the sun is shining. The story elements (duplicitous blondes, rain-swept streets, and busted noses) are traditional to noir, but mixed together with enough imagination that the story feels fresh and familiar at the same time. I particularly like the fact that Jack is a real wuss when it comes to fighting—in fact, if his uncle and various other parties did not come to his assistance after he gets in over his head (something that happens regularly), he’d never live to finish a single case.

 

Scene of the Crime first appeared as a four-issue miniseries, published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint in 1999, and is now available as a hardcover volume published by Image Comics. In 2000, it was nominated for an Eisner for limited series. Extras in this edition include the original comics covers, the short story “Gods and Sinners,” and an introduction by Brian Michael Bendis. You can see a preview of Scene of the Crime right here at PLAYBACK:stl: http://www.playbackstl.com/previews/11876-image-comics-111412–hard-hitting | Sarah Boslaugh

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