Crime Comics Without Costumes: Marvel’s Noir series

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Captain America started its run this weekend, following on the heels of numerous other superhero movies, and heralding only more to come if the folks that attended Comic Con have anything to say about it. So, what is a crime fan to do who just isn’t that into spandex-wearing super-humans that run around battling skull-faced Nazis, aliens, and each other?

Well, just as there is a mystery for every taste, there is also a comic, and if you’re a film noir or pulp fan, I may just have a mini-series or two you’ll like.

 

 

In 2009-2010, various writers and artists took Marvel’s more popular titles, such as The Uncanny X-Men, The Amazing Spider-Man, Deadpool, Luke Cage, etc., and stripped away the superpowers and over-the-top costumes, replacing them with trenchcoats, competing crime lords, mob bosses, and any number of tropes we find in favorite P.I novels and classic black-and-white crime movies.

X-Men Noir by Denise Calero and Fred Van LintX-Men Noir
by Denise Calero (art) and Fred Van Lente

Of the series, this one is my favorite. It managed to take a comic that is driven almost entirely by its “gifted youngsters” and reimagine almost everything that made it special. Instead of having a school of super-powered mutant teenagers bent on winning social equality, Charles Xavier is a psychiatrist that runs a gang of wayward youths. He takes in delinquents, and trains them to be sociopaths, believing that it is the next stage of human behavior.

All the classic X-Men are in the series: Scott “Cyclops” Summers with his team consisting of Bobby “Iceman” Drake and Henry “The Beast” McCoy.  Jean Grey takes the role of the innocent (yeah right) femme fatale. The X-Men find themselves at odds with other NYC gangs, one lead by Eric Magnus, the city’s corrupt chief of police and leader of a gang called “The Brotherhood”, Unus the Untouchable, and Sebastian Shaw, whose Hellfire Club controls more of the city than any other group. 

Other notable X-Men make an appearance, including Gambit, as the casino operating Remy LeBeau, and knife-wielding bootlegger Captain Logan, whom you might recognize as Wolverine. The series is great, because it makes the heroes of the X-Men and the typically humanist Charles into a much darker version of their mainstream selves.

Spider-Man Noir by Carmine Di Giandomenico, David Hine, Fabrice SapolskySpider-Man Noir
Carmine Di Giandomenico (Artist), David Hine, and Fabrice Sapolsky

This one started out really well but then gave up on the spirit of the noir line. Instead of Peter Parker, readers get to see Ben Urich.  A newspaper man of the Great Depression, who sees it as his own personal duty to oust any corruption that may take hold in the city, Ben runs a group of informants and calls himself “The Spider.”

Where the series disappointed me was when Ben takes Peter under his wing, and Peter, following a tip meant for The Spider, finds himself in a warehouse where he is bitten by a spider and gains all the super-powers found in the movie version of Spider-Man.

There was a great oppurtunity to make Peter into a self-righteous, socialist newspaper man, fighting the political machinery of 1920s and 30s New York, but they gave up on it and just remade Spider-Man.  For me, Spider-Man Noir doesn’t stay true to the goal of the Noir series concept as a whole… But, if you like mad science and newspaper-flavored noir, give it a shot.

Deadpool Pulp by Mike Benson, Laurence Campbell, Adam GlassDeadpool Pulp
by Mike Benson, Laurence Campbell (Illustrator), and Adam Glass

If you prefer a Cold War thriller, then Deadpool Pulp may be the one for you. In this version of “The Merc With A Mouth,” Wade Wilson is a Canadian citizen who joins the Office of Strategic Services even though he is not American (just go with it, I mean, it is a comic book).  While fighting in the Pacific, Wade is captured and taken to a POW camp where he is subjected to constant torture and interrogation for a year straight. 

As you can imagine, Wilson snaps and maintains only a loose grip on sanity. However, he is able to fight his own way free from the camp along with another man being held prisoner called Cable.  Cable and Wilson form a kind of secret FBI team under Hoover and follow up on threats as they arise from Russia.

I won’t give much else away, but there is a kind of Manchurian Candidate plot.  The art in this one is really good, well, the same can be said for the whole Marvel Noir series, and the story is solid. The only reason I prefer the X-Men version is that the writers didn’t have to change as much to make Deadpool fit into the plan for the series.

Other nods should definitely go to Luke Cage Noir (set in Prohibition-era Harlem) and Daredevil Noir. Both include the more traditional mob-boss villains found in Marvel Comics, like Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk and Lonnie “Tombstone” Lincoln.

Luke Cage Noir by Mike Benson, Adam Glass, and Shawn Martinbrough

Luke Cage Noir
Mike Benson and Adam Glass with Shawn Martinbrough (Illustrator)

 Luke Cage is a man who’s known for being “bulletproof” after a shoot-out with cops, which, despite being shot repeatedly, he survived. Once the one-time gang member gets out of prison, he gets a job as muscle for his long-time friend Willis Stryker, but also takes a job as a private investigator for a man who can make Cage’s record go away.

 

Daredevil Noir by Alexander Irvine and Tomm CokerDaredevil Noir
by Alexander Irvine and Tomm Coker (Artist)

Matt Murdoch was blinded by his father’s assassin when he was younger. Unable to become a lawyer like he’d dreamed,  Murdoch became a circus performer as a high-wire daredevil.  Murdoch leaves the circus and begins work with a lawyer named Foggy Nelson, while also becoming a vigilante, trying to hunt down an murderer called “The Bullseye Killer” who supposedly works for his father’s former boss, Wilson Fisk.

If you love hard-edged tales and visual storytelling, but aren’t wild for the traditional superheroes, check out these Marvel Noir mini-series for crime comics without costumes!


Christopher Morgan works for CriminalElement.com and HeroesandHeartbreakers.com. He lives in New York City, and wishes that he had an archnemisis.

Comments

  1. Jake Hinkson

    Thanks for the intro, Christopher. Looks good.

  2. Megan Frampton

    @Chris, I bought the Luke Cage noir for my husband last Xmas, and he just grabbed it to read. I forgot how gorgeous it is, and since he likes Chester Himes, and noir, and graphic novels, it seemed perfect. I’m gonna snag it when he’s done with it.

  3. Christopher Morgan

    Its good, has a great scene of Cage beating the crude out of a pimp, they play a lot with Cage’s comic history in that story. I belive that Cage and Daredevil were the most well-recived critically, but I still say that X-Men did more with the concept behind the one-shots. They really stood the series on it’s head.

  4. Lloyd Cooke

    Marvel made their superheroes look like pulp mystery men. “Noir” has nothing to do with it and should be nowhere near those covers.

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