Fresh Meat: The Adventures of Apocalypse Al by J. Michael Straczynski

The Adventures of Apocalypse Al by J. Michael Straczynski, Sid Kotian, and Bill Farmer is a comic noir series laced with comedy about a woman tasked with preventing the end of the world (available June 10, 2014).

I love noir and have a soft spot, if it doesn’t seem too much of a contradiction, for comedic noir. In the best of comedy noir, humor leavens the bleak brutality and frank sexuality of its parent genre, bringing warmth to stories that otherwise paint humanity in the basest shades of grey. Interestingly, most of the comedy noir out there today introduces supernatural elements to the mix, with The Adventures of Apocalypse Al being one of the newest entries to this field.

Apocalypse Al is the nickname given to Allison Carter, the latest in a long line of investigators into the supernatural whose remit is preventing the end of the world. Based in Los Angeles, she lives a busy and fairly lucrative, if somewhat lonely, life. She’s fresh off closing her latest case when she’s contacted by the mysterious group known as The Committee. They inform her that some amateur has managed to get his hands on he Book of Keys and is intent on using it to permanently open the doorway to hell, thereby unleashing the apocalypse. Her investigations into the matter bring her to the attention of Ultimate Darkness, a higher-up in the demonic world who, in good noir form, unexpectedly proves to be an ally instead of an enemy.

He isn’t the only one, though, as she encounters other supernatural denizens with questionable allegiances, including her own deceased and slightly vacuous mother. Most of these meetings are played for laughs, and keep the locale firmly in mind, such as this one with an unnamed (and kinda adorable) troll:

Troll: Okay, okay! Give a troll a break! I’m just trying to make a living here. Economically, it’s a very bad time for trolls. Unemployment’s up, the market’s down, bridge crossings are nowhere near what they used to be— [Al pulls the slide back on her pistol] Whoa, back off, Annie Oakley. Look, all I know is last week my brother-in-law, Nuchralus—

Al: Nushralus?

Troll: Nuchhralus… with a chhh, not a sh. You got a very human accent. Anyway, he works in the supernatural supply business. Talismans, charms, amulets, potions, lots of big name clients. I don’t wanna name names, but there’s a reason certain people with no talent become movie stars.

But it isn’t all hilarity. Saving the world is serious business and J. Michael Straczynski works well with his artistic team to illustrate passages of such cinematic scope as this one, where Al confronts the French-accented madman in possession of the Book of Keys:

“Yes? And what are you going to do, eh? Shoot me? I’ve already won! I’ve succeeded in using ze Book Of Keys to open ze door to hell… and I am ze only one who can control it. Shoot me, and you guarantee ze end of ze world. Look below…”

The ground rips open at the base of the towers, a widening hole filled with fire, where lost souls in torment reach toward a heaven they’ll never touch… and millions of dark, winged creatures stare up at me with blood red eyes filled with naked hatred.

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m impressed, but I’m sure as heck not telling him that.

The Adventures of Apocalypse Al is a great book for anyone looking for supernatural noir that doesn’t take itself too seriously with a kick-ass heroine who is as likeable as she is lethal. There are going to be inevitable, complimentary comparisons to Anita Blake and Harry Dresden, but what this book really reminds me of is the television series Angel in its first few seasons (sans vampire detective, of course.) Like Angel, Al is a smart, sassy detective constantly fighting against overwhelming odds to prevent maniacs from ending a world that is, in general, oblivious to her efforts, and she does it with a minimum of neuroses. This first volume of her adventures introduces us to her world and promises even better things to come as the creative team expands upon this solid beginning to hopefully bring us even more entertaining escapades.

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.

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