Comics feature more than just superheroes, with hard-boiled noir and crime comics being an increasingly popular genre with several great creators.
Batman is obviously one of the biggest superhero and comic book properties out there, and for good reason. The Dark Knight's world is usually one that's far more realistic and grounded than other heroes, and his role as a detective has benefited from this. Still, there are a lot of noir detective comics that don't involve Batman or superheroes at all, and they're great for fans of the Caped Crusader's more down to Earth stories.
The current rise of certain independent comic books has seen detective/noir series gain new prominence. That's combined with several classics in the genre from decades past, including one sinful series from one of Batman's most notable creators. For superhero fans wanting to expand their comic book reading horizons, there's perhaps no better introduction than noir stories.
Even within the scope of superhero comic books, some eschew the more over the top aspects of the genre in order to hone in on more grounded, human circumstances. One great example of this is the police procedural Gotham Central (by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, and Michael Lark). This comic book was not a superhero story whatsoever, despite being set in Gotham City. Instead, it focuses on those who live and work on Batman's turf, namely Gotham's overworked police department that has to deal with the city's horrendous crimes. The series is still acclaimed by fans, and it offers a way to get these types of stories without the usual capes and tights elements.
Another example, this time from an independent publisher, would be the Black Beetle comic books from Francesco Francavilla and Dark Horse Comics. Featuring a masked vigilante in a noir setting, the adventures in these books evoke moody pulp stories from the 1930s. Pulps eventually gave rise to superheroes, with Batman based on less superheroic figures such as The Shadow. Thus, Black Beetle and the similar characters in other books exist as narrative throwbacks, with their haunting art and daring mysteries being far from their more bombastic superhero successors. For those looking to dip their feet into noir-type stories while still keeping one foot in the realm of mainstream comic storytelling, these titles would be the best way to ease into that world.
Speaking of Batman, the creator behind some of his most legendary books has more than a little experience with noir comic books. After all, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One was heavily inspired by noir storytelling in both writing and art, namely in its more stripped down Dark Knight. Beyond the bat, one of Frank Miller's most popular franchises is the Sin City series of graphic novels. These hard-boiled beatdowns between the put-upon denizens of Basin City are mired in shadows, be it through Miller's stylized art or their own slimy actions. Heavily resembling the frames of noir films, Sin City would later become a duo of noir movies.
The aforementioned Ed Brubaker is a constant collaborator of the artist Sean Phillips, and they've produced several noir classics together in different subgenres. One of these is the supernatural noir thriller Fatale, which showcases an eponymous femme fatale whose immortality leads her to encounter a number of horrifying situations. The duo also produced Criminal, which is a heavily realistic and grounded deconstruction of the crime fiction genre. These are just a few of the crime noir collaborations between Brubaker and Phillips, some of which are now primed for movie adaptations.
Though Brian Michael Bendis may be more well-known for his superhero works, he's got a ton of independent noir comics to his name, as well. His many titles such as Torso helped put him on the map — Torso was even based on a true criminal case, displaying the potential of true crime in comics. Even in the superhero realm, Bendis' noir influences are very obvious. His creator-owned series Powers was a police procedural in a world of high-flying heroics.
All of these titles present a way for superhero junkies to experience different types of stories in the same medium, some of which are fairly close to what they're used to. Noir crime comics are especially different compared to the usually more black and white morality of superhero stories, which also feature more straightforward, less messy resolutions. The rise in noir detective comics can be linked to both the growing number of independent publishers and books, as well as the true crime craze in other mediums that shows no signs of stopping. When those used to bright colors and costumes are looking for stories with a few more shades of gray, noir comics are the best option.
Timothy Blake Donohoo is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he majored in Communication and minored in Creative Writing. A professional freelance writer and marketing expert, he’s written marketing copy and retail listings for companies such as Viatek. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing video games, watching documentaries and catching up on the latest Vaporwave and Electro-Swing musical releases.