Crime Pays by Dan W

January 24, 2023 Articles

From heists gone wrong, to revenge served cold as ice, there is no honor among thieves, and no reason to skip these series, the best crime fiction and noir comics available today. Whether it’s in ink-black city alleys or the sun-dappled 1980s SoCal coast, here (in no particular order) are some favorite picks.


Likely the most well-known crime-noir comic available thanks to the two movie adaptations, Sin City serves up a series of hard-boiled protagonists across its seven volumes set in the titular city. Marv and Co. battle corruption of the civic and the soul in a sometimes-futile quest for justice and survival. Frank Miller’s writes and illustrates; his chunky and stark black and white line work is inked in silhouette, with occasional spot color for the despicable Yellow Bastard, the Babe Wore Red’s slinky evening wear, or a drug-addled trip to Hell and Back.


Do me a favor and forget that Netflix movie exists. It couldn’t have been a worse take on this excellent sci-fi thriller, where a dystopian government plans to broadcast a signal into the minds of the populace, preventing them from knowingly breaking the law, and a gang’s attempt at a final heist to set themselves up in the brave new world. Rick Remender (Deadly Class) and Greg Tocchini (Low) create a vibrant, yet gritty future where waking up in a bathtub full of ice missing an organ is par for the course.


25 years ago (F*** me, I’m getting old), Brian Azzarello broke into the big leagues with a grizzled anthology obsessed with revenge. Alongside artist Eduardo Risso, 100 Bullets’ Agent Graves approached seemingly everyday people with an untraceable handgun and 100 bullets, offering carte blanche, provided they only use his ‘gift’ in pursuit of laying low the people who wronged them. From the felon, fresh out of prison given the opportunity to bury the snitch who put him there, to the man who goes after the bankers who took everything from him, it’s Twilight Zone, but every episode is about righteous retribution. One caveat though, maybe stop reading it around issue 50, where it loses the thread down a rabbit hole of the conspiracy surrounding Graves and his associates, drawing lines back to the pilgrim days, unless, you know, that’s your bag.


Before his untimely passing a few years back, animator and artist Darwyn Cooke brought Donald Westlake’s (pen name, Richard Stark) classic Parker pulp novels to the graphic novel form. Completing five volumes before his death, Cooke illuminates the 1960s setting with all of the panache you’d expect, in stylish two-tone colors. It’s the professional theft of Ocean’s Eleven (the Sinatra version) minus the glittering lights, and adding vicious mob hits, car chases, and gun play.


I can’t set up this comic any better than their own solicitation, other than to tell you that even if the premise sounds slightly off-kilter, the execution is absolutely on-point.

The Khourys are a classic immigrant success story: A fractious and quarrelsome Lebanese family who carved their slice of the American Dream by becoming the largest distributors of vending machine sandwiches in the upper northern Midwest. Unfortunately, the Khourys gains have been ill-gotten and a branch of the Chicago Irish Mob has come back to collect a past debt. Fealty is demanded, shots are fired, and long-hidden family secrets are fully revealed. Now, Dorothy Khoury, the daughter of the family patriarch is forced to unite her splintered bloodline and fight back.


I could have filled this list just with the work of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who over the last two decades have crafted an oeuvre of crime fiction that continues to impress year after year.

Criminal is their baseline, a series of yarns weaving between the likes of a pickpocket roped into a job that goes south (in Coward), to a felonious twist on beloved Archie characters (in The Last of the Innocent). From that base, consider adding to the formula:

Lovecraftian occult horror and immortal leading ladies, in Fatale

or the facade of Old Hollywood, in The Fade Out

or a hallucinating vigilante killer, in Kill or Be Killed

or a ‘fixer’ in ‘80s California, who will solve your problems for a price, in Reckless

and keep an eye out for the upcoming Night Fever, when a man lost in Europe turns to desperate measures to return home later this year.


*fade out ending*