I’ve read and reviewed a lot of comics by Ed Brubaker, one of the best writers of the crime genre. After a few of them, often collaborating alongside artist Sean Phillips, you tend to get his style of storytelling, inspired by authors like Dashiell Hammett. There’s more to Brubaker than just crime fiction, such as his work on Captain America, but during his time at Image, he often explored people on the wrong side of the law.
Originally published in 1999 by Vertigo as a four-issue miniseries, Brubaker’s breakout comic Scene of the Crime gets a new paperback edition with an introduction from Brian Michael Bendis, someone who is no stranger to crime comics and refers to this title as his favorite Brubaker comic. Will it be my favorite from the writer’s bibliography?
Living with his Uncle Knut, a famous crime scene photographer, private investigator Jack Herriman is hired by Alex Jordan on the recommendation of a police detective who Jack knows too well. What should have been a simple missing person’s case to find Alex’s sister Maggie instead sees Jack go deeper into discovering the secrets and lies of not only a bizarre sex cult, but also the Jordan family.
It has been over twenty years since the initial publication of Scene of the Crime, and if you’re well-versed in Brubaker’s crime fiction, this comic treads familiar ground. That said, as far as conventional Brubaker narratives go, this is one of the better ones. Although this is an update of the Chinatown formula in terms of noir storytelling, it is the modernity of the characters that make this an engaging tale.
While there are the older adults who somewhat reflect the history of hard-boiled fiction such as Uncle Knut – who may not always get enough attention, but steals every scene he’s in – the story is more about the loss of innocence from an early age. You see this in the characters, from Jack, whose sudden loss of his father scarred him on a psychological level, not just the physical scar on his face; to Maggie, whose involvement with the Manson-esque sex cult has been a part of her from the very beginning. Despite how dark the story gets, Brubaker is still able to apply some humor, which largely comes from Jack’s banter with his male compatriots, such as the other young P.I. who is part of an agency and thus more successful at his profession.
Scene of the Crime marks the first collaboration between Brubaker and artist Michael Lark. The two would go on to work on Daredevil and Gotham Central. This may have been co-inked by Sean Phillips, who would become a more frequent collaborator with Brubaker, but this is Lark’s book. It lacks the murky details that would define the writer’s later work, but Lark’s art is strong enough in telling a story that is told through human expressions.
Ed Brubaker’s breakout 1999 series excellently laid the groundwork for his legendary future in the crime genre.
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