Chip Zdarsky has been a busy man as of late. Apart from being close to playing Reed Richards for Marvel Studios’ reboot of the Fantastic Four, Zdarsky has been writing Daredevil for Marvel and Batman for DC at the same time. In addition, he still has time for Image Comics, where he co-created Sex Criminals with Matt Fraction. Whilst his Substack comic Public Domain is being printed via Image, Zdarsky is writing another detective series: Newburn.
Upon reading the front and back covers of Newburn’s first volume, you may feel a sense of familiarity. Hardboiled detective fiction has been around for forever, and everyone has added their own spin. In recent years, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have kept that spirit alive which has resulted in great work, such as The Fade Out. And in somewhat passing the torch, Phillips’ son Jacob – having worked as a colorist on his father’s comics – has been branching out into illustrating his own series, such as That Texas Blood.
From the first issue, you have the titular Easton Newburn, a private detective who investigates the murder of a man, who stole from his own mafia family, though they may not be the ones who ordered the hit. This initial issue is your typical whodunnit, but it does lay a lot of the groundwork for the overall series, which again, doesn’t reinvent this well-worn genre, leading to the tropes like the cold-hearted detective consulting with the police whilst butting heads with them. However, at the end of issue #1, when Newburn confronts the culprit, instead of informing the police or the mafia, he recruits Emily to be his assistant.
Between the coldness of Newburn and the warmth of Emily, this is your Holmes/Watson dynamic, even going as far as the comic having text-only pages, in which gives Emily writes in her journal entries. However, as the series goes on, the more this world unfolds, showing a side of New York that is ruled by various crime organizations from the Russian Bratva to the Japanese Yakuza. What gets more appealing is the development of the two leads as we slowly understand their own past troubles with law enforcement, which impacts their current lives.
This collection has an overarching narrative, but each issue has its own murder-of-the-week feel. The fun of Newburn is seeing the two leads being thrown into sticky situations – issue #5 is an absolute standout, because it comes out of nowhere without any initial setup. And that sense of fun is reflected in Jacob Phillips’ colored art, which is dripping with noir atmosphere. That said, there are pages where the characters look simplified, especially in sequences that rely on heavy shadows.
Newburn doesn’t attempt to reinvent the genres of noir and detective fiction, but Chip Zdarsky and Jacob Phillips have great fun with its intriguing crime-ridden setting and compellingly flawed characters.
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