Four Color Noir: Mr. Murder is Dead / by Patrick Smith

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On the surface the story of Mr. Murder is Dead isn't all that new. A detective in his twilight years gets drawn into one more case by the death of his oldest enemy and over the course of his investigation he uncovers things concerning his past that shake him to his core. We've read that story before, but what makes Mr. Murder is Dead different is how it takes this story and uses it to examine the stories and archetypes of a whole genre: crime noir. If we're being specific, it's an examination of crime noir as it pertains to the comic strip. The book begins this right out of the gate with the main characters name: Gould Kane.

The Kane is a reference to Bob Kane, the creator (along with Bill Finger, but this isn't the time to get into that now) of Batman. No one can dispute that old brooding Bruce Wayne deserves to be among the pantheon of great noir characters. But one character that a lot of people overlook is Dick Tracey, created by Chester Gould. I know Dick Tracy doesn't immediately spring to mind when thinking of great noir characters, but his strips did have many of the motifs that have come to define the noir genre. Tracy is a lantern jawed detective who never leaves a case unfinished and lives in a world of larger-than-life villains who always have a master plan and deformed henchman who know how to hit our hero right where it hurts. And we see those strands of DNA from the Dick Tracy comic strips in the world and man of Gould "The Spook" Kane.

Writer Victor Quinaz creates what feels like an very fleshed out world populated by an interesting cast of characters. And while the level of development vary for most of the cast, Quinaz makes sure that the characterizations between the books main characters Gould Kane and Mr. Murder are incredibly fleshed out. There's a throwaway line near the beginning of the book that takes place during Kane and Murder's first meeting in one of the books flashback sequences:

"Cadet Kane never met a man he didn't think he could change until he met Mr.Murder. But will they meet again???"

This line, in its own way, emphasizes just how much these two characters came to mean to one another: With Kane's perception of criminals forever changed by Murder, and the seeds of Murder's grudge against Kane's disgust with him. Both characters have hurt each other, in some instances more than others and in others in ways the other couldn't possibly know about. It's that kind of dynamic between characters that makes a good read, and its especially impressive considering Mr. Murder is dead that the dynamic still exists. And although the book doesn't work as a mystery as well as some other stories, it makes it clear that the story doesn't hinge on the mystery of who killed our titular villain. Instead it uses that death to examine the lives of both Gould Kane and Mr. Murder and how their interactions defined both men.

Now for the art: I'm always impressed when at artist can change his style to match the story they're telling, and I was downright floored by the fact that Brent Schoonover changed his style FOUR TIMES through the course of this book to sync with multiple flashbacks into Kane and Murder's intertwining pasts. The early years are depicted with rough art style of artists still defining themselves in the 1930s. A clean classic look of "house style" defines the 1950s. A shadowy noir look identifies with the 1970s, and finally, his contemporary style brings the book full circle. But the best part of Schoonover's work on this book is that when you look at the constantly evolving styles within the chronological timeline of these pages, you can see how this world and these characters eventually take the form that they do years later. Much like how the world is constantly evolving, so does his art style.

I'll admit I didn't love everything about this book, but I appreciate what its trying to do. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see where the creative team goes from here, whether it be continuation with this world or the character of Gould Kane. Even if this ends up a standalone story, the book is a good enough read that we should all keep an eye out for all involved and they're future projects.

TL;DR: Although its general story may have been seen before in other mediums, Mr. Murder is Dead works very well as a character study of a very old archetype. Couple that with some incredibly versatile artwork and your in for a good time.

Mr. Murder is Dead is written by Victor Quinaz with art by Brent Schoonover. It's published by (I'll admit it... one of our favorites) Archaia. You can find it in your local comic shops and bookstores or, support Spandexless by buying your copy from our Amazon web store.