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IDW Publishing ventures into noir fiction genre with their adaptation of The Killer Inside Me and ComiConverse Contributor Darryll Robson takes a look at issue #1.
Review: The Killer Inside Me #1
Jim Thompson was a crime writer who was largely unrecognised during his lifetime. He wrote harrowing fiction that dealt with the darkest regions of Man’s soul. Some of his work has been transposed into film, work such as The Grifters, and now IDW are reimaging his work for comic book readers.
As the story opens the reader is introduced to the pie eating Lou. He is the local sheriff of a small American town. He holds a conversation with a diner owner about how he helped the man’s son but over the top of this is Lou’s internal monologue which paints a much different picture. Lou is a man constantly at war with himself, fighting down the urge to strike out and even kill those around him.
The opening portrays Lou as a smart man; a sneaky man; but above all a dangerous, self-important and violent man. This character is fully explored throughout the rest of the issue. Firstly, he heads out to a local prostitute’s house, initially with the intention of running her out of town, but then ends up using her for his own revenge fuelled plans. He weasels his way into her life and into her bed. There is nothing kind about his treatment of her, on their first meeting he strikes her, spanks her and finally sleeps with her, but her need of his protection is too great to shun him. Joyce Lakeland is a damaged character who uses seduction to get what she needs, in contrast to Lou who uses brute force.
As the story unfolds the reader discovers how these two characters a linked. Lou’s brother was killed in an accident many years earlier, an incident that everyone knows wasn’t really an accident. The person ultimately responsible is Chester Conway, a business man who has most of the town in his pocket. Conway’s son Elmer has become infatuated with Joyce and Chester wants Lou to help pay her off while at the same time Elmer wants Lou to help him escape with Joyce.
By the end the tangled web is all in place and The Killer Inside Me central character makes his first move towards revenge.
The best way to describe this comic is that it is Brutal. That’s not just the violence, of which there are several examples, but the way in which the narrative deals with the central characters. Lou is painted expertly as a psychopath while Joyce is broadly depicted as a victim of men, Conway is a cliché of crime fiction and Elmer is a smitten wet fish.
In all honesty there is not much to like in any of the characters, although sympathy clear rests with Joyce, but Lou can only really be described as a Bastard. He is all sweetness and nice on the outside while underneath a turbulent monster is clawing to get out. Devin Faraci’s script has an easy job portraying this by simply overlaying an internal monologue over the character’s everyday conversations. The first person monologue is a classic noir writing style but when transferred to other mediums it is so often a hindrance. However, Faraci manages to make it work brilliantly in The Killer Inside Me because the inward and outward speech add different levels of interpretation to the story unlike, for example, the pointless voice over in the original Blade Runner or the recent issue of Lucas Stand.
One of the drawbacks of adapting work from this period of American history is the dubious treatment of the female characters. IDW had a similar issue with last years The Incredible Shrinking Man. Some writers appeared to be ahead of their time when it came to female leads, writers like Raymond Chandler always managed to elevate the woman in his stories above that of Gangster Moll, or femme fatale. Unfortunately, Joyce appears to be nothing more than a means to an ends, used by Lou for her relationship with Chester’s son. She is total mistreated but continuously goes back for more, a kind of 1950’s Harley Quinn character with her abusive relationship with the Joker. It maybe that she will in future issues rise above this unfortunate role, especially as Faraci appears to have dropped Lou’s wife from the story, and be something more than in the original novel. But as it stands in the first issue she plays the hapless victim which is an old and tired cliché.
Vic Malhotra’s art work is plain enough when capturing the small town America setting and unsettling when glimpsing the darkness inside Lou. He has a cinematic style that draws the reader in through wide shots that then hone in on details to emphasise elements of the narrative. Well-designed layouts give the story it’s pace, slowing it or speeding it as needed. The scenes of violence are quite shocking and brutal, thanks in large part to the shift in background color by Jason Millet. The moments where Lou strikes Joyce are disturbing, soaked in deep orange and reds, while the seductive scenes are somewhat cooler with blue washes.
Overall The Killer Inside Me is a clever, well drawn comic that is host to a number of unredeemable characters. The harshness of the lead and his broken spirited plaything may not be to everyone’s liking and to say the comic is enjoyable would be a lie; this is not a story that is meant to be enjoyable. Its hard-boiled fiction at its best but also at its worst. The creative team of Brubaker and Phillips are creating modern noir fictions over at Image which sit easier in the 21st century, whereas The Killer Inside Me is haunted by the cruelness and dismissiveness of the early 20th century. If you enjoy old school noir in its original format or have an interest in 20th century literature in general, then this is a definite must read.
Have you read The Killer Inside Me?
What do you think of the noir fiction genre?
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Darryll Robson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Occasionally he might use his Twitter account: @DarryllRobson
Source: IDW Publishing
A harsh story packed with unlikable characters. The script and art are tight but some of the original material hasn’t dated very well. A promising start.