The Criminalist: Crime Fiction, Framed

My newest column at the Barnes & Noble Review looks at the lineup so far from Vertigo Crime, which kicked off last summer with Ian Rankin’s DARK ENTRIES and Brian Azzarello’s FILTHY RICH. But things have really pushed forward since the beginning of the year, and I take my assessment all the way up till Jon Evans’ hockey-themed THE EXECUTOR (not to be confused with the Jesse Kellerman thriller of the same title – which I happen to have reviewed for my most recent LA Times column.)

I’ve been itching to write about Vertigo Crime since, well, October 2008, when various folks offered a sneak preview of the line at Bouchercon in Baltimore. Suffice to say I’m very much looking forward to future projects that deliver the pulp goods – but also stretch beyond the usual constraints of form and story.

Here’s an excerpt:

Vertigo’s two launch titles last August exemplified comics’ dual

track, since Ian Rankin’s Dark Entries dropped John

“Hellblazer” Constantine into the emotional quagmire that is a reality

show (and illustrated, via Werther Dell’Edera’s broad-brushstroke

artwork, the torments awaiting the contestants) and Brian Azzarello and

Victor Santos’s Filthy Rich mined Nixon-era

exploitation films for its caustic look at fast-fermenting celebrity

culture. Both books, however, traveled the common road paved by the

ethos of noir fiction, where a decent ending is one where the

protagonist doesn’t end up in hell. To drive the retro-pulp point home,

these and future Vertigo titles deployed a black-and-white color scheme,

emphasizing contrast over nuance, overt violence over psychological


Having set its tonal template, Vertigo Crime laid low for a few

months before starting in earnest at the beginning of 2010.

Read on for the rest.