Andersen Gabrych (writer for Detective Comics, Batman, Batgirl and Catwoman, but yes, smarty-pants, that was also him acting in Edge of Seventeen, Gypsy 83 and Another Gay Movie) pairs up with animator and artist Brad Rader (best known for directing HBO’s Spawn) to create this noir comic set in 1953 San Francisco. Frank Grissel is a private detective who’s as tough to chew as his name – he pounds the booze, beats his women, talks dirty and can land a punch. Like most noir, this book is bleak and tawdry. The color spectrum is black and white with a lot of gray; the drawing style arcs back to both pulp comics of the fifties and the EC comics that mocked them.
A common noir plot turns on the choice of the protagonist, who given the options of good or evil, is good enough to choose good, but instead lets character flaws and/or sin lead him down the road to hell. Grissel’s bad choice is a skeleton in his closet: his stashed and starved gayness. His denial turns his straight, closeted persona into a brute, especially to the women in his life. He’s abandoned his daughter and the sex with his secretary-cum-girlfriend is more about pain than love.
When hookers go missing and then turn up dead, Grissel decides to take the case. Turns out its not just Grissel who’s harboring secrets. A Catholic priest, a sexy female shrink, a prostitute and a rich Chinese heiress add their own twists to the tale. Grissel’s life unravels to the point of confession, and the lady shrink is in the right place at the right time to make it happen. Thank God he gets his man in the end!
This book works the way a pulp should – a quick read on a Greyhound bus ride – but readers never get quite enough of Grissel’s good side to make us squirm over his ill-fated decisions or care much about his redemption. The characters, both drawn and written, lack that little bit of sweetness that melts readers enough to tolerate all the hangovers, smeared lipstick and chin grizzle. Without that sugar, this is just pulp fiction.
By Andersen Gabrych
Art by Brad Rader Vertigo Crime
Hardcover, $19.99, 176pp