Hit # 1 is a Bloody Love Letter to Noir

BOOM_HIT_001v1_BHit # 1

Written by Bryce Carlson

Art by Vanesa R. Del Ray with colors by Archie Van Buren

Published by Boom! Studios

As more and more information comes to light about the bloody war between the LAPD and the Mob in 1950s Los Angeles, it seems like gangland stories are becoming increasingly fashionable. It’s not too surprising, after all there is something appealing about men in snappy hats dealing out covertly sanctioned justice from the barrel of a Thompson, while dark eyed dames smoke suggestively in the background and pug-nosed mobsters flip tables in anger, especially in these days when the line between good guys and bad guys is becoming increasingly blurred.

Which isn’t to say the LAPD’s tactics in dealing with the Mob made them look like peerless paragons of virtue. Case in point: “Hit”, a new comic from Boom! Studios that focuses on an LAPD hit squad, one of many secret groups tasked with filling body bags and raising a triumphant middle finger to red tape, due process and right to a fair trial. Under writer/creator Bryce Carlson, “Hit” is as true blue a noir/gangland story as possible, with virtually every trope present and accounted for. But “Hit” doesn’t feel tired or hackneyed, like it probably should. There’s a passion here, a love of the pulp yarns and noir classics that made the genre such an indispensable part of Western culture. “Hit” feels like a love letter to Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart, but with a violence and intensity that keeps it from ever feeling hokey or dated.

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Our “hero” is Harvey Slater, LAPD detective and professional Loose Cannon Cop on the Edge. Slater, a member of an LAPD Hit Squad, feels more gangster than cop, gunning down targets without mercy, and his partner the meat hook-wielding Stickey, seems cast in the same mold. Slater and Stickey spend the issue crisscrossing LA, investigating murders and performing them in equal measure, but there isn’t much hint of a larger plot at work until Bonnie Brae, the daughter of Slater’s Captain and every wayward Noir femme fatale rolled into one, blows into town and brings trouble into Slater’s otherwise ordered world of suits and corpses.

From that description, it should be obvious how determined “Hit” is to evoke all the tropes and formulas that one would expect. Bank robbers flee through the streets with streams of loose bills trailing behind them like a 50s-era Nyan Cat, bodies litter the floors of cavernous art-deco mansions, bars seem so full of smoke it’s a wonder lung cancer isn’t right there on the menu, and women….women ain’t nothin but trouble. Add to all this a level of violence and grimness ranging from bloody meat hook murders to corpses with stomachs bursting with smuggled drugs. Make no mistake, this isn’t your grandad’s gangland.

“Hit” seems gleeful in all of this, excited to the point of mania to bring us to another tried and true gangland trope, and its enthusiasm gives the book a kind of manic joy, a tangible passion for the subject matter that makes the issue hugely entertaining to read. One can practically hear Bogart’s cool, nasal voice drawling out the (surprisingly third-person) narration.

The art echoes this, with shadows heavier than a lead sperm whale permeating almost every panel.

With tv shows like Boardwalk Empire on the small screen and Barry Levinson’s Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass coming to theatres next year, it seems like Gangsters are trying to come back in. With “Hit” leading the charge on the comics front, this hopefully means good things ahead. Whether or not this attempted revival really catches on, at least we know one good comic came out of it.

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