For more than a decade, Hard Case Crime has been the preeminent publisher of fantastic pulp fiction. Gathering a diverse array of classic hard-to-find/never-before-published material from the masters of the genre as well as new fiction from today’s brightest stars, Hard Case’s ever-growing library has been keeping readers rapt since its initial release of Lawrence Block’s Grifter’s Game in 2004.
Late last year, Hard Case Crime made its first foray into the world of comic books with two five-issue story arcs – Triggerman by Walter Hill and Matz (illustrations by Jef) and Peepland by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips (illustrations by Andrea Camerini). Did they live up to the hype? You better believe it.
Set during the 1930’s, Triggerman tells the story of Roy Nash, a hired gun who is doing time in Joliet for murder before being sprung from prison by a mob boss. But, Nash’s newfound freedom comes with a stipulation: find three men who stole money from the Chicago mafia, deal with them as he sees fit, and retrieve the cash. Dressed for success, pockets full of spending money, and tommy guns at the ready, Nash sets off on a cross-country trek to track down his targets, all the while pining over a woman he was dating prior to his imprisonment and hoping he can find her along the way.
Hill’s story struck all the right notes, capturing the essence of the era to near perfection while crafting a story that stayed true to its noirish roots by being dark and gritty, but also introducing a main character who had a soft side despite being a killer. It made for an interesting dichotomy, one that I appreciated just for the sake of having some variety in what would otherwise have been a clichéd protagonist. For the most part, Jef’s artwork was an excellent complement to the story. My only complaint would be that many of the male characters (outside of Roy Nash) looked nearly identical, making it difficult to discern who was who at times.
Overall, I think Triggerman was a home run, encapsulating everything a reader would expect in a storyline coming from Hard Case Crime. I heartily recommend it, giving the series an 8 out of 10. Individual issues are currently available, with a trade paperback that collects all five issues coming out on May 10, 2017.
Story-wise, Peepland is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Triggerman, yet it’s no less entertaining. The story focuses on Roxy Bell, a woman who is working as a peepshow entertainer in New York’s seedy “red light district” in the mid-80’s. Between shows a man known as Dirty Dick, seemingly running for his life, slips into Roxy’s booth and slides a VHS cassette into a chair’s seat cushion before leaving on a mad dash again. When Dick ends up dead later that night, Roxy realizes she’s holding a ticking time bomb once she views the tape and sees that Dick – who goaded women into mugging for the camera, then filmed them a la “Girls Gone Wild” – recorded a murder in the background of one of his scenes. The tension ratchets up as Roxy and her on-again-off-again boyfriend race to stay alive as numerous factions of people are trying to locate the tape and eliminate its viewers.
Christa Faust has written a couple of novels for Hard Case Crime, and she’s shown herself to be a very capable writer who isn’t afraid to shine a light on the dark underbelly of her characters and the cities they live in. Peepland feels even more authentic than her previous work, which makes sense: she once spent time as a peepshow worker, and knows the ins and outs of the business. As for the artwork, Andrea Camerini does a fine job of illustrating the cat-and-mouse game that is played by the protagonists and their pursuers, as well as capturing the sleaze of the district they live in.
As of the time of this review, the fifth and final issue of Peepland has not been released yet. That being said, I feel comfortable stating that Peepland, like Triggerman, gets an 8 out of 10. Unless the finale really takes a dive (which I don’t see happening), Faust and company have created one helluva wild ride through the mean streets of New York. To read the series for yourself, you can find individual issues on sale now, or wait for the trade paperback that is scheduled to be released on June 14, 2017.
After reading these two amazing story arcs, I’m left to wonder what took Hard Case Crime so long to pull the trigger (pardon the pun) on a series of graphic novels. While the stories are ultimately what readers want when they grab a Hard Case Crime novel, the cover art has always been a welcome addition to the books; a closer marriage between story and illustration is just what the doctor ordered, and I’m thrilled to see Hard Case Crime has done so well with its initial offerings. Here’s to many more quality titles in the near future!
Until we meet again…