10. The Last Days of American Crime (2010)
Rick Remender may have spent the bulk of his early career working on cuddly animated films like Anastasia, The Iron Giant and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle but after his breakthrough comics work on Fear Agent, Remender was soon turning his skills towards crime. After a groundbreaking run on The Punisher that saw Frank Castel becoming Frankencastle, Remender teamed up with Greg Tocchini on The Last Days of American Crime, a caper story set in a near future America where all cash is about to be replaced with encoded bank cards. The Last Days of American Crime is already in the process of being adapted for the screen where hopefully it will avoid the Surrogates treatment.
9. Sweets (2010)
Sweets is an abstract expressionist bit of noir from Kody Chamberlain that is set in New Orleans just before Hurrican Katrina strikes, where a serial killer with a taste for pralines is on the loose and a detective with some drinking issues and a pending divorce is the city’s best hope for catching the murderer. Sweets has more or less propelled Kody Chamberlain into the spotlight and it’s for good reason— this is one of the most inventive, stylish crime books in quite some time.
8. 100 Bullets (1999)
100 Bullets likewise brought Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso to the forefront of comicdom due to its similarly inventive take on crime stories. An epic story of revenge and conspiracy, 100 Bullets contains one killer premise. Characters are given a gun with 100 untraceable bullets and all the information they need to take down someone who wronged them. The story of course wound up being far more complicated than that but with that kind of beautiful simplicity at its heart, what more do you need to pick it up?
7. Scene of the Crime (1999)
An early collaboration between Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (future crime comics superstars who appear later on this list), Scene of the Crime is a character driven mini-series that owes more to Robert Mitchum films than Raymond Chandler. Brubaker’s script paired with Michael Lark’s pencils and Phillips’ coloring makes for a book that’s gorgeous and real. The art in particular is a stand out here, granting the series a poignant melancholy that brings the story of a missing sister to life in a way that recalls truly classic cinema. Lark and Brubaker would bring a similar feel to their next work, Gotham Central, which also featured co-writing from Greg Rucka.
6. Parker: The Hunter (2009)
Less realistic in style but no less classic in approach is Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake’s first Parker novel The Hunter. Known for his classical animation-like style, Cooke is a perfect fit for the cool tones of the world of Parker, a world so appealing the novel has been adapted for film no less than three times, including the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback. But Cooke’s adaptation remains the best, a truly artful take on the story that utilizes all the best aspects of the comic book medium, with its stark, minimalist colors and incredible characterization.
5. Tumor (2009)
Tumor is a crime story with a twist, where our man Frank Armstrong isn’t just fighting time for the life of the missing person he’s trying to find but for his own life. As Frank works through his case, his own brain is working against him, leaving him disjointed and confused, leading to a truly fractured narrative. Josh Fialkov and Noel Tuazon make some bold choices with this work and it pays off. Frank’s condition imbues the book with a kind of fatalism, as the reader gets the sense that Frank won’t be making it out alive, the only question being whether he’ll solve the case before his time is up.
4. Jonny Double (1997)
As the first collaboration between 100 Bullets creators Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Jonny Double would be important no matter its quality. But luckily Jonny Double is a caper story of the highest order, full of astounding twists and turns. It’s the kind of story that simply has to be read, to spoil anything would be a disservice.
3. Stumptown (2009)
Greg Rucka was no strange to crime work before Stumptown. As the co-writer of the well-regarded Gotham Central and a novelist known for his Atticus Kodiak, Rucka is in fact one of the most important figures behind crime’s resurgence in comicdom. But Stumptown, his collaboration with Matthew Southworth, may just be his finest achievement yet. Stumptown is the story of Dex, a private dick with a fierce gambling addiction, who agrees to track down a casino head’s granddaughter in exchange for the clearing of her gambling debts. Vividly realized by Rucka and Southworth, Dex is a truly iconic character, a flawed figure who you can’t help but root for and Stumptown is the kind of introduction that leads to a character’s immortality.
2. Criminal (2006)
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips might be the most important figures in crime comics at the moment. The duo have been responsible for some of the best crime writing in any medium, including the super villain twist on the genre that was Incognito. But their Criminal series has been in many ways their crowning achievement. A group of loosely connected mini-series, Criminal has been a work of intimate, personal examinations of crime lit cliches. Brubaker and Phillips have remained faithful to the iconography and tone of classic crime lit but they’ve given the genre a modern flavor and in the newest instalment, The Last of the Innocent, they’ve even injected a heavy dose of meta flavor by structuring the story around characters who are stand-ins for the Archie Comics stable.
1. Sin City (1991)
But the work that’s perhaps most responsible for kicking off the new crime boom in comics is undoubtedly Frank Miller’s Sin City. Structured like Criminal, with loosely connected stories all set in the titular Sin City, these stories have been Frank Miller’s masterpieces, works so unique and revolutionary that they had no real peers when they were first published. The highly successful adaptation to film by Robert Rodriguez only helped bolster the series’ reputation but the only way to experience Sin City is in its original graphic novel form. Now if only Frank Miller would add a few more entries, as the last story was published more than a decade ago, back in 2000.