Ed Brubaker's crime comics are always fun. Pulp has a fitting name as it slams together a noir and a western story sprinkling in a satisfying enemy getting punched in the face. Like Bad Weekend that I reviewed last winter, this is a standalone story. Brubaker's and Phillips' style is fitting of the title. The art is full of grit and shadow. That description might seem odd when you're looking at the cover of the book with its bright orange hues and confident cowboys, but these are the stories of Max Winters.
Max is an aging pulp writer fighting to make a living when his editor wants to farm out his characters to younger writers willing to work for next to nothing. His heart's bad, and he has a sweet wife he just wants to take care of when he's gone. The less said about the actual plot the better. Brubaker's pacing is perfect here, there isn't a wasted moment. Like all good Noir stories, the reader is as much in the dark as the hero.
The tone of the crime books might not appeal to everyone hoping for bright three color heroes, but the action here isn't stiff and dull shootouts. The action is kinetic and violent. The dialog scenes are excellent staged and cinematic. If you haven't read any of the Femme Fatale or Criminal books, this title wouldn't be a bad place to start. Brubaker and Phillips have an ear and an eye for the modernization of genre tropes, ensuring Pulp never feels like pastiche or parody.
Pulp makes some interesting statements about changing eras, and the people spanning between them. Looking at the parallels between the story's setting and the current era are hard to ignore. Brubaker's prose in the narration is in full Marlowe mode, and it's perfect. The resignation about the undercurrents of the world feels perfect for well, whatever stage of this weirdness we've slid into. I'm sure it's somehow gotten worse between writing this review and publishing it.
What this book does best is tell a very human and grounded story. Too often writers tend to take noir and grind everything into genre tropes until the characters are cardboard cutouts spouting clichés of gibberish slang. Marlowe and other noire writers told stories about sad sacks just trying to get along in a world that seemed to have it out for them. Brubaker catches that spirit perfectly, while connecting it to the gunslingers of the Old West. If any of that appeals to you, go grab this book.
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