As I said in my post about crime comics, I have watched a LOT of Law and Order. Though I often have (big!) issues with the shows, something about the puzzle-solving is addicting. I’ve also gone through Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and Columbo periods. So it’s no surprise that when I started reading comics, cop and P.I. series grabbed me. Here are my favorites.
Watson and Holmes: A Study In Black. Created by Brandon Perlow and Paul Mendoza, written by Karl Bollers, with Rick Leonardi and Larry Strongman drawing. Colors by Paul Mendoza, GuruEFX, Archie Van Buren, and Jay David Ramos. Letters by Taylor Esposito, Nicole McDonnell, Wilson Ramos Jr., and Dave Lanphear.
This modern take on Sherlock Holmes operates out of Harlem, New York City. He’s an eccentric private investigator who shows up an an inner-city emergency clinic asking questions about a kid brought in unconscious. Watson is an ex-military medical intern at that clinic. When the kid’s toxicology screen shows exactly what Holmes told him it would, Watson wants to know how Holmes knew. And he gets pulled into an investigation that quickly becomes dangerous.
This is the first volume of a series, and it blew my mind. All the familiar Sherlock Holmes elements are there, but remixed and made fresh. Watson is a sympathetic protagonist, and Holmes is a delicious enigma. Both artists and all the colorists work together well, creating a tense atmosphere as the case unfolds. I’m patiently waiting for the second volume, which we backed on Kickstarter.
Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka. Art initially by Michael Lark, then by Brian Hurtt, Stefano Gaudiano, Greg Scott, Jason Alexander, Kano, and Steve Lieber. Colors by Noelle Giddings, Matt Hollingsworth, and Lee Loughridge. Letters by Willie Schubert.
Gotham Central is the human side of the Batman universe. It’s four volumes (in hardcover), each focusing on one set of partners in the Gotham City Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit (MCU). These are the cops who deal with regular crime happening every day, and who too often get drawn into the chaos created by the “costumes.”
I fell in love with this series because of the top-notch writing and art. The cases these detectives work are interesting, but the stories Brubaker and Rucka tell are as much about the officers themselves as the cases. There are some truly heartbreaking moments in these books. Both writers make you care deeply about the characters they’re creating. I also appreciated the diversity of the cast. (Bigots in the department call the MCU the “affirmative action” department because many of its detectives are not straight white men.) And finally, both the writers and the artists do a great job maintaining that “am I dreaming?” feeling that you or I would have if we ran into a costumed villain from a movie. For the MCU officers, that’s normal, and yet it doesn’t ever feel normal.
Whiteout by Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber.
U.S. Deputy Marshal Carrie Stetko is stationed at McMurdo Station in Antartica, as far as humanly possible from her past. There’s a murder just before many people stationed in Antarctica will return to their homes off the continent, meaning Carrie has a limited time to solve the case.
British secret agent Lily Sharpe enters the picture because the murderer took something from the ice, and she wants to know what it was. Mayhem ensues as Stetko and Sharpe track an unknown murderer through the ice. If you’ve seen the movie, don’t hold it against the book. Rucka’s two-volume comic book is far superior, not least because there are two female main characters. Yep, it’s true, they swapped Lily for a man in the movie. Eyeroll. This book does an amazing job showing Carrie’s emotional damage and isolation, the PTSD she carries from an assignment gone horribly wrong. But it gives you just enough that you can hope for a happier future for her.
Stumptown by Greg Rucka, with art by Matthew Southworth. Colors by Southworth, Lee Loughridge, and Rico Renzi.
Dex Parios is a private investigator who’s perpetually low on cash. Her relationship with local police is slightly strained. Her younger brother and roommate Ansel, who has Down’s Syndrome, is way more popular than she is. Probably because he doesn’t have an attitude and a chip on his shoulder. When Dex runs up a debt she can’t pay at a casino, the owner gives her a job: find a missing granddaughter. Sounds straightforward, except too many people don’t want said granddaughter to be found. And they’re willing to mess Dex up to keep her out of it.
As previously mentioned, Rucka writes female characters very well. The first volume of Stumptown is full of double-crossing, threats, secrets, lies, and everything else that makes up a good P.I. story. I liked the second volume even better. The third revolves around a pro sport I know nothing about, and Rucka brings on a new artist, so it didn’t click for me as much. I look forward to future Dex stories, though. You can’t help but root for the underdog, right?
Louise Brooks: Detective by Rick Geary.
This is such an intriguing little book. Louise Brooks was a film actress in the 1920s. In 1940, she moved back home to live with her parents in Wichita, Kansas. In this graphic novel, Geary creates a fictionalized account of her time in Wichita, including Louise getting involved in a murder mystery. The murder itself happens fairly late in the book, because Geary spends a luxurious amount of time building Louise’s world and character first. And, it turns out, giving the reader information that will be useful later! Overall the book feels like a crisp modern movie set in the 1940s, recreating the period in detail without feeling dated. Geary’s black and white cartooning is precise and clear. It’s a short, fun read, especially for those fond of the “parlor scene” where detectives reveal whodunit and how they figured it out.
Past Lies: An Amy Devlin Mystery by Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis, with art by Christopher Mitten.
Nunzio and DeFillippis are a writing team we often enjoy, and the Amy Devlin series delivers. Devlin graduated from college and kind of accidentally set up her P.I. practice without a license. Oops. It’s not going so well.
When she finally gets a client, though, it’s a bizarre one. A young actor believes he’s the reincarnation of Trevor Schalk, a millionaire who was murdered in 1982. The murder was never solved. The cop who didn’t solve it isn’t happy to see Amy during her preliminary investigation, but she can tell he’s hiding something, so she takes the case. Unluckily for Amy, there are still a lot of people who want to hide the truth about what happened that night. It’s a fast-paced, interesting mystery that calls for both smarts and compassion. I enjoyed it so much that we bought the next two Amy Devlin books, though it was hard to adjust to the change in artists each time. If you’re looking for a classic detective story with plenty of twists and turns, give these a shot.
Alias by Brian Michael Bendis, with primary art by Michael Gaydos and additional art by Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Mark Bagley, and Rodney Ramos. Colors by Matt Hollingsworth and letters by Richard Starkings, Comicraft’s Wes Abbott, Oscar Gongora, and Jason Levine.
Alias is one of my most beloved comics. As you may generally know if you’ve watched the Netflix adaptation, Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private detective who drinks too much, sleeps with guys she probably shouldn’t, and in general doesn’t seem to have her act together. She’s good at her job, though, and in the comics she’s a very smart kind of compassionate, so you’re always rooting for her. Except when she lets her mouth run away with her.
The Alias comics series is about Jessica moving through this phase of her life and into something new. Amazing to watch it happen. This ran under the MAX line from Marvel, so there are plenty of adult situations and much profanity. Jessica is also drunk during some of her sexual encounters, and the guys she’s with are not, which makes my skin crawl. So fair warning on that front. There are people who hate this series because it’s depressing, and I can see their point, but sometimes you have to see where someone starts before you can appreciate where they end up.
Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead by Steve Pugh (who also did the art) based on a script by Warren Ellis.
Alice Hotwire is a Detective Exorcist in a city where ghosts co-exist with the living. Well, they coexist when the ghosts behave themselves. When they don’t, Alice steps in.
I’m not going to call this comic high art. Alice’s whole pale, thin, hyper-intelligent, angry, gifted, tragic thing is a little trope-y, and the art looks a little too video game. But I really like her, and I like the paranormal spin on the cop genre. I’m a sci-fi loving girl, and a freaky future full of electromagnetically charged ghosts is just cool. So there.
Bedlam by Nick Spencer, with art by Riley Rossmo, colors by Jean-Paul Csuka, and letters by Kelly Tindall.
Madder Red, brutal serial killer, is dead. Right? He was arrested, and blew his own head off with a bomb in a holding cell. Right? That’s what the police said, anyway, and they said they knew who he was. And yet it appears that a man named Filmore Press was Madder Red, and he’s still alive. After extensive, clandestine “psychiatric” treatment and brain surgery in a very strange clinic, he now lives in a halfway house. When he sees news of a new serial killer on the loose, he feels compelled to help the police, because he can see the patterns so clearly. Thus he becomes an unpaid quasi-consultant to Detective Ramira Acevedo as she tracks down a mutilated man with metal wings who’s committing religiously themed murders.
It’s disturbing and creepy as hell. Madder Red’s crimes are shown in detail, albeit stylized. And it’s disturbing that you can’t avoid rooting for Press to continue his normal life and be okay now… while getting a distinct feeling he may not be a reliable narrator. Did the “treatment” even happen? Did it happen the way he shares it with the reader? He’s helping society now, but he’s clearly unwell, and shouldn’t he be in prison for the rest of his life?! I couldn’t wait for the second volume, and I was not disappointed. The ending was like being punched in the stomach. And unfortunately it looks like there may not be another. Spencer writes multiple series, and there hasn’t been a new Bedlam issue since January 2014.
The Fuse by Antony Johnston, illustrated by Justin Greenwood, with colors by Shari Shankhamma and letters by Ed Brisson.
I didn’t like the first page of this book. A homeless-appearing black man who says “ain’t” a lot is killed. It felt like a tired trope. But I usually love Antony Johnston’s writing, so I stuck with it. I’m glad I did, because this is a damn good book. Ralph Dietrich, a 28 year old black homicide detective from Germany, transfers to the orbiting space station known as The Fuse. His partner, an older Russian white woman named Klem Ristovych, isn’t about to give this new kid any unearned credit. Especially when he starts by assuming she’s a civilian.
This is a solid police procedural, set in space, with a touch of larger conspiracy to make my heart sing. Greenwood’s people are angular, dynamic, and interesting, especially when they’re grumpy. The cast is diverse, reflecting what our future in space will actually look like. If you enjoy following detectives around as they patch together clues and solve a case, this is for you.
Copperhead by Jay Faerber, with art by Scott Godlewski, colors by Ron Riley, and letters by Thomas Mauer.
Clara Bronson moves to the planet Jasper, to take over as Sheriff of Coppertown, because she and her son Zeke needed a fresh start. That’s what she says. But she doesn’t say much about herself. Not that her deputy, Budroxifinicus, would listen. He’s too bitter about getting passed over for the job. Seems humans aren’t ready for one of his species to be in a position of power. There are many different species on post-war Jasper, and peaceful co-existence isn’t exactly universal. To be honest, Sheriff Bronson isn’t my favorite character in this series. I’m usually a sucker for strong women, but she’s too closed off, and kind of a jerk. My real interest is in Budroxifinicus. He’s a good detective, a good cop, and I’m curious about how he ended up in this job. (And how long he’s going to put up with Bronson.) Everyone in this book has a past and I suspect at some point, they’re going to collide. Should be interesting.
And that’s the list of my favorite police and detective comics! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends, so more people can find these great books!