I do like a good crime comic. Criminal, Sin City, Stray Bullets, 100 Bullets, Harker, Gotham Central - all favourites. Some of the biggest names in comics do their best work when dabbling in the murky underworld. Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Brian Azzarello, David Lapham... they're always slumming it when writing superheroes. Their hearts belong in the gutter.
Short story anthologies are usually a much harder sell though. For every gem you usually have to wade through two or three dullards. I can't remember the last time I picked up an anthology book like this where every story was a winner... this one comes closer than most.
The book kicks off with a black-hearted Stray Bullets adventure, written and drawn by Dave Lapham, in which Virginia Applejack gets kidnapped and locked in a trunk by former schoolmates with a grudge... and seedy intentions. No previous knowledge of the Stray Bullets world is required, but this is still a great taster for that book... as well as setting the nasty tone for what's to come.
Other familiar creator-owned strips in this collection include Dean Motter's Mister X, Paul Grist's Kane, and an excellent Criminal short by Brubaker and Sean Phillips. All are worthy stand-alone stories that may well entice readers to check out the regular books. But good as they are, there's even better to be found here...
Highlights for me included Jeff Lemire's The Old Silo in which a destitute farmer stumbles across one last chance to save his land from the bank. The New Me by Gary Phillips and Eduardo Barreto (possibly the best artist here - though competition is fierce) sends a gigolo gym instructor to a revolting fate. Then Alex De Campi and Hugo Petrus give us Fracture, a dark twin to Sliding Doors which carries a sting in the tale for anyone stuck in the 9-5 drudgery of commuting to and from a thankless office job.
OK, not every story's a classic. A couple are pretty forgettable - including, surprisingly, Brian Azzarello's The Bad Night which leads to a cheap comic geek gag conclusion, though it's mitigated by excellent art from Gabriel Ba. Ken Lizzi's prose story Trustworthy doesn't really fit either - nothing wrong with it, I just always find it harder to read prose when its sandwiched in the middle of comic strips. And Lady's Choice, by Matthew and Shawn Fillbach is decidedly average. In such esteemed company, that proves its undoing.
I bought a new copy of Dark Horse Noir on the Amazon Marketplace for £4.04 (p&p included). It's since got even cheaper - as I write this, you could pick up a copy for £3.41. At that price, it'd be a crime not to!