The Fall (2001)
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Jason Lutes
Drawn & Quarterly
Ed Brubaker, along with Brian Azzarello and Garth Ennis, has been at the forefront of crime fiction's revival in mainstream comics. Believe it or not, even superhero comics had not been churning out good, solid, believable crime fiction through the late '80s and early '90s, before these writers swooped in and changed all that (Frank Miller's Batman stories and some arcs of Daredevil were all comics had to show before the trio's emergence). But while Azzarello and Ennis gave us kickass crime fiction through their own creator-owned series, like Preacher or 100 Bullets, Brubaker, arguably, went one step further: he gave mainstream superhero comics like Batman, Captain America and X-Men the rarefied, feverish rooftop-chase air that populates the fictions of Mark Billingham, Dennis Lehane and others.
But before he was entrusted with some of the most coveted titles in the comics world, Brubaker was considered an indie writer to watch out for. And towards the end of his indie years, he collaborated with Jason Lutes (whose ongoing Berlin series is surely one of the most monumental endeavours in comics) on a brilliant little novella called The Fall.
Lutes is known for his distinctive, unusually classical art style, influenced heavily by the European giants Uderzo and Hergé. Here, he’s working in his favoured black-and-white, which, of course, is the exactly right thing to do for a slow-burning noir story.
Like the best noir stories, The Fall begins with the introduction of its down-on-luck nobody protagonist, Kirk, a night clerk at a gas station who pockets a credit card someone left. June, the woman who hands Kirk the credit card just happens to be the wife of his boss, Mr Wasserman. Anguished by a recent breakup, Kirk, in a moment of weakness, decides to splurge a little using the stolen credit card. He proceeds to spend $400 in a single night. June then decides to use this information against Kirk, making him do all her chores on his time off.
The murkiness begins when Kirk discovers a purse belonging to a murder victim buried in June's backyard: further snooping reveals her connection to a cop who was acquitted for an incident that happened 10 years ago. Brubaker has the dialogue down pat here, especially when Kirk observes that June is taking inordinate pleasure in bossing him around.
Kirk: Making me do all these tasks. You like it.
June: Of course I do. Everyone likes power, don't they? It even sounds good: 'Power'"
Kirk: I can't even tell when you're kidding
June (takes a long drag on her cigarette, smiles): I like that too.
Lutes is known for his distinctive, unusually classical art style, influenced heavily by the European giants Uderzo and Hergé. Here, he's working in his favoured black-and-white, which, of course, is the exactly right thing to do for a slow-burning noir story.
The climax of the story feels a little rushed, because of which we do not really get under the skin of the eventual perpetrator. We don't know what motivated him; his fears, his weakness and his rage come across as a little too contrived. With a better resolution, The Fall would have become a classic, no doubt about it.
As it is, it falls firmly into the good-but-not-great category.