Film noir is one of my favorite genres in the realm of cinema, and when it is done well, it keeps one at the edge of their seat, ready for whatever twist that lies around the corner.
During the last Fall semester on a Comic Book Club-organized trip to The Hall of Comics, I stumbled across “Angel City,” a film noir-like, six-issue long miniseries set in the 1930s that chronicles the adventures of Dolores Dare – a once aspiring Hollywood starlet turned mob enforcer for the Volantes.
Dolores’ tale is one of revenge, spawned from the murder of her best friend in a dumpster behind the Chinese Theater and the creative team of Janet Harvey (writer, “Batman” #569) and Megan Levens (artist, “Madame Frankenstein”) do a wonderful job, both visually and verbally, showcasing her resolve on every page.
This is a very female-driven story, which is much different from the norm of film noir stories that take place during the ’30s across all media – Dolores and the other women in the story are not just beautiful, but also cunning and deadly. Women of color, women of varying shapes and sizes are all seen as individuals with personality.
Rudyard Kipling put it best: “The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.”
The “norm” in most vintage film noirs dictates that a woman is only there as the object of a male detective’s desire, the one he feels a desire to “protect,” because she is “unfit to do such a thing herself.”
“Angel City” is not that kind of story – it subverts that trope.
Dolores instills fear in the people she seeks answers from, and Levens makes sure that the reader sees that emotion in every wrinkle of her face. She always has a fully loaded revolver and self-defensive maneuvers at her disposal, letting those who think about going against her that she is a lethal force in a red dress, or whatever she decides to wear in a case, with no intent of hesitating.
She will do anything to get her friend the justice she deserves.
If you are a native of California or a major film buff who likes to focus on the Golden Age of Hollywood, and I know many students on campus who are, in both respects – you will appreciate the settings. They would be immediately familiar to you, like the previously mentioned Chinese Theater, which kicks off the plot proper.
Levens does a fantastic job in showing the world of “Angel City” as a colorful, yet gloomy crime landscape. Harvey’s writing is cinematic and complements the artistic efforts well, almost as if reading through it emulates the experience of watching an episode of “The Sopranos” or one of the movies in the “Godfather” trilogy, but with more women in it.
For those of you who are into crime podcasts like “My Favorite Murder” or, fittingly enough, “Hollywood & Crime,” this is the comic for you – Harvey and Levens make note in interviews regarding “Angel City” of the existence of crime podcasts as a major source of inspiration for them.
If you are clamoring for more female-driven comics in your life, or are just fascinated in stories revolving around the Golden Age of Hollywood by crime stories with lots of action and suspense, I highly recommend that you buy the graphic novel compilation of all six issues, titled “Town Without Pity,” either digitally or physically at your local comic shop.