Usually I don’t just buy comics on a whim, but there was something about the cover of the first issue of Dark Corridor that grabbed my attention: a lone figure on a motorcycle riding away from a large city at night, a pop of bright red against a black background. Like the title of the book itself, there is something ominous about the cover in the way it merely hints at what’s inside. Although it is stunningly simple, it was obviously effective since I bought that first issue knowing nothing about the series or its creator Rich Tommaso. However, unlike so many crumpled and discarded Powerball tickets, this gamble paid off as Dark Corridor is one of the best new series I read last year, offering a unique spin on the familiar tropes of crime comics.

Billed simply as “Mysterious adventures in the crime-ridden city of Red Circle,” Dark Corridor is a take on hard-boiled crime fiction, particularly the novels of Jim Thompson, who Tommaso mentions in the book’s backup material. Like much of Thompson’s work, such as Pop. 1280 or The Grifters, the comic features small-time criminals who are often “in over the heads” and don’t realize the full consequences of their actions until it’s too late. Also as in Thompson’s novels, there is a sort of black humor that permeates the story and contrasts the gritty violence. That contrast, which is also present in Tommaso’s unique art style, is what makes Dark Corridor stand out as a unique comic, even among other crime series.

Obviously, superheroes are still the most popular gene among comic books. However, it’s sometimes easy to forget that, during the 1940s, the most popular comics were lurid crime series like Crime Does Not Pay and Crime SuspenStories. At the height of their popularity, these comics were selling over 1 million copies a month, far more than superhero stories. However, after the establishment of the Comics Code Authority, crime comics disappeared from the shelves until the independent comics scene of the ’90s. Frank Miller’s Sin City, David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, and Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal generated renewed interest in the genre while showing why it is a perfect fit for the visual storytelling medium of comics.

DarkCorridorA

The visual appeal of crime comics is obvious, whether the gritty violence of Stray Bullets or the stylized film noir look of Sin CityDark Corridor is also a visually striking comic, but instead of the stark black and white Miller and Lapham used or the washed out colors of Criminal, Tommaso’s art features bright, bold colors and classic cartooning techniques. At first glance, Tommaso’s art is similar to Darwyn Cooke’s, particularly on the recent hard-boiled Parker adaptations. They both manage to balance simplicity and detail while giving each page a sort of kinetic appeal. However, Tommaso’s work is a little looser and less formalist than Cooke’s can be. The seeming simplicity of the style means that Tommaso can use it for a variety of effects, such as drawing the readers’ attention to the details of a crime scene, or dramatic action sequences, such as the lengthy car chase in the fourth issue. Of course, since this is a crime comic, there is plenty of violence and bad behavior, and Tommaso doesn’t shy away from showing any of it: there are plenty of high speed chases, knife fights, shootouts, and sex, as one would expect in a crime-ridden city. Again, the contrast of the “indie comics” visual style and graphic, at times hyper, violence is a part of the book’s appeal, and it helps make the dramatic moments of the story hit even harder.
DarkCorridorB

In addition to the unique art style, Tommaso also plays with the narrative structure of the genre to create a more engrossing story. Each issue of Dark Corridor actually features two parallel stories: “Red Circle”, which focuses on a couple of crooks working for the local crime families, and “7 Deadly Daughters”, about a gang of women seeking revenge on said gangster organizations. While each story has primary characters, they quickly intertwine as the series progresses. In “Red Circle”, a mob hitman named Pete finds a stray dog, which leads him to a murder scene. Naturally, he calls his ex-con pal Carter to score the jewels from the recently deceased’s house. While Pete and Carter try to figure out which crime family they should side with, and which they shouldn’t cross, they eventually they realize they had stumbled upon a bigger, more dangerous story as the 7 Deadly Daughters have declared war on the mobs. Each installment of “Daughters” introduces a different member of the group, as well as their grievances against the organized crime organizations in Red Circle. These portions of the story have a “revenge movie” vibe, filled with big action sequences and over-the-top violence. Eventually the two stories combine and lead to the climactic issue 6, which hints at much larger and powerful forces at play in Red Circle’s underworld, which will certainly be explored when the series returns with “season two”.

DarkCorridorC

By splitting up the narrative in such a way, Tommaso is able to explore the backgrounds of each character as jump he jumps between timelines. This helps create the larger world of Red Circle, and underscores the “anthology” aspect of the comic that Tommaso discusses in the backup material of the first issue. It also calls to mind the experimentation with narrative that made Tarantino’s films Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction classics of the neo-noir crime genre. As for the comics, the non-linear narrative creates a disorienting effect at times, as alliances are made and broken and there is no one to trust. Much like the title implies, it is easy to get lost in Dark Corridor since anything, or anyone, could be waiting around the corner.

Like the crime novels that influenced it, the appeal of Dark Corridor is really in the style of the story rather than the events. Tommaso uses the visual and narrative “tricks” of so-called indie comics to craft a a unique take on a familiar genre, and a comic that stands out from the rest of the options on the stands. Tommaso has already announced that the series will return with “season two” in April, so now is the time to catch up. If you are looking for something different, and have the stomach for it, you should take a trip to Red Circle. Just be sure to watch your back.

Dark Corridor can be purchased at you Local Comic Shop, through Image Comics, or on Comixology. The trade collection of the first 6 issues is due in March.

Overall Score
90 %

Rich Tommaso creates an homage to hard boiled crime stories with this gritty comic. His art style and narrative experimentation make for a truly unique take on the crime genre.

About The Author

Paul R Jaissle is a philosopher, collage artist, and musician. In his free time, he enjoys reading comics (especially ones with Batman in them), listening to power pop, and watching wrestling.

Comments are closed.