Friday, June 13, 2008

Violent Femme

I first became aware of Chris Mills years ago, way back in 1994, back years before I'd even really heard of the internet, when I stumbled across the first issue of Noir in Nebula, Montreal's late, and much-lamented alternative sci-fi/crime/comic book store.

Noir billed itself as an "Illustrated Crime Fiction Quarterly." It was a great idea, but unfortunately it failed after only three issues (and two publishers), a 64-page, comic-book size modern-day pulp magazine featuring fiction, art and comic strips by some of the greatest talents in the mystery, crime fiction and comics fields of the time. Contributors included Robert Randisi, Ron Goulart, Wendi Lee, C.J. Henderson, and Max Allan Collins. It was just a little too hip for the room; too out there for the newstands and maybe a little too wordy for the comic book stores (except of course for mondo gonzo places like Nebula). I bagged and boarded my much-read copies and stowed 'em away...

I next stumbled across Chris -- or he stumbled across me -- several years later, when he submitted a couple of short stories featuring his Maine P.I. Matthew Dain (both must reads) to Thrilling Detective, and then pitched the idea of running a new weekly web comic -- about a hard-boiled (and masked) female crime fighter -- on my site. We did, and the rest is history. Or at least a moderately amusing story to tell over a few beers one day (suffice it to say that Chris is a very interesting guy with more than a few stories to tell and that I was not the only Kevin Smith to fall under the dame's charms).

Well, that strip, Femme Noir, is finally (finally!) making it into print, revamped and ready to kick ass, and anyone out there who likes detective stories and comic books and isn't getting enough high-fibre pulp in their diet is definitely in for a treat. Imagine Red Harvest meets The Dark Knight, starring the bastard love-child of radio's The Shadow and Eisner's The Spirit set loose in Gotham City, with a script cobbled together by Chester Gould, Dash Hammett and Bob Kane on a three-day bender (possibly at Spillane's house). And then imagine the Spirit as a dame with to-die-for-gams in a broad-brimmed hat, a trenchcoat, fishnets and spike heels. Armed with twin automatics not afraid to sneeze "KA-CHOW!"

Yeah, this is comic book land, so there's plenty of two-fisted, gun-blazing action (and more than a few winks, nods and tips of the fedora to assorted pop culture miscreants), but the story, about a mysterious (but easy on the eyes) masked vigilante out to clean up Port Nocturne one thug at a time, hits all the right notes.

You want it? Femme Noir's got it: mean streets, treacherous back alleys, cold-blooded bad guys, slimy gang lords, killer robots, big city corruption, and a mysterious crime-fighting avenger who definitely knows how to fill out a pair of fishnets, and isn't above serving up her own kind of justice. Blonde justice.

Femme Noir: The Dark City Diaries, a four-issue, full-color miniseries, with art by legendary comic book guy Joe Staton, hits the streets (and hipper comic book joints) this month.

Lord knows, there are plenty of other comic books out there, full of over-developed mouth-breathers and angsty navel-gazers running around in their underwear, all vying for your hard-earned geetus, but there's only one Femme Noir. As the lady herself might say:

"You boys have a choice to make. Choose well."

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If You're Going to San Francisco...

... forget all that flowers in your hair stuff. Instead, slap on a fedora, pull on a trenchcoat and fire up a jasper as local artist Owen Smith pays tribute to Dashiell Hammet's private eye classic The Maltese Falcon (arguably ground zero for the genre), with a series of posters commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Art as part of its Market Street 2008 Program. The posters will be installed from Monday, June 16th, to Thursday, September 18th on (where else?) Market Street.

And to kick off the project, Don Herron and Smith will lead one of Herron's popular Dashiell Hammett Tours beginning at the southeast corner of Market and Third Streets on Saturday, June 28th, at 1 PM, absolutely free of charge. You'll get to scope out Spade and Archer’s office and other Falcon landmarks, as well as check out Smith’s posters and hear how he came up with each one.

Artist Owen Smith, of course, was the artist I blabbed on about recently for his amazing Mother Jones "Torture Hits Home" cover.

For more of his Falcon posters, click on the pic below....

I dunno. Maybe it's time for me to finally check out this burg...

If you're going to San Francisco gimme a call.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

He Got Game

Lord knows, I'm not a game guy.

Oh, sure, when I got my first Mac and first fell in love, I was as enthralled as the next geek by Tetris, Eight Ball Deluxe and the then-cutting edge charm of Marathon, one of the very first point and shot games. In fact, some of my best memories of time spent with my son, Dylan, were crouched over that old Power PC, working our way through the intricate levels of Marathon and Rebel Assault and later, Golden Eye and Pod Racer.

But for me, the charm more or less wore off. I'll admit to an occasional on-line round of Text Twist or FreeRice, but for me, the hours spent diddling around on some game are pretty much a thing of the past.

Until now. The folks at Legacy Games asked me if I'd be interested in blogging about their new-on-CD-ROM game, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes, and of course, scrounger and moocher that I am, I said sure.

But, I warned them, I'm not really a game guy and besides I'ma Mac guy. and haven't all the games gone over to the dark side now? Not a prob, they assured me. The demo on their site is for PC, but the actual game is available as a Mac/PC hybrid on CD. Which they said they would send me if I wanted.

"Free stuff!" I figured.

Well, I played the online demo on The Girl Detective's PC one night after she'd gone to bed (poor chile -- she's on that blasted thing all day long) and I liked it.

And then the game itself arrived, and I got to play a few more levels than the demo allowed. And I'm liking it. A LOT.

Legacy's touting it as the first computer game officially licensed by the Conan Doyle estate, and I've got to amit it's pretty cool -- particularly for those familiar with the canon. There are plenty of tips of the deerstalker here and Mycroft, Inspector Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson and a few other familiar faces make cameos.

Sure, the animation's a little stiff, but otherwise, the artwork's pretty well-done -- the richly detailed settings for the actual games are a feast for the eyes.

There are sixteen cases in it, with a bonus game for the triumphant detective who cracks the first sixteen, and I'm about halfway through. The "cases" all feature a crime of some sort -- sometimes murder, sometimes not. Each one is introduced by Holmes, who confers with a client while Watson plays straight man. The scenario is laid out and the boys journey through Victorian London to the invariably cluttered scene of the crime (a circus tent, a drawing room, the British Museum, a library, Big Ben, The Royal Theatre, etc.), where they must examine the evidence. From here, it's pretty much a glorified version of I Spy -- you have to spot the discrepancies between two photos, or find a list of carefully hidden objects. The discovery of each bit of evidence (a glove, an egg, a dagger, a candlestick, a pistol, etc.) provides additional clues on suspects and possible motives, and some evidence triggers further challenges (a word scramble, a code to break, a jigsaw puzzle, a memory game, Sudoku, etc.) that must also be solved (games within games, if you will). A second (and occasionally third) mini-game generally presents you with another room to toss, and then the 6-12 suspects are gathered together, sorted out (Who has blue eyes, sideburns and is not a woman?), and their motives and evidence summarized.

I guess if you sat down with a pen and paper and really thought it through, the cases do make a certain sense, but with a time limit on each game (generally 25-30 minutes) you don't really have the luxury. And anyway, who cares about pens and paper when they are more clues to find and the clock is ticking?

The actual mystery in each case is more a frame work to hang the games on than an actual mystery. Like I said, it's more like a glorified game of I Spy (the proper term, I've been told, is a "Hidden Object" game) with a healthy dose of Clue tossed in. But that doesn't negate the unexpected charm of this game.

According to their blurb, Legacy is evidently the "leading developer and publisher of casual games for people of all ages," and I think that the word "casual" is part of what makes me enjoy this game so much. It's a pleasant diversion, a half-hour at most, and at the end you either have solved it or you haven't (and you'll have to go back and take another crack). Solving one case lets you proceed to the next.

Sure, hard-core gamers like Dylan may shrug. "It's not really my type," he pointed out, "but for what it is, it's not bad. There are some funny touches, like when you click 'quit' in the menu there's a voice that says 'cheerio!'" And some may dismiss it as "pretty easy... really a kid's game" but for the casual gamer, looking for a break, this is ideal.

And the game only looks easy. Once you get past the first few cases, the cases and mini-games get decidedly trickier and the suspect pool increases. And once you get drawn into its world, well, suffice it to say you DO get drawn into its world. I found myself staying up until two last night playing the damn thing. It was always "Just one more game...."

There's part of me, of course, that wishes that something a little more hard-boiled than Holmes and 221B Baker were available (I haven't come across a gin-soaked floozy or a set of brass knuckles yet!), but for now, this will do just fine.

The Mac version of the game is available for download at and the PC version is available right from Legacy'. . You can also buy the CD-ROM version all over the place.

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