In the twenty years since Scene of the Crime came out (and I last read it), a couple things have become more clear. First, protagonist and narrator Jack is a bit of a narcissist, and the reason he’s loveless is because he was a lousy, possessive boyfriend. The way he talks about the female characters is a lot, especially since writer Ed Brubaker is doing a Raymond Chandler twice removed. I don’t remember Chandler being shitty when describing women. But it’s also okay because Jack’s a white guy private investigator from a cop family in 1999 San Francisco, so it’s not like he’s necessarily going to be a good guy. Not all the way.
The second item relates to Raymond Chandler and San Francisco. Jack’s case involves a missing little sister and San Francisco hippies. Scene’s a Chandler-esque P.I., but it involves late nineties hippies and the children of sixties hippies. So twice removed. It’s a fascinating San Francisco gem, partially if not primarily because of the gorgeous Michael Lark architecture art. Even without landmarks, Scene feels like a San Francisco detective story, a sub-genre of its own.
And just because Brubaker doesn’t recognize his narrator’s passive misogyny doesn’t mean it’s not well-written. It gets a little long towards the end when Jack finds the sister, and they go out to a Denny’s for a meet-cute. I remember really liking that scene when I was in my early twenties, which tracks. But the stuff where Jack’s explaining his backstory, which Brubaker and Lark set against an urban travelogue—it’s great. Very efficient writing from Brubaker, who seems to be trying to adapt the detective novel genre to the comic medium. Two, maybe three-page chapters, lots of exposition, lots of corresponding art, little bit of dialogue.
The talking heads is where Scene stumbles, though every time it involves a female supporting character, including Jack’s uncle’s girlfriend. Jack’s dad was a cop, killed by heroin gangs—they blew up his car, which partially blinded young Jack—and the uncle, Knut (adorable old man), raised him. Knut’s girlfriend refuses to marry him, despite having been with him for thirty years, because reasons. It’s not Brubaker’s fault, exactly. Not sure he’d have been able to make a comic at that time without these mistakes.
Awesome, moody art from Lark, compelling enough, engaging enough narration from Brubaker. The case is just getting started as this one wraps up.
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