A hard-boiled detective works on a big bust in “The Lucky Lady”

The 1940s and 50s were a golden age for American crime cinema; influenced by German Expressionist film and the pulp fiction of the interwar era, movie-makers produced the moody, stylish, cynical tales that have come to be known as film noir. From The Maltese Falcon to Touch of Evil, these movies told the story of desperate, damaged men and women trying to survive on mean streets. Although their characters were flawed — sometimes even evil — noir movies were more seriously concerned with the nature of good and evil than the simplistic cops-and-robbers movies they developed from. And they were darkly beautiful.

The influence of European filmmakers was visible most of all in the use of light and shadow in film noir; the classics of the genre portrayed a world sketched in charcoal, with subtle intensities of gray that matched the murky moral landscape and bars of blinding white as harsh and sudden as justice.

I love a good noir story; give me a dark alley, a tough guy in a trench coat and a dame as gorgeous as she is deadly and I couldn’t be happier. Which is probably why I’m such a fan of The Lucky Lady over on bestoryclub.com. Unlike most of Botcomics’ offerings, The Lucky Lady is rendered in rich, subtle … black and white. And I think it’s better for it.

When most people reach for an adjective to describe comics, “colorful” isn’t far down the list. Black and white is for newspaper strips, manga and reprints, most of them in a style that comes off as white-space-heavy. Even the rare success — for all that he has some funny ideas, Dave Sim (with Gerhard’s invaluable assistance) could make a B&W page sing — just goes to prove how unusual a series like this is.

Because The Lucky Lady isn’t black-and-white in that sense; it’s full of dense, rich shading. In essence, it’s in color — just that the only color is gray.

For all that, it’s not as morally ambiguous a story as you might find in a typical noir. Our hero is a private investigator, just a working man who earns a living prying into the sad secrets of others’ lives. When he’s hired to follow a woman named Alice Caulfield, he thinks nothing of it — but when Alice’s voluptuous figure doesn’t match her slender photograph, he becomes curious. And when he sees Alice confront a gangster in a speakeasy, he joins in to protect her, entwining their fates.

SaburoX gives the story the period treatment, even using a scratchy overlay on the art to make it look like an old film print. The faces are expressive, the action scenes are confident — not always something you can rely on in adult comics — and of course the figures are stunning. But I think my favorite thing about The Lucky Lady is the period flavor of the dialogue; a buxom heroine exclaiming “aw, applesauce!” as she stares down the barrel of a tommy-gun may not be realistic, but it’s in the best pulp tradition.

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