Angel City: Town Without Pity

Writer: Janet Harvey
Artist: Megan Levens
Colors: Nick Filardi
Publisher: Oni Press

Dolores Dare isn’t like most of the young starlets who come to Hollywood with dreams of fame on the silver screen. She works for Gino Volante as an enforcer, roughing up shop owners to collect debts. A career criminal hiding in plain sight, but her life is upended when her best friend, Frances Faye, is brutally murdered, found dead in a dumpster. Working with Joe, a reporter with connections throughout the city, Dolores begins to unravel the criminal activities of the biggest movie studios to get justice for her friend.

Angel City: Town Without Pity adheres rigidly to the tropes of conventions of Hollywood noir. The big star actor with a history of violence being covered for by the studio executives. Producers and gangsters working hand in hand. Police set-ups, cops on the payroll, the big-shot new in town gangster trying to push out whoever’s in charge. Having a woman as the protagonist, one involved in all of the criminal activities going on, is a reversal of one of the tropes of this genre, but only the one. Everything else plays out paint-by-numbers.

Each chapter follows the exact route you’d expect it to. Someone involved with the murder attends the funeral and Dolores follows them to a studio lot where something fishy is going on. They try and get the story on the front page of a big paper, but the editor is paid off. Dolores gets too close to the truth so she’s set-up by the police and can’t go to the authorities.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While the plot is pretty formulaic, it allows for snappy dialogue and characterization. Everything in Angel City flows together. The dialogue is authentic to the location and time-period, and you get a sense of the characters from how they speak and their interactions with other characters. Dolores herself gets several extended flashbacks showing how she ended up where she is, and her continuing narration gives you a sense of her as a character. Still, while the dialogue and characterization feel very snappy and bouncy, it’s still ultimately kind of shallow, and I’d be hard-pressed to say anything concrete about these characters. I could tell you that Dolores has a good heart that she tries to suppress because she’s learned that being open only ends in pain, but that’s just another trope, isn’t it? Joe is a typical love-interest, which is a fairly novel reversal of roles, but it still leaves him as a shallow character. All of the bad guys are greedy and looking out for their own self-interests, and while their dialogue is fun to read, they do all sort of blend together by the end.

I suppose the reason why I find this particularly disappointing is because the first few pages of Angel City set-up for something more than a typical noir story. Joe is the one who starts the story with the typically hard-boiled detective narration, and it’s something of a surprise when Dolores ends up being our main character and does all of the hard-boiled detective things in the first chapter. But that reversal is the only subversion present in this comic.

Angel City has two other opportunities to separate itself as something special and misses both of them. The first comes with the art by Megan Levens. Characters are cartoony, and with their bright colors tend to pop out. They’re faces and movements are expressive, and the general style seems to evoke a parody of golden age Hollywood. Dolores herself reminded me a lot of how the cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? are drawn. My expectation going into the book just based on the cover was that it would be fairly light-hearted, or have some sort of comedic slant to it. Unfortunately, that never happens, and the cartoony art-style just seems constantly out of place in a straight-faced noir story.

The other presents itself at the end of the comic, where an afterword by Janet Harvey reveals her love of true crime stories to be the inspiration for Angel City. Specifically, how the details of Frances’ murder reflect the real life murder of “The Black Dahlia”. A quote by Margaret Atwood at the beginning of the foreword reads, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” A good portion of Harvey’s afterword talks about the connection between women’s’ love of true crime stories with how women are often in danger from men.

This would’ve been an interesting angle to approach a typical Hollywood noir style story from. Unfortunately, that isn’t really present in Angel City either. That element of Harvey’ inspiration isn’t brought up in the story itself, outside of possibly the fact that the killer has no real motivation, but that comes across less as a point about gender roles and more as lazy writing, or possibly an open door for the sequel suggested by the last page ending with “The End…?”.

Without subverting the tropes of this genre, taking a comedic slant to it, or being a serious exploration of power dynamics between men and women, Angel City: Town Without Pity is a decent, well-written, well-drawn Hollywood Noir mystery that nevertheless disappoints by not fulfilling any of the promises of what it could have been.

Rating: 3.5/5

More Info: For more information on Angel City and Oni Press, check out their Website, Twitter, and Facebook Page.

Geek-o-Rama received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review. All thoughts, comments and opinions are those of the individual reviewer.

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