What if Dick Tracy woke up one day and discovered that Big Boy Caprice and his goons threw down their guns and moved on with their lives? What if Big Boy was found dead? What if the individuals that defined who you were simply got up and left? How would life be different to a man whose reputation was built upon the struggles against Mumbles, Flat Top, and Prune Face? Mr. Murder Is Dead is one possible result. Victor Quinaz’s crime thriller presents Gould Kane, once a top cop and inspiration for a comic serial, who finds himself on the bad side of retirement. Spending his last years living in a disheveled apartment, falling asleep to the sounds of his neighbor savagely beating his wife, Gould Kane is a pale, wrinkled shadow of his former self. When news gets out that his arch nemesis, Mr. Murder, has been found dead, his life is turned upside down and Kane soon finds himself courting his old adversaries.
Mr. Murder Is Dead is pure delight and a celebration of the golden age of pulp comics. There are two stories going on here — Gould Kane’s investigation of Mr. Murder’s death and Gould’s former life as The Spook, a hero cop who dished out square-jawed justice to all sorts of ne’er do wells. In a particularly cool touch, the look and narrative tone of the comic flashbacks show the evolution of crime comics, from happy-go-lucky and politically incorrect yarns to darker and more sinister noir stories (complete with heavy shadows). To differentiate from Gould’s past, the present day illustrations look to be a sort of hybrid design based off of Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm. Backing up the superb artwork is a solid, if ever so slightly convoluted, script. Kane’s change in career after news of Mr. Murder’s death is curious and the story’s finale seems slightly fantastical, but in the world of noir, anything is possible.
There really isn’t much here that will offend anyone’s sensibilities. There are flashes of nudity, but barely any sex (apart from an implied “happy ending” at a massage parlor) and the comic touches on themes of transgendered individuals and homosexual relationships. Violence isn’t much of a problem, heroes and villains often fight it out with their fists, so there is no gore or copious amounts of blood (save for a few flesh wounds). In the end, what you’ll see here is no worse than a Tex Avery cartoon.
Mr. Murder Is Dead is a great read and the artwork is enjoyable to view. The final pages of the book come with 1940s style adverts for decoder rings and other Spook-related activities for kids. Quinaz and Schoonover are fans of comics from a bygone era and their graphic novel is a love letter to it. Fans of Dick Tracy and noir will enjoy this beautifully illustrated tale.