In this 1970s-set thriller, Sheriff Normandy Gold arrives in Washington, DC from Oregon in search of her missing sister, a high-class call girl. Working sometimes with and sometimes against a local detective, she plunges herself into the seedy underbelly of the Washington sex trade, doing whatever it takes to find her sister, uncovering a murderous conspiracy that goes all the way to the upper echelons of Washington society and politics.
Veteran mystery writers Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, winners of a combined ten Edgar Awards, have laid out a familiar, yet twisting plot and filled it with complex characters full of ethical and emotional conflict. The art by Marvel and DC regular Steve Scott is a lush homage to the colors, shapes, and styles of the 1970s.
Unfortunately, Normandy Gold is one of those comics that I think might have been better as a novel or a film. Constrained by the narrative limitations of the sequential art format, characters with the potential for nuance fall a little flat and a clearly well-plotted mystery comes across as little too confusing. In an interview at the end of the volume, Abbott and Gaylin talk about their vision for this story in cinematic terms, even providing a fantasy cast for a film version, which just made me wish it had been a movie instead.
The art, chock full of stylized sex and violence, is well-executed and pitch-perfect to the genre and era, but ill-suited to the story—taking its dynamic female characters and freezing them in hackneyed male gaze tableaus. In a less static format, I could easily see Normandy Gold as a female-fronted reclamation of a notoriously exploitative genre, which was probably at least part of Abbott and Gaylin’s intent. Instead, I felt that witnessing Normandy’s use of sex in her quest for knowledge and revenge through a series of pin-up style stills drawn by a male artist detracted from that.
All the titles in Titan’s Hard Case Crime imprint are geared towards adults and this is no exception. The story’s themes of violence and sexual exploitation are graphically represented in the artwork, with gory crime scenes and full-page nudes. With the popularity of noir comics for young adult readers, such as Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys: The Big Lie, it might be tempting to suggest Normandy Gold and other Hard Case titles, but this is definitely a comic that I would not give to an even a mature teen reader—sex and violence (and sexual violence) aside, there are necessary levels of cultural and emotional context required to understand the story that are better left to adult audiences.
If you are collecting comics for adults, Normandy Gold isn’t a must-have, but it’s a strong choice, bringing a much needed female voice to the crime comic genre. The Hard Case imprint is purposefully very niche—a treasure trove for fans of hard-boiled pulp detective stories, rather than written for a wider audience—but with the well-executed 1970’s feel and the name-appeal of its authors, Normandy Gold is worth consideration if you’re in the market for suspense and mystery comics or titles that might bring some new readers to your graphic novel collection.
by Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin
Art by Steve Scott
Titan Comics: Hard Case Crime, 2018