Carver: A Paris Story
Written and Illustrated by Chris Hunt
Preface by Paul Pope
Published by Z2 Comics
ISBN: 9781940878096 | Price $14.99
Release date: September 20, 2016
Over the past few years, a few genres have saturated the comicbook market. Zombies are finally starting to transition out of the spotlight, and plenty of other genres sit in the wings waiting to take over the helm of dominance. We see mafia, western, and outer space focused comics in abundance, but no other genre has burgeoned more than one that has lived extensively since the years after World War II–film noir.
Taking its signature visual style from German Expressionism, film noir introduced the masses to the femme fatale and a sense of cool served up with desperation and bleakness that conjure up dread and disdain for society, and today, the genre has its tentacles reaching everything.
Don’t get me wrong; the pervasiveness of film noir is not necessarily a bad thing. I adore the noir genre. Some of my favorite films of all time have the noir label, and I am happy to see people take a stab at the archetypes of the form. But, with the experimentation and progress that can be made from a surge in the genre comes distilled or poorly hybridized versions that only have the flavor, not the heart, of the original. Sadly, Chris Hunt’s Carver is a perfect study of one of these almost-but-not-quite-there noirs.
Carver is not a pure noir; it is a mix between noir and the 1970s and early 1980s action films of Martin Scorsese, Walter Hill, and John Flynn, giving it a style not too far from Jean Pierre-Melville’s Le Samouraï or L’armée des ombres, which is only appropriate, since the first volume takes place in Paris. With such mighty influences, one could only hope that Hunt could flourish with his tale of Francis Carver, the American who lost far more than his cushy life path as a fine artist, but alas, Carver as a novel fails to give its characters, plot, and world enough breathing room because it packs in too many homages to its inspirations, creating a story that erratically (and frustratingly) runs from one motif to another as if each were some checkpoint in a race to the finish line.
Francis Carver is on a mission; a former love has summoned him to return to Paris, taking him on a far departure from his post-Marine life that we as the audience do not know much about but quickly get the sense is one that is grim and involves seeing the world while having to deliver violence and protection. In Paris, people recognize Carver as a hero, a man who survived capture from German troops against all odds, but Carver sees himself as a killer and a man whose experiences in war prevent him from ever integrating into society again. Disillusioned war veteran–check!
Upon his arrival to Paris, Carver quickly finds out that his former love did not send for him: a hooded man by the name of Stacker Lee did. We meet Stacker at the opening of the series, and immediately we expect he will emerge as a villain, but there’s something too perfect, too formulaic about Stacker, including his Southern gothic villain name and his dandy-esque suit, and as a result, immediately, you know that Stacker will be a part of some twist to the story. Slick and ambiguously moral villain–check!
As Carver unfolds, the plot weaves into devices and scenarios that are all too familiar to the pop culture psyche. There’s a series of mob battles à la The Warriors. There’s a delivery of a watch that survived war; Pulp Fiction, anyone? And, of course, there’s a reunion of lovers separated by the consequences of war, a romantic device inserted into war films by marketing teams in order to give women something other than the explosions and pugilism that the men have come to see on the big screen.
As thus, Carver has all of the motifs and archetypes to make it sellable but not wholly enjoyable. Carver is a checklist of concepts that people regularly enjoy, and as a result, the graphic novel will deceptively make you think, “Hey, that’s a great idea! I like it!” as you read it, but when you sit and think, you will realize that idea came from another source, and that source is superior.
Hunt, overall, has good taste regarding his influences, and he does make some smart visual storytelling decisions, such as replacing scenes of carnage with sharp motion streaks and blurs with text conveying the sounds of the moment, but Carver just does not have its own standalone identity. As a result, the graphic novel falls into the noir-action-wannabe abyss that not only fails to capture the essence of film noir but also fails to give the genre a contemporary adaptation.
Film noirs have an exceptional ability to capture the ugliness and despair under the brightness of prosperous times. Though the genre has a visual style and tropes that evoke sensations of warm familiarity, I hope that authors aiming to jump onto the film noir bandwagon will keep this original role of noir in mind. Otherwise, film noir will be used only as a style and not as a delivery system of substance, which is an even scarier symptom of current society than Robert Mitchum is in Night of the Hunter.