If there are two classic eras in all of American film, they’d be the 1930s studio system and the first half of the 1970s. Normandy Gold #2 sure as hell doesn’t have much in common with the first era, but it’s a child of the second, the era that gave us “The Godfather,” “Chinatown,” “Mean Streets,” “Shaft,” “Deep Throat,” and “Taxi Driver.” The era that gave us the grittiest of crime films and dramas that pushed every envelope. A time where artistic endeavour and main-stream entertainment collided and gave us huge hits that were also somehow uncompromising works of art. To be clear, I don’t think Normandy Gold #2 hits the heights of say, “The Conversation,” but the ethos of that period is hardwired into its DNA. As a result, there’s something refreshing and endearingly grimy about this crime tale, which ups the ante on its troubled protagonist and sleazy subject matter with an enjoyable second issue.
Rural Sheriff Normandy Gold has hit mid-70s Washington, D.C. in the wake of her sister’s disappearance and suspected murder. After uncovering that she had bene working as a high-priced escort to the Washington elite, Gold goes undercover at the agency and tries to track down what became of her sister. This second issue sees Normandy make fast headway, aided by her no-nonsense attitude of taking on her call-girl role without reticence and her ease at cracking heads and ruffling feathers to get what she wants. In true 197os fashion, this is a protagonist that we follow with some unease. Often in crime films and stories of the period, the “heroes” weren’t on a mission so much as unleashed. Having Popeye Doyle from “The French Connection” on a bad guy’s trail provoked complicated feelings, and Normandy is cut from the same cloth. We admire her resilience, her toughness and her motives, but her flaws are also evident, and it becomes clear throughout the issue that she is comfortable going to any lengths to find out what happened to her sister. The question of whether brutal justice is still justice is a timeless one, and this issue indicates that may be a question this series is going to explore.
Writers Megan Abbott & Alison Gaylin also foreshadow another common thematic concern of the era in which the story is set; namely the juxtaposition of common-place petty crime against the larger corruption at the heart of institutions. You can’t have a crime story set in this period that doesn’t explore this in some way. Normandy is the uncompromised character with a brutal but binary sense of right and wrong, and it’s likely she’s going to rub up against a society that views corruption in a much more complicated and equivocal way.
I really loved the way Normandy Gold #2 nails the kind grimy feel of the crime thrillers of the time. Given its setting within the world of sex work and the inherently hedonistic time period, the issue is even more overtly adult than the debut, and it nicely straddles the line between exploitation and realism. Make no mistake, the exploitative aspect is present, but it never feels too sleazy, but rather just enough to reflect the tone the creators are obviously going for deliberately and consciously. I also enjoyed how they kept the story moving at a great clip, not slackening at all from the quick pace of the first issue. Normandy makes significant headway here, the plot advances well and we learn more about her and other supporting characters at the same time we get exposition delivered in a well-executed way.
I still think there’s a moment or two where they cut some corners. Normandy’s well-meaning local cop ally Detective Sturges finds her in one scene with an ease that is definitely a short-cut, but this is a minor point, and even the moments that come straight out of every procedural in the world (morgue scene, bathroom interrogation scuffle, snappy patter) rise above cliche via some strong personality and character.
Penciler Steve Scott continues to nail both the subtleties of the period setting and the tone of the story. Panels feel so authentic you can almost hear the funky soundtrack and spot the film grain. The call girls in the supporting cast might as well be played by Nancy Allen, they feel so sharply drawn. Meanwhile, he does a good job, aided ably by colorist Lovern Kindzierski, at pulling focus to important visual clues. Together, the art team knows when to pump up the colors and action to highlight the atmosphere, and when to use close-up, less detail and a lack of color to pull the story inside Normandy’s thoughts.
Normandy Gold #2 might not be for every reader. But if you love the kind of tough, grimy crime story where you feel the sweatiness of a coke-fueled disco and peer into the shadows of a back alley, then Normandy Gold remains a top notch example of the genre. 8/10
Normandy Gold #2 will be released tomorrow, July 12, 2017