The partnership between pulpy publishing house Hard Case Crime and Titan Comics has delivered some interesting results. Taking top crime novelists and giving them space to work in the comics medium is a great idea, especially when they’re being allowed to come up with their own stories and ideas. Normandy Gold #1 is the latest series to debut, written by novelists Megan Abbott and Alison Gaylin, with art by Steve Scott and colors by Lovern Kindzierski. And while the issue does cut a few narrative corners for the sake of getting the ball rolling, it’s a strong debut issue, anchored by a compelling central character and a classic fish out of water set-up that sees a rural sheriff dive headfirst into the seediest corridors of power.
Normandy Gold is the sheriff of a rural Oregon town in the 1970s. Years ago she fled from her troubled family, leaving her mother and sister behind. Out of the blue, Normandy gets a phone call from her sister Lila, and during the call she overhears her Lila’s violent murder. Traveling to Washington DC, where Lila was killed, Normandy immediately butts heads with a sexist police department before discovering that Lila had been working as a high-priced call girl. Determined to find justice for her sister, Normandy will have to infiltrate the escort service herself, even as she deals with her own troubled past.
There’s a lot to like about Normandy Gold #1. It certainly doesn’t pull any punches, fitting in perfectly with Hard Case’s grittier and pulpier house vibe and delivering an adult crime thriller. Normandy is a compelling central character, even if she does belong squarely in the “troubled but tough detective” trope. I really liked the way the issue embraced its period setting in delivering the kind of hard-edged and bleak crime thrillers of the 1970s, which weren’t afraid to straddle the line between exploitation and expose. The misogyny of the era permeates every scene, and feels appropriate if perhaps a bit overt.
I did think that the issue had some problems, however, most of which felt like the kinds of problems a novelist used to working without page count restrictions might make. I felt like it was a bit much to have Lila call Normandy and on the same call have her murder happen. I couldn’t escape the feeling that Abbott and Gaylin would have loved to have more time establish Normandy and Gaylin, but were cognizant of how much they had to get through to get to their final panel. It’s not a huge thing, but it did feel a bit clunky to me, to make this both the call that reconnects these characters and the one where Lila dies. Similarly, there’s a moment where Normandy threatens a DC cop that feel like it got resolved awfully quickly considering the action Normandy takes. Again, it’s just that these moments feel a bit rushed or not allowed to land because the creative team has a specific point they want to end on.
The art by Steve Scott has a great, realistic, classic feel. The issue doesn’t feel dated or a throwback to the era in which it’s set, but it does feel like the era. It gets all the period touches right, of course, but it’s more than that. Scott captures the flat, realistic style of the 1970s, which strove to push norms in storytelling. Lila’s murder is genuinely horrible without going over the top, and you can practically feel the grainy film stock and funky soundtrack. Normandy Gold #1 could have felt like an exploitation flick, but it more closely feels like a film directed by Peter Yates or Sidney Lumet.
Despite some structural problems which you can lay at the feet of kicking the story off quickly, Normandy Gold #1 is a satisfying pulpy crime thriller with an interesting central character. Fans of seedier crime thrillers, will find plenty to get them to stick around for next issue. 7.5/10