With Liar’s Kiss we have something for fans of Chandler, Hamnett, Elroy et al, a very solid, very enjoyable slice of hard-bolied detective story – a bit of comic noir. Sure, it’s not up there with those gentlemen, and it’s absolutely loaded with noir clichés, and it’s a little to quick and easy to resolve, but it’s damn good anyway.
Those cliches first; the failed private investigator down on his luck, the secretary who knows all, runs all, and knows it’s unlikely she’s ever going to get paid in full on time by her no-hoper boss. The police who see the P.I. as a leech, a waster, not worthy of anything but contempt. The femme fatale who knows more, so it seems, than she’s letting on. It’s all in here.
And, depending on how much you’re a fan of this sort of thing, those clichés lining up actually add to the enjoyment. You’re on familiar, comfortable ground here. You know exactly what to expect, you know just what you want from it, and Liar’s Kiss delivers everything, just the way you like it. And then there’s Skillman’s great noir dialogue going on, just like you should have been able to see in the pages.
The one beautiful twist Skillman does throw into the mix, the one thing marking it out as original is right there in the first few pages – as we see this on the very first page:
So, just another down at heel private dick doing a surveillance job for a rich husband suspecting his wife is up to no good eh? Standard stuff, yes?
Well, no, not at all. Sure, Johnny Kincaid is a rich guy, and he’s suspicious of his bored, beautiful, morally ambiguous second wife. And he did hire cynical Nick Archer to make sure she’s being a good homebody. And sure, Archer dutifully mails Kincaid photographic proof that his wife spends her nights quietly chaste in their house.
But it’s all just a scam, one that Archer and Mrs Kincaid have put together, just so they can get together to do this:
That’s the twist. That’s the clever spin on the story Skillman delivers right at the start. It puts you off balance right away, reveling in all the familiar noir cliches, but knowing the twist is what’s going to make this interesting.
From here, the whole thing goes horribly wrong. Old man Kincaid turns up dead, and even though Mrs Kincaid was obviously nowhere near the house when he was killed, she can’t say anything to clear her name without ruining her chances of inheriting her old man’s fortune. Her real problem is that it’s the carefully composed photos by Archer that put her at the scene of the crime. And thanks to the clever plan of moving the clocks forwards before she left her pill assisted hubby sleeping sound, the police think she was there when her old man was murdered. Ooops.
The only hope Mrs Kincaid has in clearing her name is Archer. But he’s just a terrible joke of an investigator, and there’s no way he’s going to be able to prove what he knows to be true. Or is there?
I’m going no further into the plot, bar to tell you that it’s full of twists and turns, building up from a noir procedural in the first half to race towards a revelatory final part where it all (nearly) gets resolved in a hugely satisfying way. You’ll certainly find yourself going back to revisit the story, fresh knowledge from the conclusion colouring the passions and actions of the cast throughout.
If you like your noir dark, snappy and thrilling, Liar’s Kiss is going to be as perfect an example of the genre in comic form as you’ll have seen for many a year. Skillman nails the dialogue – it feels just right, has the rhythm, the feel. Just read the panels above and below this – spot on.
And the art from Soriano is a perfect mix of striking character linework, thin and spidery, butting up against some deep blacks – I saw Eduardo Risso in there, but halfway through it really started to remind me of José Munoz’s classic black and white work with Carlos Sampayo in Alack Sinner. And that’s about as classic and noir as I can think of when it comes to comics right now.
It might not break any new ground, but what it does it does very well, and the end result makes Liar’s Kiss a sharp, fast, well written, excellently drawn piece of hardboiled noir.