RARA-AVIS: Re: Super Heroes, Comics, and Noir

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 25 Jul 2008

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    Re your comments below:

    "My definition of noir involves a damning, a character giving into his baser instincts and weaknesses and dooming himself either psychically or physically."

    The way you put this points up, better than anything, what is wrong with the way so many of you approach noir.

    "MY definition of noir . . . " is, by definition (not to be redundant), going to be a personal response to, or impression of what noir is, and, in consequence, can't truly BE a definition, in the sense of giving a description that covers all the stories under consideration.

    This is why, when I defined noir as a crime story with a dark, sinister atmosphere, I was deliberately avoiding imposing my own preconceptions of what noir SHOULD be. Instead, I tried to discern what the common elements were of the films and novels commonly labeled noir, and, guess what? "Dark and sinister atmosphere" seemed to about be the only thing they all had in common.

    They didn't all feature a main character who was screwed.

    They didn't all feaure a main character whose giving in to his baser instincts led to his damnation.

    Some of them were hard-boiled.

    Some of them weren't.

    Some of them featured good guys versus bad guys.

    Some of them just featured bad guys.

    Some of them were fair-play whodunits.

    Some of them let you know who the villain was in the opening scene of the story.

    Some of them featured amateurs.

    Some of them featured professionals.

    But they all had dark, sinister atmoshperic elements.

    Earlier Steve Novak said:

    "I do not consider publication in a 'pulp' as 'entry' into the noir genre/mode/group. ..because if we said that we could/would say for example that all of the SÚrie Noire is 'noir' . . . "

    Well, duh!

    Of course all of the Serie Noire is noir, because when Gallimard started that line, they COINED the term "noir" to describe the kind of crime story that was going to appear under that label. Since they coined the term, they get to set the parameters. And the parameters they set are a lot broader than what you or Steve suggest.

    You think "dark and sinister atmosphere" is too broad to be useful? Well, that may be, but it seems to me that it's a hell of a lot more useful than taking issue over someone else's referring to a given story as noir because it doesn't fit the personal, individual definition you've decided fits for your personal, individual purposes.

    Batman stories are noir because they're crime stories that have a dark and sinister atmosphere.

    If you prefer Jack's definition, they're still noir, because the poor guy watched his parents get greased by a vicious petty criminal when he was 9 or 10, and hasn't gotten over the trauma. He's about as screwed, and as screwed up, as it gets.

    Even by your definition, it's noir because Batman has chosen to deal with his trauma by personally wreaking vengeance on every criminal for the offense of one single criminal who he'll never be able to bring to justice. He's condemning himself to an unfulfilled life, damning himself to use your term, to scratch an itch that will never go away.

    As for THE DARK KNIGHT film, of course it's NOT noir, because it's in color and it was made after 1964, and consequently, as we all know, simply cannot be noir.

    But it's close enough.



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