Crime comic fans are all too familiar with the private eye stereotype of the booze addled womaniser with the complex past. However in Dash #1, writer Dave Ebersole and artist Delia Gable have brilliantly subverted this well worn character cliche by adding an intriguing new dimension – making him openly gay in the 1940s!
Publisher: Northwest Press
Writer: Dave Ebersole
Artist: Delia Gable
Price: £1.99/$2.99 from ComiXology
Although the lead characters sexual orientation is Dash’s unique selling point, this isn’t some overly PC re-imagining of classic detectives or a gritty indictment of the 1950s attitudes towards homosexuality, rather Dash is a smart and intelligently written piece of classic crime noir – it’s just that our flatfoot likes dudes not dames!
The story begins with the arrival of the seductive Zita Makara into Dash’s office as she attempts to hire him to be the middle man in a transaction involving a considerable sum of money and a mysterious object. However unlike traditional noir femme fatales, her advances fall on deaf ears, despite her best attempts! As Dash begins to find out more about his elusive new client and her role in the Egyptology department of the local museum, his lover Johnny Plinketts is murdered with an M.O. that is very similar to another case and as you would expect from crime noir these two incidents quickly overlap and Dash is drawn further into the increasingly creepy world of Zita.
It’s at this point things begin to get a little far-fetched. When it comes to Dash’s personal life, writer Dave Ebersole handles things smartly, focusing on solid and plausible character development instead of sexual sensationalism. But when it comes to the McGuffin-tastic main plot the increasingly supernatural elements takes it away from the more grounded story it first appears to be.
The backstory for Dash is established early on with a series of DPS flashbacks as we learn he is a disgraced former cop who was kicked out from the police force after having a relationship with a suspect (the aforementioned Johnny) who he turned away from a life of crime and on to the straight and narrow. By using the 1940s setting Ebersole can comment on the out-dated laws of the time, as well as drawing parallels to how gay men are still treated in the present day.
Although this is a very emotive subject, the language and actions he uses are not heavy-handed and thanks to Dash’s openness about his sexuality and the positive nature of many of his supporting cast, it feels much more contemporary than we might expect in a book like this. Whether you see this as a positive or negative, Dash isn’t a damning indictment of the attitudes of the time, as you might expect from more grizzled writers like Ed Brubaker or Greg Rucka, instead this is a positive story about how attitudes can be changed for the better in the face of prejudice and how not all noir stories have to follow the same well worn footsteps.
As well as Ebersole’s smart script, the story is further helped by the subtle and classy art of Delia Gable. With a cartoonish edge it gives the whole thing a much lighter touch, than if it was drawn by a gritty Sean Philips or Michael Lark wannabe. The subtle muted colour schemes and use of textured backgrounds gives the book a lovely vintage feel and also helps the Egyptian subplot feel more at home.
With the rendering of the characters so accomplished though out, Gable and Ebersole can brilliantly play with genre and character on every page. In particular the reveal in issue #1 where we find out about Dash and Johnny via a full page splash as they embrace in a park before being rounded up by the police, is both highly sensational, but also genuinely sweet and touching and sums up perfectly the balance of tone that Dash manages so well.
Although it may lack the gritty edge that some crime fans may crave, it’s light and airy feel gives the series a really fresh sense of originality in such a cynical genre. With a strong supporting cast who inject a genuine sense of fun into this often overly-serious world (especially plucky secretary Cindy Crenshaw – who is more BFF than unrequited love interest), Dash is a thoroughly enjoyable and unexpectedly fun read, that makes for a genuinely fresh offering to the Private Eye genre.