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Playback: A Graphic Novel    by Raymond Chandler, Ted Benoit & Francois Ayroles order for
by Raymond Chandler
Order:  USA  Can
Arcade, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Through the years that his script was in production, Raymond Chandler probably never imagined that it would be turned into a graphic novel. Playback was originally intended for film, but continual negotiations and rewrites left the manuscript in a permanent limbo, which it never escaped. Flash-forward over a half-century and fans will be elated to get one more fix from the classic crime writer - in a medium that has learned to present crime noir just as well as film or the written word does.

Betty Mayfield is running from a past that she can't seem to escape. After the questionable death of her husband and an ensuing court trial dominated and influenced by her enraged father-in-law, Mayfield is acquitted by the judge despite the jury's guilty verdict. Making a new life for herself, Mayfield travels from North Carolina to Vancouver to escape the dark cloud of her past. But no sooner does she settle into a hotel than she becomes suspect in another murder. As she falls victim again to the events of her past, she must try to absolve herself - and also find out who is out to get her.

The story is your classic mystery and Chandler's style is evident. The lengthy and detailed introduction about Playback's film history provides great background for readers and warms them up for the story that follows. Francois Ayrole uses solely black and white in all his drawings, casting black shadows throughout to re-emphasize the noir aspect of this tale. Shadows appear everywhere but most prominently upon the faces of characters, depicting a variety of attitudes and moods relating to their roles in the story.

The page layout generally consists of three rows of panels with three panels per row, allowing for nine well-sized panels per page. Of course, they mix this up here and there, but it's pretty much the standard. Interestingly, the panels appear so consistent that they could run as a serial in a newspaper. However, given its history as a potential film, one wonders if this project was adapted from storyboards once created for the never-to-be-realized film. This is more an observation than criticism, since the repetition of panel sizes and rows gives comfort to the reading.

Reading today's crime noir comics - such as Sin City or 100 Bullets - it can easily be seen how the current state of this genre has stemmed from the work of authors such as Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Playback, which offers a compelling tale in a talented visual format, is a new outlet for fans who have read everything else by Chandler and an inlet for readers who have never read anything by the author.

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