In Vindication, writer MD Marie and artist Carlos Miko unspool a taut police procedural unafraid to address police bias and the plight of young black men unfairly targeted by the justice system.
In Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 detective novel The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade—portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 cinematic version—is the epitome of the ultimate detective. Cool, detached, and hard-boiled in the face of any criminal or heinous crime, Spade became the archetypal private eye of the film noir genre. Presented as the protagonist, the audience has little choice but to root for this archetype, though his impenetrable emotions are only slightly hinted at via cynical dialogue and murky action.
This style of detective story has been revisited an incalculable number of times since Hammett introduced Spade, including in writer MD Marie’s new miniseries Vindication. Illustrated by Carlos Miko and colored by Dema Jr., Vindication extends that ambiguous protagonist conceit to the story’s would-be antagonist, creating a blurred line between detective and criminal.
The story opens with Turn, a young black man who was convicted of murder by an all-white jury 10 years prior. When Turn is exonerated of the gruesome murder due to inconclusive DNA evidence, he’s greeted by Chip Christopher, the detective who helped lock him up. Detective Christopher is convinced of Turn’s guilt and becomes obsessively certain of it when a similar murder is committed right after Turn’s release.
In an increasingly self-aware American society, the racial tension between the U.S. justice system and the disproportionate number of incarcerated black men can no longer go ignored. Marie uses this tension in tandem with classic noir tropes to cast everyone—including the consummate detective—in a more complex light. The 1930s version of Vindication would cast Detective Christopher investigating a grim murder—full stop. In 2019, that part of the story still exists, but so does Turn’s side of the events.
“As a person of color, my perspective on an ethnic community's relationship with law enforcement and the experiences of people I know—both civilians and cops—have influenced Vindication,” says Marie, who counts Maltese Falcon as her all-time favorite crime thriller.
Marie and Image Comics veteran Matt Hawkins had been discussing potential projects that the up-and-coming writer might contribute to Image imprint Top Cow, when Hawkins read a series of articles about black men being exonerated of crimes after spending long periods of their lives behind bars. Marie jumped at the chance to tell an authentic story.
She specifically pursued the comic platform for its track record at conveying such a morally ambiguous crime-centered story. “I think the pictures help dramatize the story better than film,” Marie explains. “In film, the pictures are constantly moving, but in graphic novels, the artist has the opportunity to freeze and dramatize a moment or embellish an image to convey the feeling, or seriousness, of that moment or character.”
Though Brazil-based artist Miko has never been to Los Angeles, the story’s setting, he credits Marie’s meticulous script and in-depth character details for making the city come to life in his hyper-realistic, intricate drawings.
“What I knew about Los Angeles was basically from what I see in movies and on the news,” Miko says. “But working on this comic gave me a better perspective of the city and the people. Marie’s characters were very well built and developed along with the story, so I wanted my style to match the level it required.”
As for visually depicting America’s racial distress, Miko not only relied on Marie’s guidance, but also his own world.
“Sadly, here in Brazil, we have a lot of problems with racism. It’s not everywhere, but it happens,” he explains. “That said, I wanted to depict the characters, their reasons and objectives, and what led them on their way.”
The result of Marie and Miko’s collaboration is a grim tale where guilt and innocence aren’t easy to identify, and the inner machinations of every character are wide open to reader interpretation. But beyond Vindication’s mystery and social commentary, Marie’s intentions are quite clear.
“Ultimately, I hope readers are entertained.”
Vindication #1 is available now in comic stores