In its opening pages, Boom! Studios’ “Bury the Lede” strives for the iconography of classic noir, coming in heavy-handed on just about every contrived trope that one can imagine. The opening panels drip with deep, cold, palettes inundated with shadows. As a credit to writer Gaby Dunn’s and artist Claire Roe’s command of tone, the comic immediately drops readers into a crime scene that pretty succinctly defines its core characters, even if the means lack originality. With this clunky exposition, the graphic novel spends more time telling readers what’s going than showing them.
Through too-dark panels and oversimplified dialogue, the novel cuts itself off at the knees, growing tedious long before it grows interesting.
“Bury the Lede” follows the mythological Boston Lede’s fledgling reporter and current intern Madison Jackson as she navigates the cutthroat world of crime reporting. Jackson’s character relies heavily on conventions associated with defining a recognizable hero — she’s at the bottom of the food chain and is chomping at the bit for any opportunity to prove herself. But rather than revealing these details through interactions she has with her environment, a large part of the story’s word count is composed of Jackson’s thoughts. And these thoughts are plagued by the same lines readers are likely to have seen a hundred times over.
What appears as intended introspection becomes merely a play-by-play of things that are plainly occurring right on the page. And in this way, much of the art of the graphic novel reads as divorced from its writing, marking a dangerous incohesiveness that doesn’t improve much over the course of the story.
And much of the interiority of Jackson’s character is undermined by superficial observations about the world. The who’s whos and what’s whats quickly bore, and Jackson isn’t offered enough substance to give these early blunders the benefit of the doubt.
The trajectory of Jackson’s story is also muddled by confusing and jarring plot points that simultaneously reveal too much and not enough information about where the story is trying to go. Early on, the graphic novel sets up what has the potential to be an interesting cat-and-mouse relationship between murderess Dahlia Kennedy and Jackson, but once again shallow constructs of recognizable character tropes mar successful exploration of the characters.
Beyond this, Kennedy and Dahlia are not readily easy to root for. The dynamics between them are easily eclipsed by recent and far more successful forays into the same relationship archetype and the pair is rendered unable to serve the story in a consistently engaging way.
Along the way, supplementary characters attempt to provide the story with some direction, but often interactions are too brief or too confusing to warrant a pay-off. From a maybe-love interest and kind-of mentor to a not-quite-mean-enough boss and a somewhat-tense sibling relationship, all of the graphic novel’s characters repeatedly seem to fail their purpose.
And while “Bury the Lede” does offer valuable efforts toward a diverse cast (a queer Asian American lead is nothing to spit at), the characters don’t ever come off the page — they’re never interesting enough to assert any staying power. Not to mention that the writing often openly panders to inclusivity in a way that feels transparently irrelevant and intentionally vague.
The graphic novel can’t seem to strike an even balance between camp and drama, and this damns it before it ever really gets going. What remains is a hollow shell of what could have been a great entry into the noir genre. Instead, readers are left with a murder-mystery of less-than-epic proportions, and an underdog that is unlikeable enough to justifiably remain under.
Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].