That's because melodramas are melodramatic, and noir is, you know, serious. Rightly or wrongly, I'd associated melodramas with cliffhangers, and noir is about endings, the bleaker the better.
Except what could be bleaker than to keep running into bleak endings, tragedy after tragedy, loss after loss, without ever a happy ending or escape into death?
Jason Aaron's Scalped is responsible for my little epiphany, particularly a story in Rez Blues, the seventh and most recent trade paperback that collects issues of this darker than dark comic set on a South Dakota Indian reservation. The story features Shunka, previously seen only as an enforcer for Lincoln Red Crow, a chief and casino owner who runs everything on the reservation. (Red Crow's resemblance to the ruthless barons of stories like Red Harvest is not Aaron's only tribute to the Black Mask-era. One of his protagonists is named Dashiell Bad Horse.)
Give every central and significant supporting figure a doomed quest, with every apparent resolution turning into a new, more hellish species of damnation, and pretty soon the quests stop seeming like excuses to keep the story going and start forming coherent pieces of an inescapably grim world.
As in much noir, the prevailing darkness makes a marvelous, ironic background for the occasional flash of humor. My favorite here comes when Shunka confronts a casino owner whose bad-mouthing has kept the big acts away from Red Crow's casino. The bad-mouthing owner/chief replies:
"So wait, let me get this straight. Red Crow sent you all the way out here to threaten me...over Wayne Newton and Cirque du Soleil?"© Peter Rozovsky 2011