Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Every week he is going to attempt a mini review of his favourite one, with potential minor spoilers.
Of the limited number of comics I did read this week*, the book I enjoyed the most was The United State of Murder Inc. #1 from Brian Michael Bendis and art by Michael Avon Oeming, with colours from Taki Soma and letters by Chris Eliopoulos, published by the Icon imprint from Marvel comics. I have read very little of Bendis’s work so far, mainly because everything I see him writing is Marvel. I briefly tried getting into Marvel, but I was already invested in the DC universe fairly heavily and was trying to buy more independent stuff too, so couldn’t afford to keep it up. I am a PhD student living in London after all, and I don’t think “I can’t afford rent because I bought too many comics” will go down well as a good excuse for why I have started sleeping at my desk and using the emergency shower in the lab every day. I dropped nearly all the Marvel books I was picking up, choosing to wait for trades that looked really good instead, along with a fair few DC books so I could still grab new creator-owned series that caught my eye. That said, I did read about 7 issues of Uncanny X-Men last year from Bendis, and I enjoyed it. That is a series that I’m planning to keep up with in trades.
Anyway, The United States of Murder Inc. takes place in an alternate USA where the Mob continued to be a dominant force rather than dying out in the early 20th century, to the extent that they actually own the East Coast (“the territories”). Our protagonist is Valentine Gallo, and we meet him just as he becomes a made man and is inducted into one of the major crime families. He is soon sent on his first job, out of the territories to Washington DC. On the way he is joined by a veteran member of the crime family, Jagger Rose, a sultry redhead sent to guide him (or emasculate him, whatever). I really enjoyed the back-and-forth dialogue between the pair on the train, it felt genuine and I didn’t find it to be over the top despite it feeling very much like a noir film. Things take an unexpected turn during the job, leading Valentine to confront more senior members of the family towards the end of the issue. This builds to what should be a particularly interesting plot as we go forward with the series.
At this point I must confess I made a pretty stupid error. I was going to give the book a lower score than I have, because I felt that the ending felt rushed. I felt that it should have been the end of the second issue, and the first issue should entirely be concerned with establishing this interesting alternate world. I think it probably ends up to the credit of the writing because I must have been so engrossed in the story that I did not notice that this was an oversized first issue, so what transpires in the last pages essentially is the end of a normal issue #2. So I retracted that complaint before I even made it. What I’m saying is I liked the story, and I liked the writing.
The art is really interesting, and I mean that to be a compliment. It is fairly cartoony, but in a very dark way. Lots of thick, bold lines, with a toned down almost unimportant use of background to really emphasise the characters as being the most distinct aspect of each shot. The colours really back this up, with a different but basic shades flooding the background of each scene. Most of the characters tend to be a stark black and white against this background, except Jagger who really stands out with red hair and clothes in every scene (blood and fire incidentally also stand out). As usual, I am a total sucker for double page splashes. Give me two in a row, first of an explosion and then the same explosion reflected in someone’s sunglasses? I’m in.
I enjoyed this comic a great deal, and I seem to be paying so little attention of late that I didn’t even realise it was coming out. I just saw it on the rack at the comic book shop and thought “I’d like to read more Bendis, and this doesn’t require loads of pre existing knowledge of what came before it!”. I’m glad I did (see kids, acting on impulse works out sometimes), I found a really different looking book from anything else I’m reading, and in a setting that I did not know I wanted a comic about. It turns out I did. Check it out at your local comic book shop, or digitally online if you have one of those new fangled tablet thingys.
Score: 8 Coronation Pins out of 10
* This week I actually mostly bought DC comics, only to find out that a lot of it is now taking place post-Forever Evil, the finale of which was delayed for about a month and doesn’t come out until next week. So I didn’t read most of what I bought as I am still pointlessly trying to avoid any form of spoilers, even though I have heard snippets of what does happen (and I did read Futures End #2, in which a throw away line did also indicate other things that obviously happen in Forever Evil #7 that I didn’t know). I would of course rather the book was completed properly with delays than get in fill-in artists or whatever to get it out on schedule, and I also get that it’s not like DC can postpone a huge number of comics for a month that have already been solicited, but this still feels a bit ridiculous. Frustrating, but there we go.