This will be the first Friday Follow Up under the new format. I’ll be examining two books released by Image this week: the conclusion of “Snapshot” by Andy Diggle and Jock and the debut of “Ten Grand” by J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith. Be aware that these reviews will contain some spoilers. I will not be summarizing the plot, but if spoilers bother you and you have not read the books, go no further.
“Snapshot” is in some ways best discussed by what it is not. It is not a genre piece. It is not a story with a happy ending. It is not a book edited to fit a market. Because of all of the things it is not, it is a very good comic.
The first three issues of the book created an interesting mystery and a series of compelling action sequences (I could re-read the bike chase in issue two a dozen times). They laid a solid foundation for an enjoyable mini-series, whatever the outcome. In the final issue, Andy Diggle sticks the landing and shows why the ending is the conceit. This is why the book can be defined by precisely what it is not. It is not the story of a protagonist beating the bad guy. It is not the story of a protagonist growing up and improving himself. It is therefore a story about something much more than the typical hero’s journey.
The concluding moments of the book reveal an antagonist that is beyond Jake’s, and for that matter the reader’s, power. The ominous McGarrett is not even the “bad guy”, as Jake puts it, he is merely the representative of greater powers. He is the representation of the worst-case scenario for those who participated in the Occupy Movement or support Anonymous. He represents a world controlled by the powerful, not for nefarious reasons, but simply because they are the powerful and will remain so. Protests, rebellions, demonstrations, they are all merely aberrations in the grand scheme, cancer cells which will be cut out. The wall of pinkies reveal just how effectively these obstructions have always been removed. In the end Jake is powerless to do anything to affect change. He picks up the gun and accepts the world as it is and how it always will be: beyond his control.
That single “BLAM” rings out for good reason. It reflects an impotence that has been widely accepted. Consider modern political reactions and movements, such as Occupy Wall Street or the reaction to Sandy Hook. There was a great deal of sound and fury about the devastating impact of the events that inspired them, but ultimately no real change. The Occupy protests, the calls for a safer society after Sandy Hook, the rioting at the conclusion of “Snapshot”, and Jake’s own journey are all shown to be the same. They are all loud, but ultimately change nothing. They are cries from people without power and who remain powerless. The story of “Snapshot” doesn’t provide us with a picture of an everyman hero, it provides us with a picture of everyman’s impotence. Whether you believe the comparison to be true or not, it’s effective and scary.
The strength of the story is enhanced exponentially by the art of Jock. His work is never a grade below excellent, whether it be on covers or interiors. He also has a history with Andy Diggle, which shows how well suited the two creators are for one another in books like “The Losers” and “Green Arrow: Year One”. Jock’s work on this book shows how a sense of realism need not be hamstrung by sharp lines which rely on inkers for depth. Whereas pencilers like Jim Lee and Ethan Van Sciver tightly outline the forms of characters and backgrounds, Jock more ably captures the essence of a moment with fewer lines. The streaks of rain and spiked explosions of a gunshot meld into the panel to create an effective atmosphere, affecting a visceral tone to the dramatic beats in each panel. Characters are recognizable in the same way people are, for their outstanding characteristics, whether it be Jake Dobson’s long face and emo boy-band hair or Detective Gray’s police-tastic moustache. The reader will never be in doubt of who it is they’re looking at and what that person is like. At its core, Jock’s sense of composition both in and between panels, is simply good story telling.
The choice to not color “Snapshot” when republishing it in America was probably wise. It leaves each panel starkly exposed, making the violence more vicious and facial expressions more honest. The ink splatters in scenes like the one above add a sense of chaos to the pages and emphasize the impact of the violence. They are reminiscent of a Ralph Steadman painting and would undoubtedly have lost something in translation, if the book were fully colored.
When taken as a whole, “Snapshot” stands as an achievement in terms of its story, art, and the dramatic combination of the two. Although it read well as four individual chapters, it excels as a complete book. It will be a paperback (and hopefully a hardcover) worth displaying on library shelves, loaning to friends, and rereading for years to come.
The first issue of “Ten Grand” reads as equal parts detective fiction and supernatural thriller. It’s reminiscent of “Hellblazer” at its best, but stands as a unique book from the first page. Like so much good detective fiction it’s built upon a very flawed hero and a world which is similar to our own, but not one in which we would want to exist. Joe is not a very nice guy. Killing people for a living tends to have that effect. However, he’s funny and loves someone enough to do terrible things, two elements which can go a long way to endear a protagonist to readers. His pickiness about language and appearance are amusing (I like it when people don’t like too). It’s his relationship with Laura that is most important though. It’s the basis for the story and isn’t very well explored in the first issue. The events surrounding her demise are laid out, but not the reasons why she was so great. To accept a hellish life for five minutes with someone requires a great deal more justification than is provided in the first issue. Their relationship needs exploring, simply being told what he’ll do for her is not enough, but it has the potential to be considered a romance deserving of the “epic” moniker.
The mythos behind the story already feels rich and well considered. The combination of technology and magic is interesting and could have easily felt like a deus ex machina without Joe acting as guide. He skims over what he is doing without bogging the story down in exposition. It’s a good way of explaining the supernatural (think Obi-Wan talking about the Force), when it’s so easy to explore the same subject matter terribly (think midichlorians). The angelic outlines and demons in the basement, beautifully (or horribly, in a good way) illustrated by Ben Templesmith make you want to see more of this landscape, as long as Joe’s there to act as a guide. That’s a good sign, as the same comments could be made about Sam Spade exploring the underbelly of San Francisco.
The story is off to a great start, laying out the premise behind a world that is equal parts fantastical and horrifying, while kicking off the mystery effectively. All of the elements necessary for a good detective story are in place and are paired with a premise which may allow the story to reach for something more sublime than good genre-fiction.
Ben Templesmith is a master of his form. His panels drip with the moment’s mood (usually an unpleasant one). Lighting can be difficult to use effectively in comics, but no one does it better than Templesmith. The lights in this issue alone vary from late night street lamps to neon-emblazoned strip joints, from blazing house fires to the shining light of the heavens. The effect is created not through precise shadows and coloring, but by covering each panel in the essence of the scene. The opening panel literally glows off the page, brighter than some electronic gadgets…
while the strip club lights swirl about in the background, sharp and fake.
In a story like this, place and mood are overwhelmingly important elements to the story. Templesmith’s work sets both perfectly. A bar feels like a bar and a crazy occult den feels like ten types of awful. It adds menace and weight to the story, making it easier to accept the fantastic elements and sympathize with a protagonist who is at best an anti-hero. In good detective fiction, the setting is just as important as any character. Although the city isn’t named, the reader will always know exactly where they are.
“Ten Grand” is ambitious and has the talent to back it up. The worst case scenario is that it will be a good piece of genre-fiction. The best case scenario is tough to imagine. Both of these creators understand the form in which they are working and are capable of writing something outstanding. My recommendation is to buy the ticket, take the ride.