Friday, 1 January 2010

The best book I've read this year!

And so, being an insufferable bore who refuses to stop shouting into the ether about stuff very few other people want to listen to, I plod on into year four of this bilge filled bloggery. When the fuck will I learn, eh?

Given that it's New Year, I was going to compile one of those end of year/decade things that everyone else seems to have been doing over the last few weeks, but then it dawned on me that I really can't remember what I was reading last January, let alone ten bloody years ago, so I knocked the idea on the head.

I can tell you that I enjoyed the comics of Rick Remender last year. I was quite upset when he announced that he was chucking in all his creator owned books to go and work for Marvel, but it turns out that Doctor Voodoo and The Punisher are as brilliantly bonkers as anything he's done at Image or Dark Horse, so I needn't have worried. Besides, he's still knocking out the odd non-Marvel project...

Issue #1 of The Last Days of American Crime there. I read it this afternoon and it's very, very good. How about that for a cover, eh? Pulp to the max! This is a beautiful package, printed on high quality paper and running to 48 pages of story with some bonus sketch material thrown in. Square bound, with a card stock cover, it's a trade in all but name, and at $4.99 it represents superb value.

We've already seen that Remender loves to mess with genres, the conventions that govern them and the archetypes who populate them. He's provided us with new angles on everything from monster movies (Gigantic) to super-heroes (The End League), horror (XXX Zombies) and classic SF comics (Fear Agent). Here he's tackling crime, giving us his take on the classic heist movie, complete with a cast of characters who'll be familiar to every fan of criminal noir flicks.

Don't let that put you off though. Yes, we've seen the damaged femme fatale and the grizzled old criminal planning one last heist before, and yes, the sense of inevitable failure is one which will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a heist movie. But it's obvious that Remender is playing with our ideas of what makes a heist story, presenting us with familiar characters so that he can fuck with those preconceptions further down the line.

At least I imagine that's what he's doing. Even if it isn't, it's clear that this is going to be a different kind of crime book, because the big hook with this story is that the characters are planning their heist in a near-future world where the American government is about to transmit a brain-controlling signal which will make it impossible for anyone to break the law! How's about that for subverting the traditional crime caper?

In this environment, a good percentage of the population have lost the plot, getting every illegal impulse out of their system before the big switch-off. This then, is a story told against a backdrop of crime infested car-lots and dangerous looking bars where burglary, mugging and prostitution are as much a part of the scenery as the buildings and cars that populate the city streets. It's a tale infused with a sense of decay and danger; a vivid and frightening world brilliantly realised by Remender and given life by artist Greg Tocchini.

A brief bit of internet research reveals that Tocchini is no newcomer to comics, but I have to admit that I'd never heard of him before I picked up The Last Days of American Crime. Sad really, because he's so good that I can't believe he isn't already a massive name. It must be slightly daunting to draw a book where Alex Maleev has turned in a bona fide Grade A cover, but it's testament to Tocchini that his interiors more than match what Maleev has done on the front of the book.

It's beautiful painted stuff, done in watercolours that remind me of Bill Sienkiewicz or Jon J Muth, and presented in layouts that are very clever. The book kicks off with a series of panels that zoom out from the protagonists eyeball and into the hell of crime-infested America. From then on we're treated to a series of unusual and very cinematic looking shots that place us above, below and in the midst of the action. It makes for deeply involving visual story-telling which complements the rhythm of Remender's script perfectly.

All in all great stuff then. What you get from this first issue is a glossy intro to a potentially excellent crime caper, brought to you by two creators working in perfect synthesis. A nice comic to kick off the New Year with and, on this evidence, one that's going to be hard to top in the next twelve months.

Highly Recommended.

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