August 15, 2013

Image Comics Review: Ten Grand

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Written by: Jeff Lake
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imageTen Grand
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image

With the deluge of comics coming out each week, it IS possible to miss a book or two. I know, I know, “get a pull-list, dummy!” Well, I didn’t, and as such I completely missed the debut of J. Michael Straczynski’s stellar Ten Grand, a grievous error of which I’m now making amends. Issue #4 just came out, so now seems like as good a time as any to review the series thus far.

If you couldn’t tell from my use of “stellar” in the opening, I like this book. For those unfamiliar, Ten Grand follows the tortured soul of one Joe Fitzgerald, former mob enforcer turned heavenly operative. Set to leave his life of crime behind for his one love, Laura, Joe is instead killed by a friggin’ demon during his last night on the job, and Laura is a tragic victim in the crossfire. As he watches Laura bleed out, Joe is visited by a heavenly presence who offers him a new lease on life in exchange for his services against the occult. Those services provide another perk – every time he dies for a righteous purpose, he gets to see Laura again for five minutes before he’s resurrected to continue the fight. Doesn’t seem like the BEST deal, but when your guts are on the floor I suppose there’s no time for negotiations.

When not serving those on high, Joe moonlights as a private eye of sorts, taking on problems that are a bit outside the norm of the law. His fee? Ten grand, just enough to filter out those less serious while not breaking the bank for those who genuinely need his help. Downright gentlemanly if you ask me. This first major arc has him helping a young girl named Debbie whose sister, Sarah, has disappeared under less than usual circumstances. Joe’s investigation leads him to discover that an old foe, who he previously killed, may be kinda less than dead. Ruh-oh!

Obviously there’s more to these first few issues than that, but I’m loathe to spoil much else. Straczynski has created a dark, twisted world that aptly mixes real life drama with the supernatural. In Joe, we have the classic anti-hero – he’s abrasive, angry, and downright vengeful, but he also has a strong moral compass and a deep, deep capacity for guilt. Straczynski writes him as a man on a mission, his goal of total atonement absolute in his quest to be reunited with Laura. It’s this drive that gives the book its weight, as not only is Joe willing to die for her, he’s willing to do so over and over if it means being with her in the end. Joe’s pain is palpable, the guilt he feels for his role in Laura’s death all encompassing. It’s tragic, yet lovely, as he truly lives (and dies) for her.

Of course, that’s not to say this is simply a love story. There’s also a significant amount of ass kicking, demon fighting, specter speaking, and overall badassery involved. Ten Grand is chock full of occult shenanigans, as Joe has to use every trick and card at his disposal in his constant search for answers. His investigation leads him to some dark places with some darker adversaries, each situation more precarious than the last. Seriously, some of the stuff in this book is messed up, and Straczynski does an amazing job balancing the moments of supernatural horror with real world sleuthing. Without giving too much away, there’s some BIG stuff coming, as Joe must fight even harder to protect that which he loves.

As great as the writing is (and it is great), in my mind this book is made by artist Ben Templesmith. His rough, aggressive pencils and moody, paint-splotched colors are a perfect complement to the story. His ability to change the tone from panel to panel is incredible, and as a reader I found myself continually invested with the scenes on the page. This is a dark book, that much is reflected throughout, but there are also moments of lightness that are expertly captured by the artist. Laura is consistently bathed in a warm glow, whereas the seedy “real” world is draped in shadow and harsh hues. Templesmith’s beasties are also a highlight, each one more grotesque and nasty than the last. If Hell is anything like the artist depicts it, I’m helping every damn old lady I see across the street. It cannot be understated how important an artist is to a book’s success, and Templesmith’s work alone is worth the cover price.

Ten Grand is bleak, scary, and all around exceptional. In Joe Fitzgerald I’ve found a hero worth rooting for; flawed, but honest, giving everything for what matters most. Straczynski and Templesmith have only just begun to hit their stride, and I highly recommend hopping on this wagon before your five minutes is up.

Jeff Lake



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