THE UNITED STATES OF MURDER
An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.
The new title from Brian Michael Bendis with pictures by Michael Avon Oeming, The United States of Murder, Inc., seems promising. In the first issue, we follow in the footsteps of young Valentine Gallo, who, by way of becoming a “made man,” is sent on an errand to Washington, D.C., where the briefcase he delivers to a senator explodes and kills the recipient. Before he makes his delivery, however, he meets a ravishing redhead who invites him to touch her boob, saying, at the same time, that he’ll never sleep with her. (But maybe he already has; we can’t be sure any more than he can.) She, it turns out, is sent by the mob as Valentine’s escort on his first mission.
The book contains two or three completed episodes that reveal Val’s personality — of which his encounter with the ravishing redhead is one. Another involves Val’s friend Dino, who, at Val’s insistence, accompanies him to Washington. En route on the train, Dino dispatches an annoying passenger but Val seems unmoved by the violence: it’s Dino’s disobedience that bugs him. Later, when Dino is killed, Val is again seemingly unmoved. And when he delivers the briefcase, he is likewise something of an automaton.
When he returns to the mob headquarters, they are all worked up trying to determine who rigged the briefcase to explode. Val is no help. Later, when he goes home, his mother tells him that he was born into undercover for the FBI. His father was a made man, and only the son of a made man could infiltrate the mob, and that’s what she intends him to do — and while there, to pull it all apart. End of issue.
Oeming’s art has become more drenched in shadow than ever.
His characters’ faces are typically half solid black. All very nice for mood, but it makes recognizing the characters difficult — particularly when the artist’s rendering manner is stark simplicity. The only thing that distinguishes Val from Dino is their hair: Dino’s is curly. Makes it all a little more confusing than it should be.
But the storytelling otherwise — and the story itself — is intriguing and will bring me back for more.