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FIRST ISSUE: THE HARD PLACE

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. A completed episode displays decisive action or attitude, telling us that the book’s creators can manage their medium.

 

The Hard Place NoWorking with a somewhat cliché situation, writer Doug Wagner manages a nifty twist and sucks me in with The Hard Place, No.1. A.J. Gurney gets out of prison after five years and vows to go straight hereafter. In one episode complete in a few pages, he visits the local brutal crime boss to make sure he’ll be left alone to pursue a useful civilian life, working with his father in an auto repair shop. We witness several brief but complete episodes that demonstrate the extent of Gurney’s resolve — including one in which he declines a chance to drive a souped-up cop car despite his being the best driver in Detroit.

In the book’s final episode, Gurney dresses up in a suit and tie in order to enhance his chances of getting a loan at the bank — a loan essential to revitalizing his father’s business. The bank’s loan officer is just about to grant Gurney’s request when two robbers enter the bank. Gurney encourages the loan officer to call 911, and when one of the robbers sees what’s going on, he shots and kills the guy.

The robber also recognizes Gurney, “the best wheelman money could buy,” and as the book ends, Gurney is being recruited to unwillingly drive the robbers’ getaway car as depicted on the right.

The story moves inexorably, step by illuminating step, to its inevitable conclusion. Nicely done.

The tale builds to the twist that ends it for now. It begins on the first page by depicting the results of an auto accident, and half-way through the book, we witness the inside of the speeding car that eventually crashes, killing an occupant. When we get to the last page, then, we’re ready to draw a conclusion. The dead guy in the car wreck doesn’t look like Gurney. The next issue, which I’m sure to get, will tell us whether we’re right. (Well, not quite: new mysteries and dilemmas abound in No.2 — enough to keep me going and going and going.)

Nic Rummel’s artwork is distinctive with a capital B. He deploys the boldest line I’ve seen in comics in years. And he decorates some of the space between the lines that outline faces with quirky thinner lines that model the portraits. See the sample page in the illo that accompanies the preceding post, a review of the Moneypenny book.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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