Review: Ten Grand #3

Wow. Those final few pages, am I right? But let’s get back to that later.

Ten Grand is not a new concept. Even this particular mash up has been done before (Hellblazer, arcs of Sandman, Fatale). Nothing about the idea of a supernatural tinged detective noir is fresh; in fact, occult tinted pulps were common as far back as the early 20th Century. And yet.

The character of Joe Fitzgerald, brought back to life again and again by God or angels, is a holy enforcer at times and a private eye at others. Frequently, as they must do, those two roles intersect. If he dies a righteous death, he gets to spend five minutes in heaven with the love of his life, Laura, before being brought back to life. While it’s a great premise, as I said before, it borrows heavily from some very classic ideas, whether it’s classic noir, The Divine Comedy, Greek mythology, or the Bible itself. However, J. Michael Straczynski’s handle on the character is superb. His dialogue is terse and to the point: a Sam Spade with immortality. The narration, while a little too frequent for my taste, does an excellent job of getting across Joe’s feelings without ever being too overt.

(SPOILERS) It’s this aspect that makes me care about the book. I’m generally a sucker for the hardboiled, but this book has its hooks in me deep. Because of JMS’ writing, I’ve come to actually care about Joe’s life and Laura’s death. I too want to see justice done. So when things get a little predictable, I’m happily along for the ride. And in this issue, things got a little predictable. Maybe a half of the issue was spent in flashback, and we learned how Joe met Laura and about the beginning of their courtship: Laura pulled him from the wreckage of a car crash and played the role of beautiful, understanding nurse. The flashback mostly (and thankfully) skates over the bulk of their relationship, but I still found it a tad long. The beginning of the issue posited some interesting new information about which I was keen to learn; unfortunately, it was dropped until (presumably) next issue, and instead we got a mostly cliché back story.

But it’s all right. I care about Joe, and I care about his relationship with Laura, so I’m content.

Let’s instead talk about those final few pages. Ben Templesmith is one of my absolute favorite artists working today (I’m still mourning the loss of Fell), and my God if he doesn’t knock this issue out of the park. He’s known for wallowing in shadows and dark and muted colors. He’s known for horror and mutilation and disfigurement. And we get all of that in this issue. The demons he draws are terrifying and visceral, all blood and teeth and rotting flesh. The first scene of this book, set in a morgue, is haunting and drained of almost all color, except for bright spots that stand out and look extra ethereal.

And yet, the flashback scenes with Laura are particularly lovely. She’s colored in such a way to make it seem like she’s constantly lit by some otherworldly light and surrounded by the outer dark (foreshadowing her time in heaven and the end of this issue, of course), lending the book, at least momentarily, a brightness and softness necessary to match the blackness of the narrative and the characters.

Finally, we have those last pages, focused on Laura, surrounded by beauty and intense light, which through Templesmith’s unique style indeed seems heavenly. But suddenly she turns and sees a dark spot growing, a cancer in heaven and on the page. Demons ascend into what she thought was paradise, given a speed and ferocity few artists could provide, and drag her relentlessly down. The entire sequence is a perfect complement to the early flashback, showing the reader, and Laura, that no one is quite safe anywhere in the world of Ten Grand. Monsters, in human form or demon, lurk just around the corner. Cynical? Depressing? Sure. But damn fine reading.

Story: J. Michael Straczynski Art: Ben Templesmith
Story: 8 Art: 10 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.