Gunning for Hits is a resounding rebuttal to the argument that Image Comics only puts out sci-fi, horror, and fantasy comics as writer Jeff Rougvie,who helped put together re-releases of David Bowie’s album catalogue in the 1990s, artist Moritat and colorist/letterer Casey Silver tell an inside baseball music industry saga that feels more like a mid-2000s prestige television show. It’s the 1980s, MTV is booming, everyone is buying CDs, and punk and New Wave are a thing, I guess. Martin Mills is an A and R man with a secret and thinks he might have a big act on his hands in Stunted Growth and their frontman Billy. But he has to argue with the Billy’s girlfriend/manager a lot first.
Until the final pages where Moritat and Silver turn the grit and grime of a Connecticut rock club to something a little more film noir, Gunning for Hits #1 is strictly an establishing chapter. It sets up Martin, Stunted Growth, and the cutthroat music industry of the 1980s and creates a little intrigue and future plot possibilities with the mention of Brian Slade aka the David Bowie stand-in from Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam rock film Velvet Goldmine. Martin and Billy might look and react as polar opposites, but they both love Slade’s work and want to be involved in his comeback. It’s also an opportunity for Moritat to take a break from the back rooms shadows and Martin’s practiced stances to draw some wide eyes and big poses as Billy geeks out.
The sequence that stood out most to me in Gunning for Hits is Martin’s explanation of how the music industry works. Instead of a wall of text about how the sausage is made, Rougvie let Moritat and Silver lose with fun and easy to follow cartooning in the vein of Scott McCloud, Action Philosophers and Comic Book History of Comics’ Ryan Dunlavey, or even the underrated Chris Eliopoulos. Fun, simple images make exposition go down easier and also do a solid job setting up Martin Mills’ place in the music industry without revealing his whole backstory. (One panel tells a lot, to be honest.) It’s a little crazy that the guy doing this humorous cartooning was bringing the dark atmosphere at the beginning and end of the comic. However, this extended scene isn’t without its rough patches, including an anti-Semitic caricature of a record company lawyer.
But, returning back to my mention of mid-2000s television, Gunning for Hits is really an anti-hero story about a cynical, sharp (In his narrative captions especially.), and morally bankrupt white man, who is good at his job and has just a hint of likability mostly in his music taste as he takes chances on new acts and doesn’t succumb to Baby Boomer nostalgia. Martin even gets pitted against an unlikable female character throughout the first issue, who is almost parodic in her demands from billboards in Times Square to prestigious hosting gigs and even getting Madonna as an opening act. (Although, Martin does remark that she does make good points about getting Stunted Growth on the radio.) He’s like Mad Men Season 1’s Don Draper, who does business in the backroom of shitty rock clubs and not board rooms, with Dick Whitman hiding somewhere beneath the surface. Moritat draws him like a tiger ready to pounce.
Jeff Rougvie’s wealth of experience in the music industry and a strong mysterious backstory hook plus Moritat and Casey Silver’s flexibility with the visuals make Gunning for Hits #1 a strong start to a series that is filled with both passion for the pure pop single as well as cynicism towards the whole soulless enterprise around it. It pairs well with “Ashes to Ashes”.
Story: Jeff Rougvie Art: Moritat Color/Letters: Casey Silver
Story: 8.0 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review