27 Dec 2009

Cover To Cover: THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME #1

Due to the Festive break, Mini Reviews will return next Sunday. In the meantime, here's a more in depth look at one of the major releases of the last week.


THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME #1
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Greg Tocchini
Radical Comics $4.99

Matt C: This book had me sold with its title. Being a bit of a crime geek, to say I’m rather partial to tales of murder, deceit, revenge and general lawlessness is an understatement. The title of this miniseries was so powerful, so evocative, it’s one of those cases where you wonder how come no one ever thought to use it before; it’s so good you immediately doubt that anybody could ever come up with a storyline to match its brilliance. Rick Remender sets himself a huge task with this debut issue then, but while it’s fair to say this is no slam-dunk winner, it is mean and moody enough to make it a worthwhile purchase.

Radical are no strangers to putting out aesthetically pleasing product; the storytelling may not always make a good impression but, damn, they sure know how to put together a great looking book! Their new thing is the 64-page comic for $4.99, and while The Last Days Of American Crime actually has 48 pages of story with the rest made up of sketches and early art, there’s absolutely no denying it’s great value for money, especially when you consider the prices Marvel charge these days for often considerably less content.

The story itself, and the world Remender has envisioned, is pretty compelling: a signal is set to broadcast across the US which will make the performance of criminal acts a physical impossibility. It’s a top secret project, and the government are making doubly sure no one cottons on to it by trumpeting the move away from paper money to an entirely electronic economy. Two weeks before the signal goes live someone lets the cat out of the bag, and now the public are aware they won’t be able to get up to any bad deeds within a matter of days, chaos – naturally - ensues. Enter Graham Bricke, a career criminal who sees that this is final chance for that fabled ‘one last score’, and sets to work making it happen. Even before the job’s in motion things go awry, but as he’s working against the clock he has no choice but to press forward.

It’s an obvious choice to go for, the reliable noir staple that is the aforementioned ‘one last score’, but when you see the mayhem pouring out into the streets you do wonder whether there are more interesting and exciting stories happening elsewhere in this world. It doesn’t help that the three main players introduced so far in this plot aren’t proving to be the most charismatic individuals you’re ever likely to meet either. That said, the lurid murkiness of Tocchini’s art does draw you into the unfolding events, and Remender does provide some wonderfully tight and snappy dialogue. Other players enter the mix suggesting everything’s going to get a lot more dangerous and complicated quite swiftly so, reservations aside, it certainly leaves you looking forward to the next issue.

At the moment, The Last Days Of American Crime isn’t quite living up to its ingenious title or its deft high concept premise, but littered throughout its engaging first issue are signs that it could blossom into something thrillingly brutal. 7/10

Stewart R: With strange little incidents occurring around the world – Popes being lunged at, ‘foreign’ individuals trying to blow up planes flying to the US – you realise just what a paranoid and question-filled world we can live in today. Whereas the 20th century was predominantly about not trusting those people living on other shores or in faraway lands, the events of the later part of the century and those exploding out of the first decade of a new millennium have seen the mistrust spread much closer home.

Rick Remender’s exceptionally well-timed vision supposes that the United States’ Government develops a way to instantly make all native threats disappear completely by broadcasting a specific wave or frequency which would prevent criminality in entirety. That’s it, simple, easy and there is no need to go further into the science behind this; it’s just going to happen and now everyone has the deadline for when the change will take place.

It’s an intelligent plot point from which the writer can set out the final great heist before this monumental marker is reached. Normally with stories like this, the timings and deadlines for a good robbery are set by smaller, throwaway events which are ultimately inconsequential. But, by painting his background with broader strokes, it gives a real feeling of urgency and importance to the ‘job’ that his cast are planning and creates a world that’s only just a stone’s throw from our own. It’s certainly not an end-of-the-world scenario, but for the characters involved there is certainly the realisation that it is the end of their particular world as they know it. Thanks to this we get some terrific character development in just the first issue.

From the initial scenes we are led to believe that protagonist Graham Bricke is a cold-blooded and somewhat malicious hard man who is prepared to do anything in order to get what he wants, but Remender ensures that he’s not just a two-dimensional criminal during a fantastic second act that involves the sultry and seductive introduction of foxy computer hacker Shelby. By the time uber-confident Kevin Cash (great name for a heist team member) turns up it’s already clear that things are not going to be plain and simple and that everyone is hiding pasts and character faults that could scupper the devious plan at a moment’s notice.

The banter on display had me chuckling to myself in the festive company of family who all just looked on in baffled amusement as I became further engrossed in this brilliant comic. The artwork is truly exceptional with Tocchini’s neat, clean watercolour style capturing each and every location succinctly and the man’s colour work is fantastic – just flick through the book from beginning to end quickly and you’ll see just how he changes the palette through moody reds to fresh greens, blues and greys depending on where the story is taking us. It’s also important for a character-driven story to have expressive leads and Tocchini doesn’t disappoint on that front either; he even excels when the action takes a little turn for the briefly gruesome and the plot requires flying blood and human pieces to be present.

The whole thing is a great read from start to finish and the creators and Radical can be very proud of everything they have accomplished in this first issue. It’s a great plot with characters that draw you in to discover just what part they will play in the final grand robbery of the 21st Century. I excitedly sit here and wait now for 2010 and the next enticing issue of The Last Days of American Crime. Bring it on. 9/10

5 comments:

Justin said...

Good to see some additional takes on this book. Matt, I think Stewart and I liked it a little more than you, but you have a good point about the characters not being terribly likable.

I have a feeling this will read better collected and doesn't play well chopped up, since it appears to be very cinematic in scope (and actually is becoming a movie, no less).

Justin

Matt C said...

I read about the Sam Worthington thing a few weeks or so ago. Apparently he sends out of a 'friend' to places like Comic Con to keep a look out for potential adaptation material he can star in. How times have changed!

Stewart R said...

Yes this should definitely lend itself well to the cinematic experience but I guess the next two installments are important to see whether this will be as 'special' as I hope it'll be or whether we could enter a town called "Cliche" at any minute.

I'm wondering which character Worthington would line himself up to play...?

Justin said...

The material I read didn't specify, but I'm assuming he'd play Graham(?) after his "leading roles" (their words, not mine) in Terminator and Avatar.

Stewart R said...

Hmmmm in which case I reckon Cillian Murphy for the role of Kevin Cash... Might be a little too soon to be talking about castings I guess! :D