2 Aug 2013

Graphic Perception: 39 MINUTES

Writer: William Harms
Art: Jerry Lando, Linda Sejic, Jay Leisten & Brian Bucellato
Image/Top Cow $19.99

Matt C: 39 Minutes won Top Cow’s annual ‘Pilot Season’ initiative back in 2010, and from what I can gather the series was originally set to debut in 2011. That didn’t happen according to plan and instead of a miniseries back then we’re getting the whole lot in the form of an original graphic novel this week. Three years is a long time in the comics business, so chances are some folks who voted for 39 Minutes might have given up hope of seeing the finished product – heck, I can’t remember if I even voted in the Pilot Season that year, but then my memory’s note quite as reliable as it used to be. The point is, it’s finally here, and for those either in or not in the know, here’s the skinny: 39 Minutes is a pretty tense and addictive crime thriller.

In a nutshell: a group of ex-Marines are robbing banks, using the extreme method of killing practically everyone in sight (cops included) to help them make a quick and easy getting way, making sure they’re all done, dusted and out of town within 39 minutes. The FBI call on the guy who commanded their unit in Iraq, only trouble being he’s locked up in a penitentiary after falling on his sword for staying true to beliefs. He’s offered a choice: help us or we’ll sticth you up with the death penalty.

First thing that sticks out about this book is the rhythm of the narrative – it flits back and forth from one location to another, and from past to present, all the while keeping things flowing without muddying the narrative with confusion. There’s a definite underlying sense of desperation that becomes more pronounced as things progress, and the action is well staged, unnervingly violent at points, vicariously thrilling at others.

Visually, the most noticeable thing early on is the dramatic change in the illustrative style from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2. Clearly some time passed between the publication of the first chapter in comic book format in 2010 and the decision to go down the graphic novel route, and during that time inker Leisten and colourist Bucellato left, leaving Lando full control of the black and white imagery and new recruit Sejic to bring things to colourful life. And boy does it show. Chapter 1 feels fairly workmanlike, artistically speaking, compared to the much more slick and robust illustrations throughout the rest of the book. It’s a jarring change initially, but as it’s stepping up the quality rather than down it swiftly doesn’t become an issue.

Because 39 Minutes propels itself at such a pace we’re not really given a chance to slow down and get to know the players a little better, and while it undoubtedly holds the attention from one page to the next it could have perhaps increased the page count to allow additional time to bolster the characterization and enhance the motivation of the leads to give things that extra edge. As it stands it’s still a brisk, bloody and bracing ride-along with some messed up individuals who have nothing left to lose, and even though it doesn’t get right down to the heart of what makes these guys tick, what it does do it does very well indeed. 7/10

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