Joe Fitzgerald is a dead man. After the brutal murder of both he and his girlfriend, Joe learns she’ll be headed to Heaven while he’ll be taking a decidedly lower path to the afterlife. A holy agent offers him a bargain, however: Do an unspecified number of jobs for us and we’ll see if we can reunite your with your love, if only briefly. Is this the fifth season of the A-Team? No! It’s “Ten Grand,” a new series from “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski.
MORE INTERESTING WITH EACH LAYER REMOVED
“Ten Grand” is like an onion. As the layers are peeled away it begins as a neo-noir tale, then becomes neo-noir with something hidden before finally revealing itself as something wholly beyond my expectations. Granted, the story is predicated on a fairly common trope: A good-hearted man must perform service to Heaven to atone for his wicked deeds—but Straczynski has given the cliché a good twist considering the risk-versus-reward conditions under which the deal functions.
The protagonist, Joe Fitzgerald, is written as a complete character from the start—this is not going to be an adventure where a main character finds himself; Joe already knows exactly who he is, what he needs to do, what he likes and what he hates. He is fully realized and his dialogue shows it. The whole story is smartly written; this is the type of story in which I fully expect the word “Tetragrammaton” to appear.
Pacing is brisk and all the dialogue reads like real people—intelligent people—having speaking to each other, but the story itself is the real star. Straczynski’s model for his “Joe’s Comics” imprint is the best one: Tell a finite story and, if more telling is warranted, take a break and release another finite story. No chaff needs culled because their isn’t any—every word and every scene has a purpose.
WE CAN’T STOP HERE. THIS IS BAT COUNTRY!
It’s tempting to look at Ben Templesmith’s art and say it’s amateurish and simplistic, but it isn’t. And even if it were it still would fit well in this book. The spartan backgrounds and detail work only accentuate the “what the Hell?” factor when he draws the unholiest of the unholies appearing around a pentagram in a basement. There are points in the issue where Templesmith seems to channel Ralph Steadman’s ability to take mundane objects and situations and turn them into creepy, mind-breaking affairs.
The book is definitely at its best when displaying grisly and off-putting things like massive fires or double murders so any perceived deficiencies you may see in the panel-to-panel art is made up for in those sequences.
I enjoyed the sepia tone treatment over Joe’s initial interview with his client as it did a great job evoking the “dame with gams that won’t quit visits the hard-boiled private dick” scene in about every movie inspired by Dashiell Hammett. I don’t know if it was done intentionally or not, but it was mighty effective.
BOTTOM LINE: IF YOU GO TO Z’HA’DUM YOU WILL BUY
JMS, in my mind, has suffered a kind of anti-apotheosis. From him we received the glories of “Babylon 5” seasons 2, 3 and 4—some of the best serialized science fiction, even though a bit of their luster has been lost to time. Conversely, he also burdened us with “Babylon 5” season 5 and “Lost Tales,” “Legend of the Rangers,” “Thirdspace,” “The Gathering,” “The River of Souls” and, depending to whom you talk, “Crusade.” But I could write all day about “Babylon 5” and the seemingly Sisyphean efforts he undertook to keep it on the air—all that to say I’ve long thought that Straczynski peaked in the 90s with “B5” after a strong career as a writer for animated and live-action shows. “Ten Grand” has forced me to reappraise the man and here I find him in full command of his narrative abilities*. I went into the book expecting the mundane but got something remarkable. 4 stars.
(* Yes, I know he’s done other stuff in comics, and I hear they were pretty well received, but I never read any!)
DID YOU READ THIS ISSUE? RATE IT!