An alternate reality sees the never crushed Five Families vie with the truncated USA for supremacy. Presidents are assassinated, mob families are bombed by government operatives and in the middle of it stands Valentino Gallo, new made button man for the mob, whose mother shares with him a devastating secret about his true heritage.
Creators: Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming
Colors: Taki Soma
Letters: Carlos M Mangual
Design: Curtis King Jr.
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: February 6th, 2019
Previously in United States vs Murder Inc: In this fascinating alternate reality, the Five Families reign of crime has gone untouched, to the point where they are able to go toe to toe with the US Government. In the wake of a government-ordered strike on the Bonavese crime family’s New Jersey Headquarters, hit woman for the mob Jagger Rose, and newly minted made man Valentine Gallo assassinate the US President. In the wake of these outrages, Valentino’s mother just survives a bombing, and while she recovers, she shares with Valentino his true heritage – pledged to the FBI!
IS THAT A HORSE’S HEAD, OR ARE YOU PLEASED TO SEE ME?
We open with Valentino Gallo standing vigil over his gravely ill mother, who survived a bombing, organized by the US government, of the family compound. Gallo brings his mother up to speed, and then we cut to the newly installed President of the USA, live on television, standing down out of fear of his life from the revenge of the Mob. Across America, we see scenes of protest and rioting as the populace rise up in response. And in Congress, we see Representatives fleeing from their responsibility, as the Speaker, the next in line of succession, refuses to take up the burden of the Presidency. But it is the conversation between mother and son that is the vital, beating heart of this issue of United States vs Murder Inc.
I can’t recall reading anything as bonkers as this book. Sure, there are dozens of Marvel What If? comics full of crazy stuff, but the idea of the Mafia being as powerful and influential as the US government is sheer madness. There’s no doubt one can only sit back and applaud the sheer chutzpah of Bendis and Oeming, as they describe a political class essentially caving in to the ruthless actions of the Mob while also telling a smaller tale of betrayal. It sure makes for an entertaining, if not necessarily great, issue.
At the heart of the book is a betrayed son facing his betrayer. Gallo’s mother’s tale of coming to New York, then and now a fiefdom of the Mob, looking for excitement and a little danger are effectively told in word and art. Taki Soma’s brings the New York of that era to neon-soaked life, the hallucinatory colors of the city adding vibrancy not only to the setting but to the characters as well. The contrast in the flashback scenes to the red and black tinged hospital room, as Gallo and his mother confront one another is striking, and forms the central core of the issue.
Both storylines – the mass panic in the political elite and wider community, and the more private tale of betrayal are effectively told. There are times where it is hard to understand if Bendis is reaching for comedy, especially in the newly sworn-in President’s resignation on live television speech, which descends into hysteria. In fact, the entire set up is ripe for a satiric take, with the minute differences between the Mob and the government a difference of degree, not kind.
The artwork has a definite cartoonish feel, especially during the flashback sequences. During the hospital scenes, it is far more moody, with the use of shadow especially effective in conveying Gallo’s rage, and his mother’s fear. The scenes where she recounts the murder of her family at the hands of her new, mobbed-up family are compelling conveyed by the artwork more than the writing.
BOTTOM LINE: BONKERS, BUT IS IT ANY GOOD?
There’s a lot to this issue that feels disposable as if Bendis tossed this off in an afternoon. That is of course, unfair, as any writer will tell you, constructing a story requires dedication and not a little blood on the screen. However, there is flippancy to some of the story that seems to indicate Bendis is having an enormous amount of fun damning the government for its cowardice. The hospital scenes are far between, alternating between the quiet fear of Gallo’s mother, and his barely pent up rage at her. The final pages, where Gallo holds a gun to her head, are striking, and an indication of where the series may head in future in terms of tone. Not essential, but interesting nonetheless.
United States vs. Murder Inc. #6