Two masters team up for a blaze through hell and back, giving a fresh new spin to a familiar concept.
Following a few Before Watchmen books for DC Comics, J. Michael Straczynski brings his Joe’s Comics imprint back with a new creator-owned series. The shift from Top Cow to Image Comics must have been the breath of fresh air that JMS needed to return to comics in style, joining 30 Days of Night creator Ben Templesmith to deliver one of the more surprising books of the season. If you have been lamenting the death of Hellblazer, and DC’s Constantine replacement just doesn’t do it for you, then it is time to meet Joe Fitzgerald.
Joe is a haggard shell of a man, frequenting bars that only open for him in the wee hours of the morning, and still nursing a gaping wound from the tragic loss of his wife. He does the kinds of jobs that other people don’t want to, and takes the clients others don’t care for. His price remains the same: ten grand. However, when a young punk girl approaches him in the bar to track down a friend, Joe is startled when he recognises the face of a cult leader. The man in the picture is supposed to be dead, killed at Joe’s own hand. Then again, Joe isn’t exactly alive either.
The concept of a weary detective type who straddles an occult line between this world and the next has to recall Constantine, and perhaps this is a knowing reference. To JMS’s credit, while the idea may be (more than) similar, he has enough interesting ideas to distinguish himself from that long-standing title. Ten Grand does a wonderful job of slowly building and drawing the reader into a pre-defined world. Here heaven and hell is present wherever Joe goes, from strip clubs to WiFi servers that have very literal firewalls for trespassers. What readers will find is that any initial comparisons they may have will soon be swept aside by the desire to find out what happens next.
Templesmith’s art is outstanding as expected, finding a way to tell us so much with very simple lines and figures. His choice of colours – greys, blues, rusty browns and oranges – don’t typically lend themselves to visual intrigue, but here he somehow imbues them with either a warmth or a complete absence of it when the occasion arises. Then there will be simply stunning moments, like the one pictured above or scenes of fiery inferno, where the whole page springs to life with added layers of dimension. It’s one of those increasingly common cases where the digital edition is the only one that will probably do justice to the textures Templesmith creates.
It’s probably too early to declare Ten Grand a new masterpiece, especially when Image themselves have a few contenders for that crown in the last month alone. What JMS has done is build a solid foundation for a world he intends to play with for a time. In the back-matter, he speaks of allowing the comic to go “for the length it requires, no more, no less”. With an emphasis on story arcs, and gaps between them to ensure quality control, it is certainly looking like an ambitious and fun project worth sticking around for.
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