Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Last Days of American Crime #1 - Advance Review

Radical Comics was kind enough to send an advance copy of a book that has been getting a lot of press time lately: The Last Days of American Crime. The series is created by Rick Remender (Punisher) and Greg Tocchini (1602: New World, Ion), and is literally about the last days of crime in the United States, as the government prepares to unleash a broadcast signal that will mentally inhibit anyone even thinking about committing a crime. With the high concept in place, how do Remender and Tocchini take it from there? Hit the jump to find out more and what I thought about the first issue of this series.

The Last Days of American Crime #1
Story by Rick Remender
Art by Greg Tocchini

The story follows mostly Graham, our protagonist, as the broadcasting signal is about to go live in just two weeks. Graham does not like what is going to happen, so he decides to do something about it: steal as much money as he can and leave the country. Oh yeah, this isn't a book about people standing up for what's right, decrying fascism and speaking truth to power - it's every man for himself trying to get on the last lifeboat punching anyone who gets in the way.

And we quickly see how far Graham is willing to go for what he wants as the book opens with an extended torture scene where he tries to extract some information from a gang member. He follows that up with a visit to a bar that he frequents to meet with someone (that hasn't arrived yet), and a stop in a dirty bathroom with a woman he just met in said bar.

Sure, he talks to her some time before, but the reader soon realizes that neither one of them is being entirely truthful about their words - they are just saying what the other one wants to hear. The sex scene is gripping and disturbing, that tells almost as much about the characters as the previous conversation: they are willing to go to great lengths to get what they want, they are caught in each others lives, and even though they don't particularly care for each other, they are just enjoying it while they can before the switch is thrown on.

Along the way, Remender and Tocchini show how screwed up this world is: people basking in drug use and the sins of the flesh, anywhere and anyway they can, while most of the city lays in ruins. Tocchini's art is gritty and dark, with muted colors and a sense that there is grime in every corner of the world. There is no way anyone could clean this city or this country up, and yet all the characters know that a change is coming,  that they will be "cleaned" by force, and they behave accordingly.

Graham and his companion finish up, but he soon realizes that he has been played: the woman, Shelby, was the girlfriend of the man he was going to meet. We learn that they are criminals as well, and that the three of them are putting a plan together to steal a ton of money off a bank and make a run for the border. The threat of the broadcast starting puts a deadline on their work, and they must hurry their plans, which also include another unknown member. I don't want to spoil too much of what happens later in the issue (I already feel I gave too much by revealing the real identity of Shelby), but the plot thickens and twist in ways that you do not expect, and you just know things are going to end badly for about everyone involved (which is shown very briefly at the beginning of the book). And yet you can't look away. Our protagonists are cars, crashing into each other in slow motion: a grotesque spectacle, but a spectacle nonetheless.

One of the smartest things Remender does is not to go into too much detail of how the broadcast signal works. An explanation, no matter how scientific, would have weighed down the issue. The characters believe and know that it is going to work, and they act in response to this without a shiver of doubt that it is indeed going to stop crime. This helps the suspension of disbelief of the reader, not giving enough time to question the whys and wherefores of the situation, and instead concentrate on their plan to get the money and escape with a believable and a definite deadline working against them.

While the protagonists' plans and all the backstabbing involved would surely evoke other series such as Criminal or 100 Bullets, the character's actions and the setting are a lot like the ones you see from characters like Dashiell and Carol on the reservation from Scalped. They are players caught in a game bigger than they can comprehend, taking and finding pleasure in whatever ways they can, whenever they meet, and regardless of the consequences. These consequences will come back with dividends and ruin their lives, it is only a matter of time. But in the mean time, they will continue their ritual.

I thoroughly enjoyed this issue, but it is not without faults. While the opening scene helps define our protagonist, it feels that it goes on just a bit longer than it needed to be. Same thing with the bathroom scene. The fact that each issue is 64 pages long (with about 50 of them belonging to the story) is a good thing, and gives the creative team the opportunity to take things slow, and like I said, most of the issue consists of scenes that help define the characters, their ticks and what drives them. I am slightly concerned though, at how the pacing of the next issues is going to be like, there's only two more (bringing it to a total of three) and a whole lot of ground to cover, and an interesting world to explore. Minor worries for the most part, but I felt they still warranted a mention.

Verdict - Buy It. It is an interesting concept that doesn't get weighed down by it's own ideas, instead it just concentrates on crafting an interesting heist drama, and developing morbid characters that interact with each other in unpredictable ways. Remender and Tocchini may very well have a hit in the making here, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it adapted into other media.

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brandon said...

I only breezed through the review because I intend to buy it, so forgive me if you mention this, but I have two questions:

a)Is this is a mini series?
b)Is the plan for each issue to follow the 50 page / $5 format?

Matt Ampersand said...

@Brandon: Yes, it is a three issue mini series, and I do believe it is going to be in the same format. This first issue had sketches and some other extras, I don't know if the other ones will have those as well or extra story pages.

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