J Michael Straczynski's "Joe's Comics" imprint is back, now under the Image banner, and TEN GRAND is a hell of a start. J Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith open up this new series with a world that melds crime drama with the supernatural, in the kind of way that holy water might be used to solve a firewall breakthrough. It's gritty, it's immediately emotional, and it's loaded with story potential.
Packed into the first issue is a solid pulp opening (can you get more pulp than a lone man walking into a seedy diner after dreaming of his mysterious lost love?), introductions to a swath of characters, hints at a painful origin story, and an ending that is really the beginning of much more.
Our hero -- or antihero, I suppose -- Joe Fitzgerald is, like all of the best pulp protagonists, riddled with emotional baggage stemming from what was supposed to be his last job ever. He's also extraordinarily savvy and smart in ways that surpass the human experience, and there's a charm about the way he comfortably drops demonology jargon like 'mancy while deriding like. He has a complex moral code that we're just seeing the beginning of. And he's dead, which makes him immediately fascinating.
Templesmith's moody, visceral art is pitch-perfect for JMS's pulp-meets-occult story. Ben Templesmith can draw the hell out of a firefight, and he can make a stripper look like an angel -- and he does. His pages are lush and textured, and the painting -- especially in the cool, watercolor panels of Joe and Laura in days past -- makes things seem more tangible, even as the story verges on the supernatural.
The note from "Joe's Counter" at the end of the book announces that this series, and the rest from the imprint, will be told until the story arc is done, then rest until there's a new story worth telling. While this will surely be agonizing for certain collectors, it's refreshing to know that JMS doesn't intend to keep the series alive any longer than it remains interesting.
This might be a sleeper hit. I've heard very little about the series, and if it weren't for my tendency to read at least the first few issues of everything Image is putting out lately, I would have missed it.
Ten Grand is one of those stories that hasn't been excessively hyped, so it might slip under your radar for the first issue. Don't let it. Joe (the Joe in the story, not to be confused with the author or the name of the imprint itself) is a complex and fascinating antihero, and the series calls to mind Constantine and Dante and every great revenge story I've ever encountered. TEN GRAND is mysterious and familiar at the same time, and the beautifully painted pages charge the narrative with emotion. I'm anxious to see where the story takes us, and curious how many times Joe will die before he reaches the end of his path -- and whether he'll get to truly be with Laura again.