For awhile there, back in the summer of 2013, Ten Grand was one of my favourite comic books. The first offering from J. Michael Straczynski’s Joe’s Comics label over at Image, Ten Grand was a film noir story with a supernatural twist.
Now, from the get-go, Ten Grand was derivative. Joe Fitzgerald is a mob enforcer. When he and his girlfriend, Laura, are brutally murdered, she goes to heaven and he goes to hell. Except that an angel intervenes and offers Joe a deal: work for the forces of good and every time he dies in a righteous cause he’ll get to see his beloved again for five minutes. The five minute thing is weirdly specific, but whatever.
So, mix together Hellblazer, The Crow, and Spawn and you kind of get Ten Grand. But early on, the mixture worked.
It worked in part because of imaginative little details. Joe had a variety of talismans and gimmicks he used to ward off and take down demons. There were a few clever and creepy confrontations with otherworldly creatures. And there was a cool hardboiled vibe to the comic; Joe was trying to solve the mystery and that gave the series a natural narrative drive.
Ben Templesmith’s art on those early issues was also something to behold. Templesmith created a compelling urban landscape, it was sooty and greasy. It had a really distinctive style, something really special. Templesmith left the book after issue #5. It was a weird situation. Apparently, Templesmith was having trouble getting the work done, and Straczynski decided to make a change… or maybe it was Templesmith’s decision. It’s all a little murky.
I appreciate the desire to get books out on time, but looking back, Stracynski should have done whatever he had to do to keep Templesmith. No offence to C. P. Smith, Templesmith’s replacement, but the book hasn’t been the same since he took over.
However, the decline of Ten Grand isn’t all about the art. In the second half of the series, the main character, Joe goes on an adventure in the afterlife. The whole trajectory of the series changes. Instead of a cool supernatural crime story we get watered-down, warmed-over Milton. The whole series is heading towards a climactic battle between heaven and hell that really doesn’t feel very climatic. Ten Grand is the story of a once promising comic that went terribly wrong.
Image’s supernatural western series, Pretty Deadly, has followed a different path. I was a little skeptical of Pretty Deadly at first, a little worried it was more hype than substance, but the series is starting to come together.
There isn’t anything else like Pretty Deadly out there. For that reason, the first few issues were actually a little disorienting. The main character of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s comic is Death’s daughter. Her name is Ginny and her story is narrated by a butterfly and a rabbit skeleton. (Yes, that is a thing you just read). Ginny’s world is populated by half a dozen other wanders and gunslingers all of whom seem to have mysterious, shadowy pasts.
It wasn’t until issue #4 that the relationships between some of the characters were clarified and things started to come together. That’s a long time to wait for a new series to pay off, but Pretty Deadly has something – an it factor. It’s been compared to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and those comparisons aren’t too far off the mark. Obviously Pretty Deadly has a long way to go before it matches one of the greatest comic book series of all time, but the magic and the mood and the kooky narrative framework do remind one of Gaiman’s work.
Emma Rios’ art is mostly gorgeous. There are some moments where it’s hard to tell what’s happening. The violent fight scenes can be hard to follow, and characters are occasionally hard to distinguish from one another. That said, there’s a vivid and eerie visual atmosphere to this book. It doesn’t look like anything else on the shelves.
I’m not a TPB reader, but those who are might appreciate reading Pretty Deadly in trade form. The first arc will come off best if read all at once. And I’d recommend you do check out Pretty Deadly; it’s fresh and different. I used to feel the same way about Ten Grand, but sadly, that series has failed to deliver on its initial promise.