M*A*S*H* director Robert Altman once said “I’m not interested in stories. There are only about three stories.” If you take that idea to heart, then we’re really judging writers on how well they execute old ideas. Take Image Comics’ new ongoing series Ten Grand. Several of the elements in this story are familiar, almost cliché. From the tortured anti-hero to the supernatural elements, nothing within the pages of Ten Grand #1 is particularly original. That being said, it is damn good.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski has not always had the greatest luck with comics. Who can forget the hideous Spider-Man One More Day story, or when JMS took over Superman and had him take a long walk. A shaky track record means a careful start with new material. I approached Ten Grand cautiously, more intrigued by the art than anything else. As the story unfolded, I found it to be a patchwork of other ideas, a quilt made largely of fabric we’ve been wrapped in before.
First, there’s the tortured anti-hero. The guy who seems cold and callous on the outside but has a code of honor, the ode to the western gunslinger. In Ten Grand, his name is Joe Fitzgerald, a chain-smoking sourpuss who approaches everyone with the same amount of agitated indifference. Joe is an archetype, from his smoking to his grizzled look, he could be anybody from Richard Stark’s Parker character to the anointed good guy in a dozen action movies. A young woman, who dresses like a punk rocker in the mass understanding of the genre, approaches Joe. Weird hair, “punk clothes,” piercings, etc. Her sister is in trouble and she understands Joe is the guy to go to for these kinds of cases. Here we get into bits of Dashiell Hammett and even the ’80s TV show The Equalizer.
Joe uses sarcasm at first but, when shown who kidnapped the sister, becomes emotionally invested in the crime. Apparently, he has a history with the perpetrator – a mystical one to boot. Straczynski opens the story up here. Joe used to be an enforcer for the mob. Good at his job, Joe found solace only in the arms of his beautiful and pure wife. When his boss asks Joe to knock off a competitor, he is only so happy to oblige – until it turns out the target is a demon, conjuring other demons in a ritualistic sacrifice. There is a gunfight and it seems like Joe wins, until these demons kill his wife and leave Joe burned, scarred and dying.
An angel appears – not a kind one, but a nearly sadistic one offering Joe a deal. He can continue doing good deeds to make up for his former life, and every time he dies, he gets five minutes with his wife before returning to Earth to continue his work, until such time as the higher beings deem him worthy to be with her forever. The entire set up here is familiar. Redemption of sinner to saint has been used in everything from horror films to comic books. The idea of angels being hateful is nothing new – just look at films like The Prophecy.
Even the notion of the antihero finally getting to take his revenge on the man who ultimately hurt him is the foundation of plenty of different books, movies and TV shows. None of it is a bother, because Straczynski cobbles these elements together with snappy dialog and characters that, while not wholly original, are interesting. Even the idea of a deal being struck with the supernatural is straight out of Spawn or Hellblazer. Still, Ten Grand (which is the amount of money Joe charges per case) is a fun story with enough juice to inspire you to check out issue two. At any point, this series could become so cliché it voids itself out, but for now I recommend it.
As I said, I was originally drawn to the book because of the art. Ben Templesmith has a really chaotic and unique style. His work blends fine art pencils with what looks like watercolors. It gives each page a darkness to it that fits the story. I also enjoy how he colors the pages. The watercolors against the shadows give each panel an eerie lighting as well as a layered look, as though multiple things were happening in the panels at one time. It’s some of the most living, breathing and exciting art I’ve seen in books in a long time. Since his work on 30 Days Of Night, I have always been a fan, and he does not disappoint at all here.
Ten Grand is a gorgeously illustrated book that is able to become much more than the sum of its parts.
(5 Art, 3.5 Story)