Ten Grand #5: Exceptional Storytelling

Ten Grand #5

 

Ten Grand continues to be exceptional with issue #5. J Michael Straczynski has woven an excellent tale dealing with a subject that has been beaten to death. The idea of the anti-hero battling both the light and dark sides of the afterlife is nothing new. Instead of trying to reimagine the entire concept, Straczynski is focusing on his character and allowing the ethereal unfold around him. The character’s name is Joe Fitzgerald, a former hit man who now battles demons for angels. His reward is a few short moments with his dead wife before being returned to Earth. Between his existential duels, Fitzgerald helps people facing demonic issues. His price? Ten grand.

Issue #5 opens in the world between worlds. Catholics refer to it as Purgatory, but every great religion has a story about that area where souls too tainted for Heaven but too good for Hell are forced to wander in confusion. Fitzgerald has entered this world in order to search for his wife. Unable to reach her nor the Angel he takes orders from, Joe Fitzgerald is forced to take matters into his own hands. Now, walking the streets of Purgatory, Joe is faced with some tough realities.

First, there are the lost souls. The ones who are drawn to his warmth and life. Desperate to go home, they cling to Joe, making it impossible to move forward. Then there are the Howlers, vile demons who feast upon lost souls. Beyond that, Joe endures his own lost soul, who exists in the same reality as Joe does but comes with warnings on the future of his mortal existence. Beyond that is the River Styx, which is made up of humanity's decisions, both good and bad. As Fitzgerald faces more and more obstacles, his most pressing problem becomes evident – something that could derail his entire mission in the afterworld.

Straczynski continues to be on point with Ten Grand. I’ll be the first to admit that I can run hot and cold with the author, but this is JMS firing on all pistons. Joe Fitzgerald, while an amalgam of other literary ideas, is fiercely independent. Straczynski writes him tough, but also human. Though he exists outside of anything we can possibly understand, Fitzgerald remain relatable. We see Ten Grand through his eyes, and that’s what makes the story work on a personal level.

Now comes the tough part. The art. Ben Templesmith, whose work is consistently some of the most original in the medium, brought Ten Grand’s first four issues to life. As much as Straczynski’s story and dialogue makes Ten Grand so wonderful, Templemsith’s art took it to an entirely new level. Starting with issue #5, Templesmith has been replaced with artist CP Smith. The effect on the series is obvious.

Don’t get me wrong, Smith is a wonderful artist. His work here is first rate, and he brings it a real sense of layering, using pencils, paints and even computer graphics. Smith keeps the surreal nature of Ten Grand, as well as the fine art sensibility. Problem is, Smith is nowhere near as inventive as Templesmith. As solid as the work is, the symmetry of Straczynski and Templesmith is gone, and it hurts the overall impact of the book. I’m sure in a few issues all will seem well, but this first example of the new art direction is hard to swallow.

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(5 Story, 3 Art)