Big Man Down (#1 – 5) – Nicholas Melanshek

3 out of 5

Black and white and sketchy all over.

One of the biggest barriers-to-entry for Nicholas Melanshek’s solo caper / whodunnit series is whether or not his highly stylized and very loose style is to your tastes: the many-lines-for-every-line look has some precedents in guys like Ashley Wood or Ben Templesmith, but it’s even further abstracted here, with bizarre and distorted character styles, computer effects that don’t help with foreground / background distinction, and a liberal flip-flopping of how negative space is applied.  I’m not big on stuff that’s hard to track, so that’s where Big Man Down, via Melanshek, provides its initial surprise: while I can’t say I knew what was going on each panel, I could follow it.  Instinctively or purposefully, characters and settings continually had organically identifiable characteristics or landmarks that allowed me to know who was who throughout (something that can be tough even when the artist has a more “typical” style), and Nicholas’ sense of choreography, while hidden ‘neath the duo-tone coloring, translated well enough thanks to a general sense of momentum.  Thus, not only could I tell the “who,” but also pretty much the “how,” even if I couldn’t actually see it.

So despite my suspicion, upon a glance, that it would be otherwise, Big Man Down was easy to read.

To the story: the titular ‘Big Man’ is Yokohama’s crime boss, who, within our first few pages, is assassinated, leaving the city in a power vaccuum.  The cops had generally worked with Big Man, as he’d kept things from getting too out of control, and so are after identifying a culprit so that things can settle down back to a status quo.  In the meantime, various underworld factions are pointing fingers – mainly at three main suspects – and causing general unruliness while they do so.

While Melanshek never really connects a feel for the city and its inhabitants with the mob going-ons, the featured interplay between one of the main coppers, the three potential killers, and the gang bosses, comes across well.  The first issue proposes something of a whodunnit, but this is scrapped rather quickly in favor of a Good, Bad, & Ugly type interplay between the trio, with some “twists” as to who’s on whose side played out effectively, if maybe a bit too soon, as the final issue feels like an aftermath instead of a climax.

There’s a lot of shooting and running around happening, but the heart of BMD ends up being slightly more grounded, juxtaposing its tone against Melanshek’s busy art style.  Thus it never quite fulfills the promise of chaos Big Man’s assassination in issue one suggests, but Nicholas tells and arts a consistent and generally entertaining tale.