4 out of 5
I love Hard Case Crime. Having read maybe a quarter of their output, even though not all of the books are to my taste, I love the style, and the clear editorial oversight that keeps the releases feeling very much in-line with the pulp mindset HCC is going for.
I like Titan Comics quite a bit, ever since they morphed into a proper line some years back. The balance between originals and licensed properties is interesting (not feeling like the “gimme whatever you got” approach of Dynamite), and the talent dips into the European pond selectively. I don’t collect Titan Comics as relentlessly as I do Hard Case, but I absolutely keep an eye out for what they have next.
HCC publishing comics through Titan makes logistic sense (Titan has essentially been the publisher of their books for a while), but it also makes sense stylistically. But I was curious: Would the comics maintain the same oversight, or would these just be crime books slapped with a Hard Case logo?
The first HCC comic project, Triggerman, having Walter Hill as the script source was valid – the dude has delivered some pulp film masterpieces in his time – but the adaptation by Matz was a little troubling, as his Killer and Bullet to the Head both fell flat for me.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Time will tell if this combo imprint will continue to impress, but Triggerman is a fantastic start, wonderfully cinematic but fully encompassing its comic medium, with Hill’s script possibly keeping Matz from straying too far and Jef’s a breath-taking balance between realism and stylization that perfectly captures the 30s setting. Hill fans might see Last Man Standing in this – I certainly did – but the Prohibition-era stoic gunman gangster would-be hero certainly isn’t unique to that film. If anything, it’s a pulp trope, which makes it a perfect match for Hard Case.
Triggerman Rob is tasked by a Chicago heavy to hunt down some debts. Which he does – with shootouts, double crosses, and dames galore – while also trying to help out a girl who’s gotten mixed up in the mess. Rob is loyal to those he knows and operates with a pulp sense of morality that carries us through to a sad but fitting conclusion. Hill’s bombastic sense of sudden action is resplendent, and the character definitions seem to keep Matz from indulging in anything too soapy or sexist or mean. It’s madly exciting, keeping us on our toes in terms of how much of this Rob has planned out and how much is seat-of-his-pants.
Some bits feel extraneous (a prison flashback) and / or too expositionally tacked on, perhaps as a remnant of this being a film script, and there’s the whole genre hitch of women being reduced to naked dames throughout.
But: It’s a grand story overall, and definitely a solid debut for the HCC imprint.