4 out of 5
You can know all the moves of hard-boiled noir, and technically execute them to a T… but, y’know, story-telling matters. As I’m not the first person to point out, a the same tale can be told a million times (and some surely have been), but all it takes is a poor telling to make that tedium way too apparent, just as it requires a good telling – by a good tale teller – to suddenly make that story fresh. The difference is that it’s a lot tougher to be a good story-teller.
Rory McConville’s Write It In Blood could be a been-there-done-that odd couple crime tale: brothers Cosmo and Frank, who’re trying to barter their way out of the mob. You’ve seen their bickering before, and the sudden violences, learned from the Quentin Tarantino school of pulp. The homespun crime families involved have Coen brothers quirk, and the plans-gone-wrong multi-double-crosses are tried and true of the genre. But McConville’s a damned good story-teller (I’d call him great, actually, based on all of his fantastic 2000 AD work), and beyond adding his own personal dash of style into Blood’s mixed and mashed templates, he further fleshes it out with between-the-panel details that give the characters and their interactions the breath of life.
On the art front, Joe Palmer’s simple lines recall Javier Pulido, or artists of that ilk, but Palmer’s style is both incredibly naturalistic and stylized – these are slightly overblown characters, but they move and talk in a way that seems real, especially to the context of Blood’s story. Joe’s balance of negative space and framing are key to this as well, bringing forth that cinematic noir style, but adding just enough detailing and backgrounds to put us back in legit settings and spaces. Chris O’Halloran on colors blows past any and all praise from Ice Cream Man: Chris’ work on that comic is awesome, though always very bright and bold, and he shifts here to a brilliantly underplayed, “dusty” style that supports Palmer’s art perfectly and is also the perfect complement to the tone. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s balanced bubble format is another fitting choice – keeping the dialogue feeling appropriately clipped – but it works best when characters are short and sweet and yelling; some longer text feels “small” in the panel, sometimes, though I can’t say I know a way to fix that, once you’ve decided on a font and style.
While a gaggle of intersecting characters can also be said to be part of this genre, there’re maybe a skosh too many for the breezy pace of the book. It’s of a normal trade length – approximately four issues of material – but it seemed like we spent some time on introducing and explaining characters who weren’t necessarily integral to things, when I would’ve been happy to find out more about the brothers. However, one of Rory’s strengths is definitely communicating the unspoken / unseen, so I did appreciate being able to piece together story and characters without it being over-explained. I’m just being nitpicky so that McConville – who I’m sure relies solely on my reviews for his personal worth – doesn’t get a big head. I’d been holding off on buying his 2013 Big Jim trade because I’m not usually a non-fiction fan, but aw heck, I think I’m going all in on my fandom.