PREVIEW REVIEW Jack Hammer: Political Science

Private detective Jack McGriskin has been hired to find a tech firm’s missing employee. He finds him all right – dead. The company pays him and says to let the case lie, but he wants answers. And he finds them in this sharp mash-up of hard-boiled crime and superheroics.

Superheroics? Yep, as well as being a crime comic, this is a superhero book – the unnaturally strong McGriskin was once the hero named Jack Hammer. He no longer goes looking for super-powered fights, preferring to use his abilities in a less flashy operation. With the aid of secretary Ramona, driver Stu and cop Charlie, Jack bids to find out who killed Eddie Newman. The search takes him from the back alleys of Boston to the corridors of power, introducing us to such characters as gambling boss Romano, corporate lackey Ms Gorsch and supervillain Howitzer. There’s also a very nicely dressed Big Bad, but I’ll let you discover him for yourself.

The first three issues of this story were released a couple of years back, before some hiccup or other took the book away from its original publisher. The concluding chapter finally appears here, making for a satisfying, attractive whole. Brandon Barrows’ characters are suitably likeable or hissable, the story moves along at a fair lick and the traditions of the detective genre are given a fresh coat of paint that keeps cliches at bay. Jack’s a fun character to spend time with, and this case has me wanting to know more about his backstory. And it’s not just Jack who impresses – Barrows makes an effort to give all his characters their own voice and it works; they come across as people, rather than cyphers.

There’s humour too, with such gems as Jack giving a kid five bucks and telling him to buy a comic book, or the name of a superhero-friendly politician, Stan Goodman.

Comparisons to Brian Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers are inevitable, but given the mass of superhero books around, there has to be room for two looking at the genre through the lens of street crime.

My biggest negative criticism is that the inciting incident doesn’t make much sense – Eddie Newman discovered his employers were dirty and disguised himself as a homeless man? Why, exactly? If he was out to get avoid the thugs who finally killed him there have to be easier ways than playing dress-up while leaving his wife vulnerable at home.

The artwork by the peculiarly pen-named Ionic is dynamic and refreshing – the players have an urgency to them, in part due to the brash brushwork. They look fantastic, too … most of the time, at least. There’s a habit of leaving people in midshot as faceless blobs, and while I don’t mind a bit of impressionism in my comics, when a series is nodding to a traditionally realistic genre (‘tec fiction, not superheroes), it jars. And a soul patch has no business sitting on the chin of a private dick (or any chin, truth be told), but perhaps Jack is one of those hipsters I keep hearing about. These niggles aside, this really is splendid stuff, as characters with actual character move around a believable world. Dodgy five o’clock shadow apart, the colouring is excellent, to boot.

I had a ball with this story, from Action Lab Comics, publishers of the priceless Princeless. Coming to comic shops and digital outlets in June, it’s well worth checking out.

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