“So I feel asleep softly at the edge of a cave, but I should’ve gone deeper, but I’m not so brave”
In this millennium, there aren’t many people who can claim the title of “best superhero writer,” and Jay Faerber, perhaps surprisingly given where he was in the late 1990s, is one of them. He has given us three – possibly more – of the best pure superhero comics of the 21st century, and while he’s ventured into television in the past decade (beginning with Travis’s favorite show of all time, Ringer), he still writes comics every once in a while. He’s branched out, too, into noir (and sci-fi Westerns, but we’re not here for that!), with a comic – Near Death – about a professional hitman who decides to go straight and redress his wrongs after a – wait for it – near death experience. Near Death managed to last for two trades, but the vagaries of the market killed it, and now, Faerber and artist Simone Guglielmini (along with inker Gigi Baldassini, colorist Ron Riley, and letterer Charles Pritchett) have brought their hitman, Markham, back for a graphic novel. It’s published by Image, and I hope it’s not the last time we see the character, because the story possibilities with him are pretty endless.
This story begins with Markham in prison – despite trying to make amends, he still committed a lot of crimes, and they caught up with him – at his parole hearing, which doesn’t go well. The warden, however, knows his story and vouches for him, because he keeps so many other inmates in line. The warden asks him for a favor and bribes the parole board at his next hearing, so Markham gets out, but he has a job to do. The warden’s daughter has fallen in with a white supremacist group, and the warden wants Markham to get her out. Markham gets in with the group because he calls a black friend of his and they stage a fight (which Markham, naturally, wins), and he gets in with the gang. The daughter, unfortunately, looks like she’s having a great time, plus the group has found an FBI agent in their midst, whom they want Markham to kill. Faerber comes up with a fairly clever way to get Markham out of that pickle, but he still has to figure out what to do about the daughter. Interestingly enough, he solves that problem fairly early in the book, but the FBI agent and his partner want him to remain with the group, because they’re planning something big. Markham decides to help them, and we get even more action!
It’s not a terribly complicated story. Sure, there are things that get in Markham’s way – there’s a young woman who wants to kill the white supremacists, and Markham has to keep them alive for a time and also make sure they don’t go after her, but she’s basically just a minor distraction. Markham is always on the verge of being found out, but he’s also pretty good at being undercover, so he’s able to keep his cool and remain in the group’s trust. Markham finds out the leader of the group is a little more than just your garden-variety racist, and Faerber does a nice job slowly uncovering the layers of the plot – he takes his time, doling out the information in small pieces so that he can fit plenty of action in. He also doesn’t end the book definitively, because the story he’s telling, it turns out, is bigger than what Markham thinks. So while we get a good resolution, there’s also things that could come up again if Faerber is able to continue the “series.”
Guglielmini is a solid artist – he kind of has an Ed Hannigan vibe to his work, which is perfectly fine with me. He has some nice layouts, keeping things interesting even if the scene is just people talking, and he does good work with the action scenes – he tends to lay those out a bit more simplistically, perhaps to keep the focus on the figures. He has to draw a lot of different characters, and he does a nice job leaning into stereotypes just a bit but still making sure the characters have their own personalities. It’s hard when you’re working with potentially stock characters – the feckless warden, the slightly crazy white supremacist, the bad girl, the somewhat seedy FBI guys – but Faerber’s writing and Guglielmini’s art helps elevate them all above their rudimentary foundations. Guglielmini also does well giving us a sense of place. The book is set in rural Washington (possibly Oregon, but more likely Washington), and we get the idyll of the small town but also the ugliness that can infect a place like that, and the scenes set even further out in the wild show us the isolation of the area very well. There’s nothing spectacular about the art, but it tells the story very well, and Guglielmini is able to get a lot of information on each page, doing a good amount of the heavy lifting for Faerber.
I don’t love Over My Dead Body, because despite it being a good read, Faerber and Guglielmini don’t re-invent the crime drama or anything like that. I do like it a good deal, though, because even if they don’t do anything too new with it, it’s still an entertaining crime drama with a main character who’s compelling, which is always nice. It’s just a very solid, exciting story, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, is there?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆