Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Write It In Blood’

“Let them bleed, let them wash away”

I dig me some crime stories, so I was interested in Write It In Blood, which is published by Image. It’s from writer Rory McConville, artist Joe Palmer, colorist Chris O’Halloran, and letterer Hassan Otsame-Elhaou. None of these gentlemen are ‘Murican, so what the hell do they think they’re doing creating a book about criminals in Texas? That’s just not cricket!

McConville gives us a nice, simple story: two mob enforcers, Cosmo and Arthur Pryce, are on their last job, as they’re planning to retire. Yes, it’s a cliché, but when writers deliberately use clichés (there’s simply no way McConville could have thought this was an original idea), it’s fun to see what they do with it, because you can do a lot with clichéd stories. In this instance, it seems like they have their boss’s blessing to retire, as they’re discussing if they should get him a present or if he’ll get them one. McConville does a nice job establishing this idea of this gang being like a regular business, even though the two are discussing this as they’re cleaning up a bunch of dead bodies and putting a live one in the trunk of their car. If you’re going to use this kind of cliché, it helps to have it jar with our expectations and even what else is happening, and the beginning of the book works because of this. McConville does a good job establishing the characters – Cosmo is the smarter and more sensitive one, while Arthur is clearly the brute. Cosmo can think of nothing better than buying a house and settling down (his exchanges with his realtor are some nice comic relief in the book), while Arthur doesn’t really care about that nor does he think Cosmo will like it, because he is, after all, a killer. The man they take hostage is an important member of a rival gang, and they’re in the middle of taking him back to their boss, “the Baron,” when something else happens that throws a spanner into those works. So now they have to figure out what to do with the hostage while staying one step ahead of his crew, who wants him back, and their own boss, who has a bone to pick with them. Violence, as it does, ensues.

The biggest problem in the book, honestly, is that we never find out what job the brothers are doing. They take the rival gangster hostage and kill his buddies, but why do they do it? Their boss never really gives any indication why they’re doing it. The leader of the opposing gang makes reference to what might be an inciting event, but it’s unclear if that’s what tips the balance, because an uneasy peace seems to be in place between the gangs. It’s not that big a deal, but it does nag me. But after we get over that, McConville does a nice job showing how the Pryces are trying to get out, even if things keep coming up to block their way. I don’t want to give away anything, because in stories like this, it’s fun to discover the bricks of shit that get piled on a situation as they happen, but suffice it to say that things get more and more desperate. What keeps it relatively light is that McConville keeps the characters human – Arthur and Cosmo don’t always get along, of course, but the source of their tension is interesting, because it speaks to their original characterizations. The Baron is also a “real” person – he gets upset when a waitress tells him all customers have to order something, and actually apologizes to his colleague about it. When Cosmo and the hostage are in a diner, the hostage tells him that his family went there after his first communion. Cosmo writes a letter to the Baron explaining their predicament and asking him for mercy, which is oddly humorous but also kind of sad. Of course it all ends in horrific bloodshed, but getting there is nicely done, so while we know what’s coming, McConville does a good job making the journey toward it an interesting one.

Palmer’s art works well for the story. His Paul Grist-like line work is simple but direct, and he evokes the spare and lonely Texas landscape quite well. His lines are angular, but he doesn’t have as much of an issue with action as some artists with his style do, and while it’s not extremely fluid, the quasi-jerkiness of it seems to fit the kind of stop-start action of the book. The characters are interesting-looking, as they seem somewhat chewed up by the life they’re living, even if they’re still standing. Even the Baron, who dresses very nicely as befits a man of his stature, seems tired of it all. Palmer does a nice contrast between Cosmo and Arthur, as he subtly makes Cosmo more sympathetic and Arthur harder, even though there’s not a lot of difference in the way he draws faces – he doesn’t over-hatch, so the relatively simplistic line work has to do a lot of work, and Palmer is up for the challenge. When things start going wrong, he does a nice job leading the reader around to where we need to be, and as it’s Texas, we get some stark panels where the characters’ isolation is clear to see. O’Halloran’s coloring is nice, too – it’s a bit muted, but not dark, so we get the moral murkiness but can still see everything, while the lack of crisp brightness evokes the mood of the desert if not its reality – the desert is too bright occasionally, but in this book, it feels like there’s a sandstorm coming at any time, so when the metaphorical storm comes, the coloring has prepared us for it. O’Halloran uses symbolic colors sparingly but effectively, adding some pop to the art when it needs it. Even Otsame-Elhaou’s lettering is notable, as he uses some nice emphasis on words by enlarging them rather than simply bolding or italicizing them. It’s an effective trick, and I always wonder why more letterers don’t do it.

Write It In Blood is a good, solid gangster story. It doesn’t rise too far above its genre roots, but McConville doesn’t need to rise too far, because crime stories like these are good stories in general, so the little touches he uses to humanize the characters work well. If you don’t like crime stories, it probably won’t change your mind. But I do, and I appreciate it when a writer tries some new things with them. So it might be something you want to check out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


  1. tomfitz1


    “None of these gentlemen are ‘Murican, so what the hell do they think they’re doing creating a book about criminals in Texas? That’s just not cricket!”

    When you wrote that – it reminded me of something that someone wrote in one of the introductions of PREACHER trades (I forget who, and what exactly was said).

    The person said about Ennis was trying very hard to sound American, but specifically Texan since Preacher started out in Texas. It was meant to be something of a western story.

    Dunno why I remembered that. Ennis is doing a time-travel series for AWA, if you’re interested.

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