Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The United States Of Murder Inc. #1 - Icon Comics (Marvel Comics)

As the brain child of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, the creators of the Eisner Award-winning comic book title “Powers”, Issue One of “The United States of Murder Inc.” promises both plenty of profanities in its dialogue as well as artwork which arguably is an acquired taste for many. But it also offers its 18,474 readership the opportunity to accompany ‘made-man’ Valentine Gallo on a double-sized adventure into the dark murderous underworld of a mafia-run alternative America… and what an edgy atmospheric journey full of double-dealing and blood-letting it is.

Right from the start, as a well-dressed but anxious looking young socialite joins ‘The Family’ and clumsily accepts to meet a Senator on behalf of the organisation, it’s clear that the American writer’s script is going to live up to his aspiration of being “very good crime fiction except multiply it by one hundred”.

The train excursion to Gallo’s rendezvous in Washington D.C. is full of tension and nervous energy, as Don Bonavese’s newest recruit first encounters a group of drunk obnoxious passengers, and then later a mysterious guardian angel called Jagger Rose who appears awfully handy with a firearm. The meeting with Senator Fuller is classic film noir, set within an exquisitely rich “boys only” club, where the uniformed porter immediately ushers Valentine through the foyer upon seeing the Family’s brooch pin fastened upon his suit’s lapel. The exchange is equally as moody and familiar, with the bald congressman doing all the talking, all the protesting, yet seemingly acquiescing to the organisation’s demands nonetheless. It also comes as little surprise that the briefcase left with Fuller soon explodes, presumably killing everyone in the building as well as Gallo’s best friend Dino.

In many ways though Bendis then uses this sequence of predictable events against the reader, providing something of a genuine surprise. As first Mister Tuzzo and Mister Bloom deny any knowledge of the ‘hit’ on the senator, and then, despite her foul-mouthed behaviour at the start of the book, the made-man’s “Ma” reveals herself to be one of three government undercover operatives attempting to infiltrate the Mafia. Somewhat more jaw-dropping however is the fact that the eighteen-year old was also “born an undercover Federal Agent.”

For much of this comic Oeming’s artwork, despite being overly simple and highly-stylized, manages to get the job done competently enough. Indeed his artistic partnership with colorist (and wife) Taki Soma, really helps create a dingy, corrupt and dangerous world within which violence and death can swiftly fall upon the unprepared.

Unfortunately what it is incredibly hard to do is differentiate between the characters of Valentine and Dino. Both are young dark-haired Caucasian men wearing blue-black suits. The only perceptible difference being that Gallo’s friend has slightly wavy hair and wears a pair of shades. So when the Senator is blown up, and the American illustrator produces first a terribly underwhelming double-splash of the building exploding, followed by an equally unimpressive two-page drawing of Valentine being catapulted forwards by the force of the blast as seen through the reflection of Dino’s glasses. It is pretty hard to appreciate that the groggy and bloodied survivor depicted clutching a pair of shades in his hand is in fact the Mafia’s latest acquisition, and that the dead partially mutilated body lying against a railed wall is actually Dino. Indeed it isn’t until the funeral, when Mister Tuzzo point-blank demands “I want to hear it from you, Valentine” that it becomes apparent who has actually died.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis, Artist: Michael Avon Oeming, and Colorist: Taki Soma with Javi Pina

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