Three Strikes #1

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Drawn by Brian Hurtt
32 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

Ok, first the bad news: Three Strikes is not an English-language adaptation of the hit Japanese comic Touch, which was all about baseball. In fact, Three Strikes has nothing at all to do with baseball, so you’ll need to get past your disappointment there. Now for the good news: Three Strikes is the brand-new project by the Skinwalker team of Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Brian Hurtt. Trust me, if the first issue of Three Strikes is any indication, these creators were just getting warmed up, because with this book they’re hitting a home run.

Rey Quintana’s made a few mistakes in his lifetime. A brief stint with a gang resulted in two convictions (being “associated” with a drug trafficking because he wouldn’t squeal on those involved, and vandalism), but he’s trying to get his life together: he’s staying away from gangs, has a good girlfriend, is going to college. All of this is about to come crashing down when a spur-of-the-moment shoplifting attempt goes wrong, and Rey finds himself up against California’s “three strikes” rule, where his prior convictions will add twenty additional years onto what would have been a maximum of two. Of course, Rey’s not the only person who’s made mistakes in his life. Noah Conway was once a cop who became a bail bondsman in an effort to save his marriage. Now he’s unhappily divorced and can barely connect with his sixteen year old daughter. When Rey runs, though, it sends their lives together on a collision course that is bound to be anything but pretty.

In Three Strikes, DeFilippis and Weir have once again created a story that I wouldn’t bat an eye at if I encountered it on the big screen instead of a comic book. It’s got a very familiar feel to it, with a split narrative between two different people whose lives are about to intersect. What could have come across as cliché, though, feels very natural and inviting. Rey and Noah aren’t the tired old stereotypes that one immediately expects in a situation like this; DeFilippis and Weir seem to delight in subverting the reader’s immediate assumptions, laying down additional information that contradicts what you’d already concluded. DeFilippis and Weir do more than just serve up good characterization, though. There’s a very good pace laid down in this first issue, switching back and forth between our two characters at just the right moments, understanding just when the narratives need to overlap. It sounds like it’s a simple thing to do, but the reality is that so many split narrative stories feel like the shifts between the two different strands are arbitrary, or following a rigid schedule that doesn’t do the story any justice. With Three Strikes, it’s just another example of the strong writing on display that it works so very well.

When I first heard that Arthur Dela Cruz was not contributing finishes and graytones over Hurtt’s art like he did for Skinwalker, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. The two had worked really well together on DeFilippis and Weir’s first project for Oni, and I’d found myself expecting to see the art team replicate their magic here. By the time I was done reading Three Strikes #1, though, I’d forgotten that I was expecting anyone but Hurtt working by himself on the art. Hurtt’s art is extremely crisp and clear here, following this large cast of characters through their lives. So much of this story depends on people’s thoughts and reactions, and Hurtt doesn’t let it down, bringing a handsome sense of realism to the story. His storytelling is really nice as well, controlling the pace of the story through sequential art. For example, Noah and Shelley’s ride in the car works so well because of Hurtt’s placement of panel borders and the narration boxes, being able to convey the passage of time and awkward pauses between characters in a visual manner. Between the strong page layouts and the characters within the panels themselves, it’s a wonderful final package.

I was really happy with the first outing by DeFilippis, Weir, and Hurt in the form of Skinwalker, but Three Strikes #1 has proven that this is a group of creators who are going to just get better with every project. Best of all, these creators are using the serialized format to their advantage, with an end-of-issue point that isn’t a false “shocking cliffhanger”, but instead one that merely leaves the reader dying to see the next chapter. When looking at the end result, these three creators are doing anything but hitting three strikes. It’s a winner, through and through. Three Strikes #1 is the first issue of a five-issue mini-series, and is on sale now at better comic book stores everywhere.

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