Caper #1

Written by Judd Winick
Art by Farel Dalrymple
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

Sometimes it’s nice to have a common point of reference. When you find people that are like you—especially when there aren’t necessarily tons of others around you that fall into the same category as yourself—it’s nice to be able to surround yourself with those similar. I’m not advocating segregation, or saying that a ghetto is a positive thing, but none the less, sometimes it’s nice to have a common point of reference. So when I heard about Judd Winick’s new 12-issue limited-series Caper and how the first of its three crime adventure stories (all connected through a family line) was about a Jewish-run organized crime group, my immediate thought was, “That makes sense to me.”

It’s 1906 San Francisco, and two young men are about to get a rather rude awakening. For the past twelve years Jacob and Izzy have served as enforcers for Boss Cohen. Need someone chased across a rooftop to make sure that they pay their debts? Jacob and Izzy are your men. Need an illicit gun? Jacob and Izzy are your men. When Boss Cohen decides to arrange an acquaintance’s death to worm his way into the grieving widow’s arms, though, Jacob and Izzy get a real good look at who they’re working for—and an understanding of how anyone, including themselves, can be used as a pawn for Boss Cohen. The question is, what do they do now?

The first part of the four-part “Market Street”, Caper #1 brought a huge grin to my face in just a couple of pages. Winick’s story starts off with a bang and never stops running until the end of the first issue. The idea of a Jewish run gang, inspired by the real gang Murder Incorporated from the 1930s, is an instant plot hook, but what’s important here is how Winick takes it beyond just the simple idea and keeps the ideas rolling. We see the really rough side of Winick’s characters here, and I appreciate that we see them at their worst before we ever get to see the more admirable parts of their personalities: loyalty and friendship. They’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; they’re killers, after all, and Jacob’s relationship with Myron’s wife Rachel is hardly admirable, but they’re still people you want to read more about because they’re complex enough to have enough facets that keep you hanging around for more. I also appreciated that Winick doesn’t stop his story for heavy exposition where he explains Yiddish slang, or talks about the story of King David and Bathsheba. Everything you need to know is in the issue, and even if you don’t get the immediate gist of things, all is still clear by the end of the issue. Caper treats its readers like adults, and I’m always in favor of that.

It’s a real treat to see a full-color comic by Farel Dalrymple, whose black and white Pop Gun War is always a visual delight. Here, with Guy Major’s colors, his art explodes off of the page and into the reader’s mind. The scene of the teenaged Jacob and Izzy beating their father’s killer to death is expressive and dramatic and breathtaking; Dalrymple’s delicate lines carefully sculpt out two very realistic-looking people, and Major’s colors with the deep red on the killers and the absence of all color on the corpse is eye-catching. No one else draws people like Dalrymple, with the soft inks shading people’s faces into definition, capturing postures of strength and weakness depending on the characters, and generally making sure that people look as real as possible. Forget airbrushed photograph-based paintings, this is what good art is really about.

Caper #1 is a strong kick-off to this series, and even without seeing any of the other two story arcs to come (drawn by John Severin and Tom Fowler), I’m ready to declare Caper a rousing success. When people talk about Winick’s best works Pedro and Me and Barry Ween are two titles which almost always get mentioned, but I think by this time next year Caper will be on everyone’s lists as well. Winick and Dalrymple should be proud. Caper #1 is on sale now at better comic book stores everywhere.

1 comment to Caper #1