Frank Ironwine

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Carla Speed McNeil
32 pages, black and white
Published by Apparat/Avatar Press

Last April, Warren Ellis talked about creating four one-shot comics, styled in a more traditional adventure format, and making each one of them the first issue of an imaginary new series of comics from an imaginary publisher “Apparat”. It’s a fun little project that harkens back to thinks like the Tangent Comics one-shots from DC, and like Tangent before had me asking the question: will any of these one-shots really feel like something that I want to read more of?

Detective Frank Ironwine is brilliant at his job. In-between jobs, mind you, he’s usually drunk for about three days straight and sleeping in a dumpster. When he’s on the job, though, he’s something to be seen. That’s what his new partner, Detective Karen de Groot, is starting to learn. They’re tracking a killer, and as in what happens with so many other cases, one’s initial impression is not always correct… both for the killer, and for what de Groot thinks of Ironwine.

Ellis’s writing on Frank Ironwine is a good introduction to the character, showing him first at his lowest and then by the end of the issue proving why his reputation as being good at his job is earned. The story itself is well set up, both starting and finishing an investigation in just 32 pages. Everything fits together pretty well, with clues scattered throughout the story in such a way that you can go back and see things being set up for later revelations, as well as understand how Ironwine figures out everything he does in the issue. It’s a clever little story, and by the time it’s over you really do want to read more about Ironwine and de Groot; it’s easily achieved its purpose.

Of course, it helps that Carla Speed McNeil drew Frank Ironwine #1. McNeil’s art is a strong match for the story; she’s always been very good at drawing average, every-day people and that’s exactly what’s called for with Frank Ironwine. Ironwine looks a good combination of haggard and slightly homely, which is nice; he’s not supposed to be a fashion plate, he’s just an average guy who happens to also be a good detective. It’s all the more strong a contrast when he’s next to de Groot, who’s perfectly dressed and coiffed; if the series continued I suspect we’d see a slow downgrading of her worrying about what she’s going to look like on the job as her association with Ironwine continued. There are a lot of nice body language bits along the way, like Ironwine’s startled expression when their suspect makes a run for freedom, or his exhausted staring at himself in the bathroom mirror while de Groot gives him the latest piece of information. Best of all, there’s some little bits that work wonderfully in Frank Ironwine, like Frank’s tie flipped up over his shoulder to keep from disturbing the crime scene as he’s crouched down, but which then moves according to gravity as Frank himself moves around on the ground, instead of staying in a static position like too many other artists would have done. McNeil really thinks through what her characters would look like when they move from one panel to the next, and the reader is well-rewarded by her efforts.

Is Frank Ironwine a good introduction to a series that will never happen? Does it work well as a one-shot? Do I want to see more? Yes, yes, and yes. I may not ever get that desire for additional stories answered, but this one issue worked well enough that even if I don’t ever see a return to Frank Ironwine I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth in this one visit to his world. Very well done.

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