Filthy Rich

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Victor Santos
200 pages, black and white
Published by Vertigo/DC Comics

Vertigo’s new Vertigo Crime imprint launched with two books, Dark Entries and Filthy Rich. Dark Entries seemed to miss the point a bit, publishing a straight horror Hellblazer graphic novel with a Vertigo Crime label slapped on the side. I had higher hopes for Filthy Rich, though. I suspect that author Brian Azzarello was at least partially responsible for the Vertigo Crime label, with his series 100 Bullets being an out-and-out crime series that flourished at Vertigo. If anyone could push the line forward, I’d decided, it would be Azzarello. What I found between the covers of Filthy Rich, though, was a curious throwback to earlier crime comics.

The strongest thing about Filthy Rich is, easily, the script. Azzarello’s telling an old-fashioned crime story, the sort that brought Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Parker: The Hunter immediately to mind. It’s set in a time that might be considered slightly "simpler" if you’re referring to technology and society, but is certainly no less complicated when it comes to base human nature. It’s a stereotypical piece of noir, a loser ex-jock struggling to survive and having a knack for trusting the wrong people. Azzarello’s script is slightly predictable in that manner; the surprise isn’t that the main character of Junk gets betrayed, or even who betrays him. In the case of Filthy Rich, the only twists are how many times a betrayal can come around and slap Junk in the face. It’s that inevitability that Azzarello uses as a virtue, though; almost like a morality play, you find yourself watching for the fall from grace and the punishment that will ensue. Junk isn’t the kind of character you want to succeed; he’s slimy and smarmy, and he oozes all the charm of a shredded four-leaf clover. He still thinks that he does, though, and it’s that arrogance and bravado that pushes him through the story even as you wait for his comeuppance. Even if you’re not generally one to cheer a character’s mistakes, watching Junk make all the wrong moves is curiously entertaining.

That said, Filthy Rich falls apart under the hand of Victor Santos. It’s strange because it looks like Santos is simultaneously trying to mimic the art of Eduardo Risso on 100 Bullets and Frank Miller on Sin City. What we end up with, though, is a mash-up between the two that has no rhythm or hook. Like Risso’s art, Santos gives his characters that telltale flip of hair, the strong jaw, the tilt to the head. Unlike Risso, though, Santos’s characters come across as blocky and slightly malformed. Several characters have heads slightly too big for their bodies, and men who are supposed to look attractive seem slightly mangled. There’s no slickness here, no sly glances at the audience to draw them in.

At the same time, Santos uses a lot of Miller’s artistic tricks, but they’re scattered across the page like they’re going out of style. Horizontal shadows from the blinds are so scattered across scenes you’d think a window store had gone out of business, and just serve as distraction instead of accenting the mood. Likewise, when Santos tries to draw a character by just using whites on an all-black panel, it feels almost lazy to see the character on a field of nothing. This is a scene in a bar, not a dark alley where there should be nothing but shadow and night. Looking at the art in Filthy Rich, I felt like it was someone who saw others using tools and techniques but wasn’t quite ready to apply them on his own.

I hope future Vertigo Crime books pack a larger punch, because right now I’m feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Both books have missed a key element of the line, and in ways that felt so obvious that it’s worrisome that these were the books chosen to be the debut titles. I want to see Vertigo Crime succeed, I think there’s an immense amount of potential. If nothing else, I do like the trade dress, and the Lee Bermejo cover. For now, though, I think I’d find it more entertaining to re-read my 100 Bullets and Jonny Double collections. Maybe for Vertigo Crime, the third time will be the charm? Two strikes this early in the game is not a good opening.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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