July 12, 2009

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Hard Boiled

Written by Frank Miller
Illustrated by Geof Darrow
Dark Horse

I tend to like Frank Miller's work a lot, even when he's showing off his more, shall we say, excessive side, such as "The Dark Knight Strikes Back" or what I've seen of "All Star Batman and Robin." So please keep that in mind when reading this review, in which I will argue that this time, the style doesn't work and the piece suffers for it.

Hard Boiled is the story of a man who is unsure of his identity but can certainly take a lot of punishment. We first see him putting his foot through a car (brand named "Jesus Crysler," and basically letting you know what you're in for) and shortly thereafter, he's on fire, mangled by glass, and has fingers that look like a puppet gone slack.

There's graffiti all over the wall behind him, with various sexual comments and other crude remarks drawn in amazing detail by Darrow, and I considered just letting this one go right back to the library, and I don't think I'd have missed anything by doing so.

It's not that the story itself is bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our protagonist is caught in a web of lies that only slowly unfold--and do so in a way that I think cleverly keeps the reader guessing as to the final outcome. That's the sign of a good storyteller, and despite what a lot of people like to say, I think Miller is a good storyteller. Even better, the outcome makes sense based on what has come before. I didn't finish this story thinking I'd been cheated. Again, that's the sign of a good writer.

Where I had a problem was with the level of violence. Drawn in all of its gory detail by Darrow--and if you want bloody art down to the lovingly rendered exposed broken bone, Darrow is your man--there's just a sense of "enough already" that Miller notices, then says, "sorry, buddy, I ain't done making you regret reading this over lunch yet."

There's gore on almost every page here, and it's just too much. People are chainsawed while having sex, mangled in large-scale car accidents, dismembered in grocery stores, and more. Explosions are nuclear-sized, Bart Simpson stand-ins are crucified, and robots try to have sex with each other.

It's all just a bit too much for me to recommend this to anyone, even if I do like the concept and plot. I'm not big on dystopian stories, but Miller put together one I'd be interested in reading more about--if the level of violence was turned down a few notches.

If you're less sketchy than me on gratuitous blood and guts, give this one a try. Otherwise, even fans of Frank Miller can probably be best served by giving this one a pass.