November 7, 2011

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Single Minded: Near Death Issues 1 and 2

It's time to get Single Minded, where Panel Patter looks at some single issue comics rather than reading something as a trade!

Near Death Issues 1 and 2
Written by Jay Faerber
Illustrated by Simone Guglielmini
Image

Sometimes death can change a man, especially when he almost experiences it literally.  Markham is a hitman who's quite good at his job, even if he has to see a veterinarian to fix up his wounds.  When he has a vision of the men and women he's killed over the years, Markham decides to start his life anew, Ebeneezer Scrooge-style.  He's living on borrowed time, but it might just be enough to save some lives.  Join the adventure of a marked man who's painfully aware that he's...near death.

I think the only other comic I've read by Jay Faerber was the excellent Noble Causes (Hey, why isn't that digital?), so when I found out via Twitter that he was working on a noir-style series, I was intrigued.  I wasn't disappointed one bit.  Faerber's got a solid handle on quick characterization and putting together a high concept that keeps the reader wanting to come back for more.

In the case of Near Death, we have a man trying to change his future by making up for his past, and while it's certainly not a new concept (it probably pre-dates Dickens), I like the way it's being handled here.  Markham can't leave his past or his reputation behind, and it's definitely going to catch up with him, as hinted at the end of the first issue.  But he's been so shaken by his vision that he's convinced this is the only path he can travel now.  Unfortunately, as we see by issue two, deciding who to protect and who to condemn isn't nearly as easy as he thought it was going to be.  Can he keep this up?  Will Markham inevitably succumb to his old ways, as I suspect, damning him for all time?  Or can he hold on long enough to make a difference?  Faerber has a lot of directions he can go with, and all of them lead to an exciting story set in a dark world that's going to keep me reading.

The first issue did a good job of setting up the premise, but it's the second issue that really hooked me and showed that this series is worth following.  Markham ends up getting mixed up in a battle between a convicted rapist and the men who want to kill him for what he did to their loved one.  The felon got an early release, complicating matters.  Who should Markham side with?  The kinds of decisions that would have been easy once upon a time (high bidder wins) now are tinged with shades of gray.  Markham's ultimate decision is brilliant.  Best of all, Faerber uses a difficult subject tactfully, without it seeming exploitative or gratuitous.  His writing skills are in fine form here, and I can only hope the rest of the series maintains this high level of quality.

Faerber noted that he waited to find the right artist for this project and was happy to discover Simone Guglielmini for the project.  My only objection to his art is that typing his name into this review is difficult.  Guglielmini has a style that reminds me of Sean Phillips, and that works perfectly here, because the vibe is definitely meant to be the same as the Brubaker-Phillips collaborations.  I don't think this pair is there just yet, but neither were Brubaker and Philips the first few times out.  Over time, I think these two can create a set of stories that hold up in the comics noir genre.  Guglielmini has a great sense of shadow that he uses to keep the reader off balance or focused, depending on the need of the story.  His faces are a bit bland for my taste, but that's typical for this type of work.

I don't usually mention colorists, but Ron Riley definitely adds to the style here, coloring pages based on a single theme (burnt orange, dull blue, and so on) that fits the mood of the dialog and action.  He contributes to the overall look of the book in a way that I don't always notice.  I hope that continues in future issues.

Near Death is a great new series from Faerber and Image, and I look forward to following it as the comic comes out in single issue form.  This comic reads great in single issue form, and since it's available digitally from both Graphicly and Comixology (as well as in paper form, I guess, if you still read that way), there's no reason not to start reading it now.  Fans of crime comics will be glad they did.