Single Minded: Near Death #4 and #5

Today on Single Minded, we return to one of my recent favorites, Near Death, as it finishes up its first storyline with issues four and five.  Let's see what I thought of these two issues, shall we?

Near Death #4 and Near Death #5.  Written by Jay Faerber.  Illustrated by Simone Guglielmini.  Image Comics

Markham's new lease on life is working out fairly well for him.  He's still trying to beat the devil--or whatever evil force it was that nearly claimed him--but his methods are strong and his motives are good, if a bit selfish.  But what happens when Markham's past starts to catch up with him, and wants revenge for his turn of heart?  What good is saving people only to see them die at the hands of an old colleague turned enemy?  It's a complex life that Markham leads and in the end, he may not be the only one...Near Death.

After three one-shot issues establishing Markham and his world, Faerber moves on to a longer story this time that extends across two issues with a very explosive cliffhanger in the middle, which I thought was an excellent use of the comic-as-single issue form.  It's weird transitioning from reading 99% in trade to reading anything interesting issue by issue again, but I do admit, there are some moments this this one that cannot really be appreciated except in installments.  I actually had the "aw man!" moment as I was reading.

As far as the plot itself, this was another solid one, deviating from the usual premise in order to keep the comic fresh.  We start off expecting it to be another job, with some kind of twist, as we saw previously.  However, as the fourth issue moves along, it's clear that we're going to get an exploration into the repercussions of Markham's decision to quit being a hitman.

I don't want to give too much away here, but suffice it to say that it's clear Markham didn't think everything through, not unlike Mark Waid's reformed criminal, Max Damage.  Our protagonist has a long history and powerful enemies on both sides of the law, and that isn't going to change just because he's decided to stop murdering targets for money.  Once the initial shock wears off, everyone is going to set up for the next round, and I think Faerber's decision not to tip Markham off to this until it is effectively too late was a great writing choice.

The fifth issue is a crisis of conscience for Markham.  He's dogged by his past but bound by his new rules.  He's asked if he will kill to stop a killer, and there's no easy answer for that.  Even by the end, I think that question is going to hang over Markham for the duration of the series, no matter how he delays it.  Of course, part of the fun of reading this series will be watching how Faerber revisits the issue.

This story marks the end of the first arc, and I think it did a good job of wrapping up some ideas while setting up new ones for the second storyline, whatever it may be.  The complex story of a man trying to change before it's too late moves into a new stage now, and I hope part of that stage is finding out just how he's going to beat that devil.  If I know anything about Faerber, it won't be easy.

Near Death has been a great surprise and is one of my favorite comics right now.  I highly recommend you grab the first five issues and read them or plan to pick up the inevitable trade.  Faerber has a solid crime story going on here, and fans of that genre should start reading now.  They'll be glad they did.