Thief of Thieves Issues 1 and 2

Story by Robert Kirkman
Written by Nick Spencer
Illustrated by Shawn Martinbrough

Redmond is one of the best thieves in the world, about to crack the biggest case ever.  There's only one problem:  He doesn't want to do it.  Watch as a man tries to repair his life while his former allies and enemies look on.  This is the story of the Thief of Thieves.

I'm generally softer on things that I opt to review, but in this case, I'm making an exception.  I really respect Robert Kirkman as a writer.  His work on Invincible's first twenty-five issues showed how to twist the Spider-Man story in a new and interesting direction.  The Walking Dead might be the best zombie story, at least in prose.  His other books are quirky and funny and bloody, as a rule, and he's earned his place as one of the creators of note of the 2000s, alongside Bendis, Johns, and others.  I consider myself a big fan, even if that doesn't show on the blog here because most of the Kirkman I read I ended up not reviewing, mostly because others were doing it so well.

However, in this series, he's taken a television pitch to a comic book, hoping to get someone to pick it up.  It turns out they did, so I hope that they just shut this series down now that it has served its purpose.  It's one thing to write a comic and think, "wow, imagine if they decided to make this into a series."  Down that road lies the hopes of most creators, both prose and visually.  After all, comics don't pay the way that television and movies do.  There's also the sense of wonder and imagination of seeing still images turned into life-sized figures.  I can understand that.  We all make movies in our head, and sometimes great ideas get turned into movies.

What I cannot abide, however, are stories that are nothing but pitch books for a television or movie audience.  Cowboys and Aliens read terribly as a comic book, even with Fred Van Lente brought into help. It was painfully obvious that the idea was a movie pitch that failed initially, was given the comic treatment, and made it to Hollywood after it was storyboarded on paper.

Martinbough actually brags that his goal with the art on Thief of Thieves was to replicate the feel of the screen, and he actually manages that quite well.  The problem is that the story he's portraying, after a promising beginning in issue one, is horrendously boring by the second issue.  Redmond opts out of his exciting life and tries to go back to normal.  This is fine as far as it goes, but we're given no reason to care about Redmond beyond his excellent thievery.  The book works when he's bantering with his young assistant  Celia, a would-be thief whom he mentors.  The book works when they're capering.  But an entire comic where Redmond pleads for his wife to take him back or angsts about the fact that his son wants to be a thief, too, just doesn't work in a comic book.  You can do subplots that feature those ideas, and people like Mark Waid or Peter David, make their living by weaving complex narratives with similar themes underlying the action.

But the key there is that that those moments *support* the action.  Here, the action is a middle-aged man wanting to settle down.  It's a classic television drama story.  Might work as the movie of the week.  Unfortunately, however, it fails to catch the reader's interest, as Martinbough's attempts to show things in a manner aping television bogs things down and leaves the reader looking for something--anything--to happen beyond panels of arguments.  It might work if the banter was clever (ala Bendis), but Spencer is just not up to the task of making Redman's domestic issues important to the reader, mostly because we weren't given a strong reason to care in the first place.

Overall, Thief of Thieves is a pitch book that looks to have hooked Kirkman another television show.  I'm happy for him, but I hope that going forward, he only works on comics that are designed to be comics first.  This really disappointed me, and makes me leery of jumping on to his next project so quickly.  My advice is to steer clear of this one and wait for the filmed version.  Odds are, it will work much better that way.