April 5, 2013

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Dust off the Panels: Three Strikes

Written by Nunzio DeFilippiz and Christina Weir
Illustrated by Brian Hurtt
Oni Press

A generally good young man who makes a few bad decisions finds himself facing decades of jail time at the hands of a political District Attorney.  Now he's on the run, facing a ex-cop bounty hunter who won't let the failures of his personal life drain into his professional one.  As their lives intertwine, things accelerate into a climax that leaves the reader questioning everything they're expected to think in this excellent crime comic from Oni.

This was in my "keep or kill" pile that I've been hitting pretty hard in an continuing effort to reduce the number of total books I have in my house.  My hit ratio had been pretty low this week, to be honest, so I admit I opened this one without a lot of excitement.

That changed within a few pages of reading.  I was immediately hooked into the story of these two men, both of whom who had made poor decisions.  One of them gets a raw deal because his run afoul of the law. In the case of the bounty hunter, the problems don't lead him to a physical jail--he's in an emotional prison.  Seeing how these pieces interlock really made the comic for me, especially as we race towards the inevitable conclusion when these two men come face to face for the final time.

The writing team of DeFilippis and Weir really do an amazing job of bringing all the parts of the story together and making the most of character archetypes.  None of the characters here are original (good kid gone bad, emotionally distant cop, protective mom, druggie loser, and so on) but they're placed together in such a way to tell an excellent story that reminded me of classical noir.  This is a world where no one is a winner, even those who come out on top.  Normally, I'd feel like I wanted more out of the characters, but I think they work here as pieces of a larger puzzle.  Giving any of them a distinct character would have upset the balance.  We shouldn't want to follow one or the other protagonists and root for them--instead, we should want to see how their tragic story inevitably ends.

Brian Hurtt was a good choice for a story like this.  His characters look extremely realistic, but they aren't photo-modeled.  There's an incredible amount of detail in the background work, allowing us to be immersed in this world.  Hurtt uses cross-hatching and other techniques to vary the surroundings and clothing of the characters.  I do wish he'd have shown a bit more action, but the script involves a lot of talking, so the chances were admittedly limited.  He makes up for it be really hammering home strong eye and facial expressions.

Three Strikes is typical of what made me pick up Oni comics on sight.  Back in the mid-2000s, Oni was one of the highest quality indie publishers.  Their taste and mine have verged apart, so I'm not as big on their material as I used to be, but this one is a hidden gem and worth grabbing if you can find it.