December 1, 2015

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Rich Tommaso's Dark Corridor


Written and Illustrated by Rich Tommaso
Published by Image Comics

The city of Red Circle is a cesspit of humanity that mini-comics master Rich Tommaso begins to explore in a crime series that shows an extensive love for the genre in all its forms. Whether it's mobsters getting whacked, a crooked cop in prison, or two hit people trying to work their way out of a double-cross, this set of two-part issues with interlocking stories is a lot of fun for crime comic fans, with plenty more promised for the future.

I think I first ran into Tommaso's work as part of the excellent Study Group webcomic site and was immediately drawn to his distinctive figure work, which is one part Fred Hembeck, one part old EC house style, and one part Center for Cartoon studies. Working in full, brilliant, eye-popping color, Tommaso's not afraid to play with panel designs (such as bringing back the helpful arrows of yore in issue three), keeping the reader off-balance by varying the size and shape of the borders on each page. His style could hardly be called realistic, yet it doesn't feel over-the-top cartoonish, either, even when presented with a lawyer whose nose juts straight out or sweat beads that race off a person's face in large, oval droplets.



It's Tommaso's layouts that just blow me away, however. In one panel, we're at a character's ankles while she desperately strikes out at an attacker, who looms over both her and the reader's eye, which is directed upward by the swing of her arm. On the same page, the character is now scrunched up into the foreground, breaking panel walls as the rest of the scene plays out over her left shoulder. In another example, another character's gun is pointed up at the reader, making it seem like the pistol barrel is impossibly long, and focusing the reader's eye down to the protagonist in a lovely perspective trick. Issue one has as a three-panel sequence that's straight out of the Kirby-Ditko playbook. Tommaso's style is his own, but he certainly understands the things that made golden/silver age comics so interesting from a visual perspective--tricks that have fallen out of favor at the very places that once used them the most.

The art on Dark Corridor is worth recommending the series alone, but that doesn't mean Tommaso's stories are secondary. I mentioned above that he clearly loves the crime genre, and especially the stories which feature unpleasant characters doing unpleasant things. There's nothing honorable about the people here--just shades of how bad they are. As the jailed ex-cop quips, "I'm ever to remain the department scapegoat. A department FILLED with bigger crooks than me." (Tommaso cleverly makes that word much larger than the rest of his lettering, using the visual to add emphasis, a trick he he returns to periodically.) It's a word filled with killers, petty shits, and people looking to get one leg up on everyone else. They move slowly but inexorably in the orbit created by Tomasso, coming together as his larger plot demands.

What's interesting here is that while the stories themselves work on their own as short vignettes like you might find in Dark Horse Presents, it's very clear that we're moving to a larger whole--even if that picture is about a clear as mud through the first few issues. Something is happening in the local mobs and the various characters who interact with the two main families are caught up in it. They're so close in fact that they can't even see--at least not yet--that there's a bigger picture. How these hit people, thieves, and revenge-seeking women fit into everything will come later. Tommaso's not giving up his secrets easily--nor should he. Finding out how the pieces fit together--and going back to look at the events of the earliest issues with fresh eyes--will be a part of the fun.

Dark Corridor is top-notch noir storytelling from a fan of the genre who understands that there's more to that part of the crime world than just making it dark. It's a complexity of character and a damning of all involved that most miss. Tomasso gets that, and it's why this is must-read for anyone who enjoys reading about terrible people. I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next, and I hope the series get a nice long run, allowing Tomasso's considerable imagination--and illustration skills--to shine.