There is something wonderful about the dark seedy underbelly of the city in J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith’s Ten Grand #1. A dangerous place where Angels inhabit strip clubs and demons crawl out of the very walls that surround us, it’s also the home to supernatural investigator Joe Fitzgerald. We are living in his story, and although it doesn’t feel altogether new it is – without a doubt – an enjoyable ride.
Straczynski weaves his pulp noir horror with familiar threads. The story of Joe Fitzgerald is very much that of supernatural grifter John Constantine. Joe is a man in search of redemption that can only be found by helping angels in their war against those down below. The similarities are so striking that they almost feel intentional. It’s as if the writer is using these particular genre trappings to acquaint readers to a new world without having to use a lot of heavy exposition, and by laying this story base Straczynski is able to focus on Joe’s humanizing struggle to be reunited with the woman he has lost. The result is an eminently readable and enjoyable work of comic book fiction that manages to be intriguing despite closely hewing to its inspirations.
However, the real standout of Ten Grand #1 is the art by the uber-talented Ben Templesmith. The man is a maestro of horror comics and he conducts each page to its most frightening possible layout. His demons are vile insect-like creatures, his people are gruff and his backgrounds shift with the changing emotions of the players on the page. This diversity of style gives the book an intense visceral feeling, almost as if Templesmith is furiously scrawling the book down as the very demons he depicts knock at his door.
There is something to be said for always pushing the needle forward, but there is also respect to be had for crafting a tight, entertaining narrative inside an already established genre. Ten Grand #1 may echo the Hellblazer of Vertigo’s past, yet it also sports an interesting main character, an intriguing fictional world and gorgeous art. This is a book that achieves exactly what it sets out to, and in doing so becomes a book worth a spot on your pull list.