Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Grifter #1 (November, 2011)

One look at "Mr. Argent" could tell you something was off. His suit was ill-fitting, and his twee eyeglasses did not go with his mutton chops or greasy slicked back hair. Still, Mr. Valdez knew going in that Argent was a con man, and was clearly involved in nefarious business of his own. Valdez paid Argent in counterfeit bills, and Argent gave him a suitcase weighted down with decks of playing cards. Somehow, Argent came out ahead on the deal, and left behind his brilliant disguise of spectacles while trying to catch the redeye of New Orleans.

On his way to the airport, an otherworldly being dragged the grifter into an alley. Grifter woke up strapped to a table next to a tank in which a translucent extraterrestrial floated. Grifter burst his bonds, but was disoriented and hearing voices in his mind. Grifter grabbed a pipe and searched for an exit. He ran into a bald man in a suit, who psychically alerted "Brothers, one has escaped the transfer--" Grifter beat the man silent, if not to death.

Hitting the street, Grifter realized he'd lost seventeen minutes to this misadventure, and raced to the airport. He heard another voice in his mind. "The host body... escaped. Find it. Stop it. Do not... risk exposure..." The voices continued to plague Grifter on the plane, and his discomfort and distraction attracted unwanted attention. A woman who seemed to initially want to comfort the man instead produced a knitting needle from her flesh. Grifter heard her murderous thought, and stabbed her through the eye with her own weapon.

Using a miniature bottle of alcohol, Grifter pretended to hold a bomb detonator, and demanded to exit the slowly ascending plane. A steward turned out to be another killer alien, and both parties ended up free-falling into the ocean. Grifter had snapped his assailant's neck on the way down.

Two hours later, Grifter called his con artist partner Gretchen, who was supposed to meet him in San Juan. As it turned out, Grifter had lost seventeen minutes and seventeen days. Gretchen had connected Grifter to the terrorist on the plane, and figured he'd already screwed her on the Valdez con, so she dumped him. Gretchen was seen approaching a New Orleans police precinct.

"Christopher Argent" was a wanted man, but that was only an alias. At the Pentagon, they knew he was really Cole Cash, a former officer of Delta Special Operations. It was bad enough he'd turned into a grifter, but his former commanding officer would not allow the national embarrassment of his being linked to terrorism. To this end, Master Sergeant Max Cash was enlisted to take his brother out of the public eye by any means necessary.

Cole Cash, friendless and alone, was hiding in a cemetery. He wanted these "demons" voices out of his head, as they discussed pressured timelines and the need to tear Grifter apart. Donning an orange and black mask, Grifter was intent on confronting his "demons," and dared them to find him first...

"Grifter: 17 Minutes" was by Nathan Edmonson, Cafu, and Jason Gorder. I vaguely remember reading the original Grifter #1 back in the '90s, which had the misfortune of being a side story in a crossover event. That book failed to impress, as did this one, for somewhat similar reasons. The issue opens on an airplane, with Grifter hearing voices, being attacked, and falling into the clear blue sky. It might have worked to start in the middle of the action in a movie, but it fails miserably as a comic. Since the reader likely knows Grifter is the hero of the story, there's no confusion about his role. His attackers are also obviously evil and something other than human. The scene therefore does not misdirect or surprise the viewer, and as a comic does not need to immediately hook the reader on an action beat (especially a lackluster one,) so all it does is confuse and disengage.

Then the flashback starts, including an extension of the title sequence, which grinds the breakneck pace to a whiplash halt. It's this nighttime office building rendezvous game of nitwits-- con artistry on the level of putting your thumb between your fingers and claiming to have another person's nose. At least Grifter is finally owning the meaning behind his kewl Image name, if nearly twenty years and a whole bunch of John Cusack movies too late. Tension and reveals have to be built up, all to return to the opening sequence of the book, on which a full page of recap is wasted. Worse, the resolution of the "cliffhanger" lasts exactly one panel, and if Grifter has super-powers that would allow him to survive a midair dive from an airplane, that might ought to be spelled out. The grinding gears of shoddy pacing strip the story of traction. What when laid out sequentially seems like a decent introductory episode feels slight as disarranged modules.

The last few pages are spent dumping exposition that a better writer could have worked into the story, including the completely unbelievable notion that the protagonist's military background would lead a Pentagon official to send his brother after him with extreme prejudice. Let's not get a highly capable but personally disinterested agent to track down Grifter, but instead send a blood relative. No massive, obvious conflict there. Old readers will shrug and say "this again?" New readers will just shrug. This is one of those comics written by someone whose knowledge of the world comes from other comics and video games. Part and parcel, it helps to read other "Edge" line books like Voodoo to fully appreciate the extent of the hand-me-down, been there/done that experience.

Given all my complaints about the story, I want to make sure to point out that the book's grace is in the art. I liked Cafu's work on Vixen: Return of the Lion, but it was soft and stiff. His work with Jason Gorder flows better, with tight inks that lend mood and weight. There's a strong resemblance to early Gary Frank, without the excessive detailing that mars his art today. I understand the miserable Scott Clark takes over art chores in a few issues, so hopefully that means the present team move on to a book that could better utilize their talents.

New 52's Day

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