Review by Justin Hobday
Last week saw the release of final installment of Rick Remender’s three-part heist comic The Last Days of American Crime. Published by Radical Comics and beautifully illustrated by Greg Tocchini, it tells the tale of small time crook Graham Bricke and his audacious plan to pull one final job that will set him up for life before the US government implements its American Peace Initiative – a broadcast that will make criminal behavior physically impossible. The Last Days of American Crime is a brilliantly contradictory book that uses modern storytelling techniques and sensibilities, coupled with a deliciously high concept to breath new life into the familiar tropes of noir fiction.
Like so many great crime stories, Last Days... starts with a last gasp change of plans. After being double-crossed by the Mexican gangsters he originally hoped to use for his caper, Bricke – against his better judgement – has to recruit a new computer hacker and a safe cracker; enter Kevin Cash and his girlfriend Shelby Dupree. Volatile Kevin is the safe man and Shelby the computer whizz and neo-femme fatale destined to come between Bricke and Kevin.
Whilst Remender’s high concept MacGuffin raises questions about the implications and legality of the American Peace Initiative, his characters largely (and wisely) steer clear of morality debates. For Bricke and his associates the pressing issues are more practical – how will their kind survive without petty crime? Seeing the implementation of the American Peace Initiative through the eyes of lowlifes lends the story a pleasantly uncomfortable ambiguity. Whilst the character-types will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in crime fiction, each is rounded and believable. And in keeping with genre conventions, each character’s motivations are questionable and everyone is working an angle.
Those who’ve read Remender’s recent run on The Punisher will know how bloodthirsty his work can be – even on a mainstream Marvel book. Make no mistake, Last Days… is not for the faint-hearted. Whilst the characters and situations depicted are brutal and unpleasant, Greg Tocchini’s artwork is stunning. For a book that is knee-deep in the ugly side of humanity, each panel of each page is beautifully rendered. Tocchini – who pencilled, inked and colored each page – must take special credit for the success of the book. And as an added bonus, each issue has a pulp-inspired Alex Maleev cover to savour.
With crime comics currently enjoying something of a renaissance, Last Days… will inevitably be compared to Brubaker’s Criminal and (perhaps more pertinently) Brian Azzarello’s 100 Bullets. Whilst both comparisons are fair (and make no mistake, Last Days… is worthy of comparison to those two stellar books) the heady mix of pulp, noir and science fiction put me in mind of Philip K. Dick at his crazed best. And for me, there is no higher praise than that.
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