Ed Brisson and his collaborators weave a gripping tale of flawed people trying to do the right thing, against a timely backdrop of gentrification and social exclusion.
Writer (and letterer) Ed Brisson has certainly hit the ground running in 2016, with two very effective crime series landing on the shelves while Broken Frontier was so rudely interrupted over the festive season.
The Last Contract – a collaboration with artist Lisandro Estherren for BOOM! Studios – is the gritty, witty tale of an ageing hitman being pulled back into ‘the game’. With a punchy script and neon-splashed art, it does what it does very well, but it’s perhaps a little too genre-bound to really break out.
However, The Violent, co-created in a smooth collaboration with artist Adam Gorham, is an altogether more nuanced book, mixing edgy street-level activity with biting socioeconomic commentary and raw, richly drawn human relationships.
At the heart of the book is the relationship between Mason, recently released after a stretch for burglary, and his wife Becky, a former drug-addict.
The tension of their hand-to-mouth existence emanates from the page; Becky wearily has to take most of the weight, balancing caring for their three-year-old daughter Kaitlyn with a night-shift office-cleaning job.
As they try to make ends meet and do the right thing, Mason and Becky are separately confronted with how hard it is to leave the past behind. The characterisation in this book absolutely hums: the flawed Mason is certainly no angel, but when the bottom falls out of his world at the end of #1, it’s impossible not to feel a sympathetic sinking feeling. And as things spiral further out of control in #2, the reader is drawn in inextricably.
All this takes place against the vividly realised backdrop of Vancouver: more specifically, the rapidly gentrifying district of Strathcona, where new luxury apartments are being snapped up as investments (and left empty) while families like Mason, Becky and Kaitlin are forced to rely on food banks.
This aspect is at the core of the book. In the heartfelt backmatter, Brisson describes the series as being about “people trying to make it by in a city that seems not to want them. A city that makes it increasingly difficult to just survive.” (And the sense of place extends to the inclusion of prose crime stories by Vancouver writers as further backmatter.)
The feel of realism permeates Brisson and Gorman’s rock-solid storytelling. Their skill is epitomised by the tense, silent sequence that opens the book (above), which teases generic conventions to play out in a pleasingly unexpected way.
I think it’s safe to say that The Violent has the potential to be Brisson’s strongest series to date; it certainly seems to be the one with which he has the closest personal connection. And, in Gorman, colourist Michael Garland and designer Tom Muller, he’s got a team of collaborators who are clearly all on the same wavelength.
If the wait for more Criminal material from Brubaker and Phillips is making your palms itch, The Violent is a very neat little package that might be just the bit of relief you’re looking for.
Ed Brisson (W), Adam Gorham (A), Michael Garland (C) • Image Comics, $2.99
(No umlaut on Muller 😉 )