The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 140 | Sunset hardcover review

Leaving Proof 140 | Sunset hardcover review
Published on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 by
Sunset is the first original graphic novel from Top Cow Productions imprint Minotaur Press. How does this hardboiled black-and-white tale of mob double-crosses and revenge fare? Read on for the 411!

Key Review Points

Pros:

  • Solidly-crafted hardboiled crime fiction.
  • Highly-detailed art.
  • Features extensive “behind-the-scenes” extras.

Cons:

  • Lack of screentones and  meticulously-detailed, heavy inks lead to cluttered-looking pages on occasion.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Image Comics/Minotaur Press (a division of Top Cow Productions)
  • Publication Date: July 2012
  • Created and Written by: Christos Gage
  • Art by: Jorge Lucas
  • Lettered by: Troy Peteri
  • Format: 160 page black & white hardcover
  • List Price: $19.99 US (digital review copy provided free-of-charge by the publisher)
  • Availability: On sale now

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Full Review

Some of my favorite comic books of the past decade or so have been titles of the hardboiled crime fiction persuasion. Stuff like Garth Ennis’ 60-issue, six-year run on the Marvel MAX Punisher series, Juan Díaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad, Greg Rucka’s Whiteout, and Viktor Kalvachev’s Pherone. There’s a unique appeal to the rhythm of the language of crime fiction, the sensuality and visceral quality of the action, and the genre’s stock characters, down-and-out desperadoes who end up  going beyond self-interest and doing the right thing—either willingly or coincidentally.

Writer Christos Gage has proven himself adept at handling double-cross and heist tropes before with his well-received work on 2009’s G.I. Joe: Cobra. With the original graphic novel Sunset, Gage goes one better by telling the story of what happens after the double-cross and the heist have been pulled off. Thirty years ago, protagonist Nick Bellamy framed Vegas mob boss Alfonse Gianelli, made out with $8 million, and retired with his wife into obscurity. But can he actually leave his violent past behind and will his family have to pay the ultimate price for his past transgressions?

Sunset‘s story beats will come off as familiar to most fans of crime fiction, but Gage still manages to upend reader assumptions by playing on common (mis)conceptions about the middle-aged and the elderly, especially with his handling of the curmudgeonly Bellamy, a Korean war veteran and former mob hitman with a mean streak a mile wide. The character isn’t particularly sympathetic, but as with most hardboiled fiction heroes, his vulnerabilities are exposed just enough and at the right moments to make the reader care about his fate. There are the requisite plot twists common to the genre, but these feel almost reassuring as much as they are predictable.

The art is generally well-done, with clear if somewhat unspectacular visual storytelling. The stark black-and-white aesthetic applied by versatile Uruguayan-Argentinian artist Jorge Lucas looks to be the Minotaur Press “house look” given the book’s visual similarity to the last Minotaur Press title reviewed in this space. Lucas’ renderings are highly detailed, but I have strong reservations about the decision to eschew screentones. The combination of ultra-fine inking detail, large swathes of solid blacks, and a lack of implied lighting gradients occasionally results in cluttered and overly-busy looking panels with poorly-discernible focal points. This isn’t an issue in most pages, but in crowd scenes and scenes set against complex and highly-textured backdrops, the sheer amount of ink can be overwhelming to the reader’s eye and detract from the storytelling. I do want to commend the creative team’s decision to use sound effects. Lettered sound effects seem to have fallen out of favor in contemporary comics, but they definitely add a layer of depth to the visual storytelling that just can’t be easily replicated or simulated via other contrivances.

Alfonse Gianelli was clearly modeled on the late Jack Palance

As has been the trend in recent years in comics and even animated films, some of the main character designs are heavily-based on the appearances of real-world personalities. Nick Bellamy’s visage looks like it was inspired by Papillon-era Steve McQueen while the villain Alfonse Gianelli is a resurrected Jack Palance. Sharp-eyed readers will also spot Mickey Rourke’s doppelganger and any number of well-known faces in crowds and among the supporting characters and extras. I personally don’t mind these designs, but I know some readers find this practice somewhat distracting, so I’m just putting it out there.

The volume also includes an extensive array of behind-the-scenes extras, including the full text of Gage’s original project proposal for Sunset, character design notes, as well  as cover mock-ups and page thumbnails.

Sunset is a solidly-entertaining read, brought down only slightly by some curious visual design choices. Recommended, with reservations.

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2 Responses
    • I need to check this out. I haven’t read a nice hard boiled crime story in black and white since Jinx by Brian Michal Bendis. 

      • It’s a solid read for sure, and I can easily see it being adapted as a low- to mid-budget genre film the same way John Wagner and Vince Locke’s 1997 graphic novel “A History of Violence” eventually made its way to the big screen as a Cronenberg project. Just not too hot on the combination of super-detailed line art and the lack of screentones.

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