With its sweeping black and white art and “man’s man” hero , Carver #1 by writer/artist Chris Hunt definitely wears its debt to Hugo Pratt’s Corto Maltese on its sleeve. However, its white hooded villain Stacker Lee seems like a rogue from the classic The Spirit comic strips, who happens to talk like a gangster from Tarantino film with his long, meandering monologues filled with pop philosophy. (If he’s not too old at the time, Samuel L. Jackson would be a perfect choice to play him in a Carver film.) These mix of influences, both European and American, collide in a simple, striking story about a supposed good man named Francis Carver, who has done some bad things and is willing to do anything to be with the woman he loves, Catherine.
Through his writing and art, Chris Hunt sets up a contrast between his protagonist Carver and antagonist Stacker Lee with Carver being a man of action and few words (He does get in a choice one liner about Colt .45’s.) while Stacker Lee is mostly just a talker and sends goons to do his dirty work. Everything that Carver does in Carver #1 is out in the open, and he is introduced bare chested and looking out at the city of Paris while Stacker Lee never removes his completely white hood. Instead of using extended flashbacks or having Carver info dump on his female companion in his introductory scene, Hunt shows the pain and anger that he is endured through the furrowing of his brow and the quick, brutal nature of his killings of Stacker Lee’s henchmen. The deaths are mostly off-panel, but their violent impact can be felt through Hunt’s bold lettering and the expressions of his henchmen.
Like most pulp stories, Stacker Lee comes off as a more interesting figure than Francis Carver. He can go from bellowing threats to psychoanalyzing Carver all while talking to himself. He also has a Southern American accent (For example, “hisself” finds its way into his vocabulary.) even if his base of operation is in Paris and some of kind of a medical condition because he coughs constantly. Stacker Lee also directly addresses the reader starting with the opening, and his narration shows up in establishing shots of various buildings in Paris. Even if he ends up being all talk with nothing to back it up, Stacker Lee is definitely the most entertaining part of Carver #1 even as the final pages show that perhaps he isn’t in control as much as he wants readers to believe. There is also his personal connection to Carver and Catherine that will hopefully be fleshed out later in the series.
Carver #1 relies heavily on the tropes of the stoic, lantern jawed anti-hero, who can come unhinged at a moment’s notice (If he had a beard instead of a mustache, Carver could easily be a young Clint Eastwood.) , and the masked, monologue spouting villain. However, Chris Hunt keeps things relatively fresh with the sweep of his black and white artwork using economic, striking visuals to craft his hero as well as making Stacker Lee an amusing, if ruthless villain. There is also a rich, three page backup story written and drawn by comics legend Paul Pope showing another facial haired-sporting hero handing off the baton of adventure to Carver as they watch an exotic dancer called the Black Pearl of Paris. Pope captures the decadence of 1920s Paris, which leads directly to the smoking, post-coital Carver that opens the comic. Carver #1 is a retro-styled, pulp adventure comic with striking black and white art that will only improve once Francis Carver and Stacker Lee face off.