Ten Grand #1
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Illustrated by Ben Templesmith
Letters by Troy Peteri
Production Editor: Phil Smith
Production: Jana Cook
As if there was any doubt that J. Michael Straczynski could continue to pull off concise, compelling, character-based storytelling. The comics/television veteran showcases his writing flair once again with Ten Grand #1, an introduction to a laden man wading through a murky world, a hell-on-earth perhaps not wholly original though nevertheless a convincing prospect in part to the unique capabilities of its creators.
We’re presented with a city that functions in the same vein as that of Constantine, a grimy atmosphere infused with a consistent tension between good and evil. Joe is an enforcer whose primary movements involve meeting clients in a bar to receive the lump sum of “ten grand” – “Ten grand is just enough to weed out the kooks, the clowns, the whackos…” – in exchange for a fatal hit. A young woman named Debbie meets with Joe to arrange the killing of a man who’s manipulated her friend into joining a sinister supernatural cult named The Divine. There’s a catch: Joe recognises the man in the photo as someone he knows – and shot in the head many years ago.
The art style in this bar sequence, as in the rest of the book, consists of two-tone, brown watercolour splashes that evince the locale as dirty and undesirable. The subdued colours are effectively deployed; here they lead without warning to a page spread wherein the brown bursts open into a fiery orange, in depiction of a violent encounter. Flashback scenes adopt a turquoise look in place of the typical black-and-white, as Joe steps into the murky waters of his past.
Where Ben Templesmith’s art triumphs most is in its use of lighting, a trick not often engaged by other comic artists – at least not this effectively. The fixtures of light in each location help to separate a monotone colour into discrete light and dark shades within the panel. In the bar scene especially, the light overhead paints shadows that complement the book’s intended noirish aesthetic. Equally noir is Joe’s line delivery; Straczyinski has his lead speak in truncated lines of dialogue that reservedly give a minimal degree of information.
Ten Grand #1 makes a compelling case for its future, although as a first issue it is, in essence, an origin story required to brush expository necessities aside to make way for the big narrative push. It’s probably worth sticking around for, then; less for Straczyinski’s able penmanship than Templesmith’s moody, evocative dabbles with light.