The United States of Murder Inc. #1
Story by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Michael Avon Oeming
Cover by Michael Avon Oeming, David Mack, David Marquez,[more…] Publisher: Marvel Icon
When Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming get together, it’s murder. Powers #1 began so long ago with the death of Retro Girl and The United States of Murder Inc. #1 has its own killing that sets Valentine Gallo down the path of his destiny. He thought he was already fulfilling that at a not-so-secret ceremony initiating him into the family business of crime. Just imagine the opening scene of The Godfather, at the wedding as we meet all of Don Corleone’s family, friends and hangers on. Francis Ford Coppola uses a festive event to draw his audience into the lives of the Corleone family. Bendis and Oeming’s opening to their new series recalls that films opening, throwing a party to try and convince us that maybe these people aren’t all that different from us.
But like The Godfather, the opening of this comic quickly tells us that we’ve stepped into another world, one where crime and a certain amount of debauchery is the norm rather than the exception. Valentine is the newest made man in the organization that runs at least part of the north-eastern seaboard. When he’s sent on an errand to Washington D.C., Valentine displays a charming amount of cluelessness to how the world works. He’s never been beyond the territory that he grew up in. He’s told to give a senator a brief case and asks if he should get a receipt. And he’s not joking about that. He honestly doesn’t know or understand how things work in the life that he’s naturally accepted would be his one day. He’s the golden child because his father and father were part of all of this. “Honorable men” their called during Valentine’s induction. Valentine may also be honorable but he’s a babe in this world of wolves.
For the writer who once took six issues to tell the origin of Spider-Man before he ever got him into his costume, Bendis moves quickly in this issue. With more than his average Marvel comics, Bendis has a lot of room to tell his story. Broken down into three parts- Valentine’s ceremony, his trip to D.C., and the aftermath of that trip, Bendis wants us to get engrossed in the lives and trials of these characters so that his big and shocking moments seem all the more bigger and more shocking. But with little idea who any of the characters actually are, it’s difficult to get blown away by the events in this issue. Along with Valentine, we meet his mother, his best friend and a potential love interest. Two out of these three supporting characters have big scenes but Bendis and Oeming rush into those moments without building up any investment in these characters that could have made the events of this issue so much more mindblowing.
In a world of restrained, shadowy figures, Oeming and colorist Taki Soma make big, bold choices in the artwork. As we’ve come a long way from those earliest days of Powers, many scenes and pages are staged in very familiar ways. Working with Bendis, Oeming never takes the easy way out constructing a page. From a wonderful birdseye view of the revelry following Valentine’s ceremony to a massive closeup of a character where the real action is being mirrored in both lenses of his sunglasses, Oeming isn’t afraid to go big and really let the story play out visually. Soma’s strong coloring, using solid, vivid but limited shades for each page gives the story a vibrancy as the colors surge through each page.
Individually the work of Oeming and Soma is fascinating but something interesting and challenging happens when you put it together because they don’t always play well together. In a long sequence taking place aboard a train car, Oeming’s staging feels clumsy as the panels and images don’t fit tightly together. It’s rushed and cramped to the point that Soma’s limited color palette makes everything blend together. It becomes a jumble of green and purple masses that is hard to focus on. When Valentine’s potential love interest Jagger Rose, she’s colored red, completely contrasting with the yellowish green tone of Valentine’s train journey. The United States of Murder Inc. #1 is frustrating because because there are times where the art is in perfect harmony with the writing but then there are other times when the Oeming and Soma’s work conflicts with itself and just grinds the story to a halt.
Working with Oeming, Bendis’s writing always feels more ambitious than a lot of his more superhero-centric work and he clearly has big desires for The United States of Murder Inc. #1. He jams a lot into this issue that introduces us to these characters and their lives. It’s actually quite a lot to throw at the readers that may be a bit more used to his more measured pace because he assumes that you’re as enthralled with these people as he and Oeming are. As a setup for the series, Bendis and Oeming introduce a fantastic twist in the last pages of this issue that feels like they should have waiting another couple of issues to reveal. They needed to build up the characters, give them real lives and motivations before jumping into all of the action of this issue like they did. If stretched out into a two or three issue story, the ending of this issue would have been one of those jaw-dropping moments that you never saw coming. Instead by getting there as quick as they did, they’ve just used this first issue to build the world and establish a status quo. It’s work that needs to be done but it would be nice if it was done in a way to make us care about Valentine and his personal and professional families.