Murder, mystery and a fair share of music make up the first issue of Killer Groove from AfterShock Comics. Due out on 29 May, the new series is ready to take you by the scruff of the neck and give you a good shaking.
From the writer of The Kitchen for DC-Comics, which is currently being adapted for the big screen by Andrea Berloff, Killer Groove gets beneath the underbelly of 1970’s L.A. life and focuses on desperate people in desperate situations.
Jonny plays guitar and works behind a bar. His life hasn’t turned out exactly as he hoped it would and his dreams of a musical career are slowly fading away. But fate has one more card to deal for Jonny and a chance meeting with the ruthless Ignatius puts Jonny on a whole new path.
Ollie Masters has written some outstanding crime stories, The Kitchen for DC and Snow Blind for BOOM! Studios for example, and Killer Grove starts off no different. He introduces a number of intriguing characters, seemingly unrelated, and then uses a series of events to slowly pull them together.
Just like any good noir mystery, the character interactions weave a tangled web, leading the reader from one scene to the next, constantly on the lookout for links and clues. Masters focuses on details within the characters’ lives but also gives the reader an overview of the way they live. By the end of this first issue, we are fully integrated into the character’s world.
The overall look of the comic is very ‘matter of fact’ with an attention to locale and design. The lighting used plays an important part in this, creating an aesthetic similar to the 1973 film version of The Long Goodbye. By deciding to move away from a stylised approach, like Titan Comics Triggerman or even Brubaker/Phillips’ Criminal series, Eoin Marron injects a sense of realism into the comic. Killer Groove’s style comes from the changing camera angles and attention to the characters.
The action is produced via clever compositions and changing panel layouts. For fast paced moments, Marron employs a high number of panels in a row. Each with a glimpse of the action, indicating the adrenaline rush and, in some cases, desperation felt by the characters. This approach has more in common with Japanese comics than its western peers. In fact, Marron uses a number of techniques common in Manga to tell the story; switching camera angles focusing on single characters instead of group shots; an increase in panels for short moments of action. The outcome of this is that the reader is provided with a lot more information in smaller, more focused panels, allowing the images to feed the mystery element of the comic, just like the classic Noir movies of the 1940’s.
Where the pencils and inks are the informative aspect of the narrative, the colors represent the atmosphere and emotion. Jordie Bellaire produces a sun bleached motif which runs through the comic giving it a worn out, almost tiring, feel. The backgrounds become blocks of color at pivotal moments to emphasis the foreground but also to enhance the emotional context. For example, the background in the bar changes to reflect Jonny’s mood as his day drags on.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou has a unique style for the lettering. Everything looks hand drawn giving the speech extra character with physical inflections beyond a simple bolding of text. The speech balloons are purposefully inconsistent with tails that lack a point. The has the effect of making each character seem abrupt and stand-offish. They have all built walls around themselves and, for whatever reason, don’t let anyone in.
Otsmane-Elhaou also injects the sound effects with some dynamism. The bright colors and the movement lines add an extra dimension, emphasising the onomatopoeic words. In turn they make the action lively and those panels stand out on the page. In most cases there is only one sound effect on a page and in that instance the panel with the sound effect becomes the focal point of the page with the narrative revolving around it.
There are only a handful of good crime comics on the market, and a number of those employ a gimmick to make them stand out; such as last years’ successful series Abbott from BOOM! Studios which included a supernatural element. However, Killer Groove is a straight up, historical crime story which draws inspiration from cinema and literary classics. There is an element of Raymond Chandler and Mikey Spillane in these pages but also more modern influences like Brubaker and Max Allan Collins.
As first issues go, this has everything you want. It sets the tone, introduces the characters and lays the groundwork for the narrative to follow. There is plenty going on and Ollie Masters controls the pacing beautifully. With a striking visual and unique details in lettering and coloring, Killer Groove is a title to keep a close eye on.