Review: ‘The Hard Place’ #1 Drives and Delivers Both Character And A Great Set Up

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After five years in prison, AJ Gurney, a legendary wheelman in Detroit, has decided it’s time to go straight. He returns home to work in his father’s garage and disappear into anonymity. But during a visit to the bank, AJ is recognized by two violent bank robbers, and they demand AJ be their getaway driver. To ensure his compliance, they take a young female hostage; unfortunately, she happens to be the daughter of a Russian crime lord. AJ now finds himself pursued by a bitter police department and hunted by every asset of the Russian mob. Without a doubt, he’s in a very hard place.The Hard Place

The Hard Place #1 (0f 5)
Written: Doug Wagner
Art by: Nic Rummel
Colors by: Charlie Kirchoff
Cover: Brian Stelfreeze

A 12 Gauge Comics Production
Published by: Image Comics

I knew nothing about this book going in (just a passing knowledge of Plastic, another Image series written by Doug Wagner which I haven’t read). But the art looked good, and as I have said around these parts before, a new first issue from Image ALWAYS deserves a look. Again I was proven right, as The Hard Place was another great entry in the growing crime-comics library Image has been publishing and a book well worth your time and money. The Hard Place

Writing

Doug Wagner writes what on the surface appears just as a simple “getting out of jail” tale but is filled with character development that bonds you to the characters. AJ is someone you immediately connect with on the virtue of how his relationship with both his father and his friend Don (a cop no less!) are portrayed. There is affection, humor, and history between him and Don; a warmness to their dialog and scenes that makes it clear Don cares and is glad to see his friend. The nature of their friendship is also revealed with clever exposition. Things are said that let us know these two are old friends, almost like brothers. It’s in the back-and-forth between these two that we learn that AJ is both an amazing driver, and indebted to a man named Maksim, two details that will play an integral part in kick starting this story at the end. The pages between AJ and Don held some of my favorite moments in this comic.

AJ’s scenes with his dad ‘Pops’ are equally well written and much is said in the way they talk to each other vs. what is said. There is some tension between father and son, a tension that goes both ways, but it’s not enough to snap their love for each other and sense of family loyalty.The Hard Place

And then there is the bad guy (this is after all a crime/action story). The introduction of Maksim Sidorov is pretty intense, with the heavily inked up gangster coming across as both methodical, intelligent, and ruthless. He kills a man by violently ‘curb stomping‘ him, yet the action never seems to raise his own pulse. It’s a great way to set up the big bad as a looming threat.

But the ending, the hook in the last few pages, is what really did it for me. And again it’s a testament to the subtlety of the writing that I didn’t see it coming. The “I was almost out but then they pull me back in” moment is a well-known trope of the crime genre, but it’s handled freshly here, with an element of coincidence that works as the kicker. It’s a cliffhanger that without a doubt makes me eager to keep reading. The Hard Place

Art

Artwise, the book also shines pretty brightly. Nic Rummel’s line work is stylized, with definite graffiti influence (think along the lines of Jim Mahfood), but it also doesn’t veer into that style so much that it becomes distracting. The thick, black lines give the pages weight and movement. I also really like the extra thick, black panel borders that makes the art contained within them very crisp; it helps you focus on the images.

The coloring by Charlie Kirchoff is also a big factor in this book’s success. The palette is surprisingly bright for an inner city set tale, with oranges, purple and burgundy hues giving it almost a Michael Mann type of atmosphere. It’s cinematic and fluid.

There is also a very clever use of sound effects lettering as transitions between scenes; it works for both the bookends and the flashback, adding to the cinematic quality of the whole thing.

Last but not least, the whole thing sits behind a slick and beautiful cover by industry vet Brian Stelreeze. 

Conclusion

Image delivers yet another solid crime comic with The Hard Place #1. It’s deceptively simple in concept but not in execution. What we get is a tightly paced, plotted story with subtle character development and one hell hook ending that really grabs you. A lot of pieces are being set up here, and you can tell everything will be put in motion soon. Plus, it’s all so great to look at. Simply said, this book will not disappoint.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Writing
Art
Coloring
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Assistant Comic Book Editor. Manny has been obsessed with comics since childhood. He reads some kind of comic every single day. 'Nuff said!