Murder, mystery, and music is the name of the game in AfterShock Comics‘ Killer Groove issue 2 out this week. Inspired by crime stories from throughout the 20th century, Ollie Masters throws the reader head first into the seedy underbelly of L.A. and doesn’t allow them to come up for air.
In 1970’s America, not everyone is living the high life and just surviving can be difficult. You do what you must and take whatever job you find. For Jackie, a private investigator, this means applying a little pressure to people she’d rather not mingle with. And for Jonny, washed out musician, this means picking up a gun.
Ollie Masters is crafting a smart crime thriller that focuses on two different worlds. Throughout this second issue Masters is comparing these two worlds and the characters at the centre of each. Both are surrounded by violence but how that affects the characters is the central premise of Killer Groove.
Masters demonstrates Jonny’s reluctance to violence in the opening pages, setting up a classic target practice scene in a desert. This is followed up by a sequence of extreme violence which Jonny takes too far, lost in the moment. The two sequences together open up Jonny allowing the readers to see the true nature of the character and the anger buried within him. The reason for this anger and bitterness has been hinted at throughout the narrative so far but the consequences are fascinating; he is starting to get what he believes he deserves.
The relationship between Jonny and Ignatius is that of a mentor and his protégé. Their conversation bounces back and forth like a Quentin Tarantino film script but there is a detachment to Jonny. This is portrayed as an awkwardness, a difficulty making and understanding jokes. Masters uses these moments of conversation to highlight the difference between Jonny and the seemingly cold bloodied killer, Ignatius.
Masters’ contrasts this with Jackie’s relationship with her father. Jackie can feel the rug being pulled from under her but she is fighting to keep the balance. Instead of succumbing to the violence she makes a stand against it. This makes her job, and her life, harder but she chooses the moral high ground.
The story isn’t the only place this contrast is made, the art work highlights the difference in the central character’s outlooks. The color work by Jordie Bellaire makes a strong statement about the two personalities. Jonny is surrounded by red: backgrounds, furniture, blood. He is drenched in the violence although at this stage he doesn’t have any red on him directly, almost as if the violence isn’t touching his character.
Jackie, however wears a red jacket and is driven around in a bright red car; the violence infects her personally and leads her through life. The amount of violence in her story is considerable less, and not instigated by herself, but it has a bigger effect on her than on Jonny.
Eoin Marron treats the characters the same, focusing on their reactions to situations. The characters are extremely expressive allowing the reader to get to know them and understand them to a certain degree. Jonny has a coldness in this issue, a detachment from his actions. Marron often draws him with the same expression on his face; pensive yet removed from the world. This only changes during the violence and production of his music. Jackie has emotional reactions to everything that happens around her, she takes note and is a part of the world she lives in.
All of this comes through in Marron’s steady pencils and compositions. He treats the panels like a camera, starting with a wide, establishing shot before zooming in for reaction shots. He builds a sense of location early on each page so that he can drop the backgrounds to a minimum throughout the scenes. This leaves the reader focused on the characters and their interactions but the locale is firmly implanted in the reader’s mind.
The lettering is brilliantly blended into the art work, mostly by simply coloring the speech balloons an off white. The starkness usually associated with the speech is dampened and gives the conversations a natural, laid back feel. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou also has a novel approach to balloon design with flat ended tails and over lapping balloons linked by parallel lines creating a canal for the speech to flow through from one balloon to another.
This layering gives the speech some rhythm. While the balloons are overlaid there is a faster, punchy pace to the speech. It’s a comfortable, flowing conversation. But when he separates the balloons this emphasises the break in the speech and slows it down. It adds dramatic pauses and moments of indifference.
Killer Groove is an impressive thriller. The creative team use a number of clever gimmicks to tell the story but it doesn’t rely on these gimmicks to make it interesting. As a reader you are engaged in the comic first then notice the little storytelling tricks afterwards.
The plot reads like a 1970’s pulp novel mixed with characters from a modern thriller. The violence is harsh and in your face. It doesn’t apologise for what it is but also does not glorify it. Masters’ uses the character reactions to discuss the nature of violence and makes a general comment on the depiction and acceptance of that violence.
Killer Groove is entertaining but also hard hitting. Like a good Peter Luck novel or a Martin Scorsese film. In comic terms it falls somewhere between Sin City and Criminal;taking the harshness of the former and the aesthetic of the later.