Eliott Ness and his Untouchables face nightmare after nightmare in the third issue of Tommy Gun Wizards, released on Wednesday by Dark Horse Comics. Writer Christian Ward and Artist Sami Kivela increase the horror content, extend the use of magic, and shift the entire story up to the next level.
Still infused with mobster cliches, Tommy Gun Wizards has become more than the sum of its parts by embracing fantasy and science fiction as well as historical narrative. Where will this outlandish adventure lead? At this point it doesn’t matter, the ride is good enough to keep everybody engaged.
There comes a point in all good gangster stories where the villains have the upper hand. Dick Tracy got framed for murder, Sonny got shot on the causeway, and Marv is locked in Kevin’s basement. Issue 3 of Tommy Gun Wizards sees our heroes reach this point. At every turn the villains seem to have the upper hand. However, not all of the bad guys are having the time of their lives: has Capone bitten off more than he can chew?
Ward displays a magnificent balancing act with the plot in this issue. A whole number of characters branch out into their own story threads, building a complex web of a narrative. More characters are introduced, especially on the villains side who, true to the genre, have all the best names. Magical hitmen extraordinaire, The Black Coats, and supreme magical overlord Toad, have their part to play in Ness’ downfall. Ward introduces these characters in elaborate style creating a sense of awe and fear.
Half of the comic follows the Untouchables as they try to get to the bottom of the magical underworld. These scenes play out like homages to great mobster stories of the past and the art work relishes in noir storytelling. Kivela’s attention to setting brings the 1930’s city to life. The details in the scenery create a believable world for the action to take place in, so that even when the more outlandish elements of the narrative take centre stage, the reader is still left with an identifiable backdrop to ground the story.
The tone is set by the coloring provided by Dee Cunniffe and Ward. The dream sequence that opens this chapter has an eerie, otherworldly feel, instantly marking it out from the rest of the comic. But even after these opening pages, the coloring is more expressionistic than realistic. It captures the feel of the foreground story, acclimatising the readers to a tone or emotion from a quick glance of the page. The danger that the police detectives are in as they raid a secret liquor store is evident because of the dark shades used and the shadows closing in around them.
Almost contradictory to that thought, however, is the vibrant coloring of the magical villains in the comic. Characters like Candice and Mr White are anything but dull. This doesn’t affect the storytelling though because their presence in a scene still follows the basic color rules that Cunniffe and Ward have adapted.
The characters may be colorful but their influence on the scene and characters around them is not. Shadows fall upon those who are beneath them and darkness creeps in from the edges of the panels. They may be bright beacons on the page but their coloring is a warning , like poison dart frogs advertising the danger they represent. Ward makes his villains alluring, and the more alluring they are the more dangerous they appear to be.
Tommy Gun Wizards has a lot going on. The story is packed with characters and ideas. Ward clearly enjoys mixing genres and is enjoying himself with the character creations. On hand to lead the reader through this melee is Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou with his neatly crafted letters. Just like Ward, Otsmane-Elhaou enjoys playing around with styles, mixing fonts and colored speech balloons to highlight different characters from different worlds.
In the opening sequence, the caption boxes appear hand drawn, adding a touch of uncertainty to the visuals. In this scene, the lettering is straightforward, as you would expect in a comic book. When the scene shifts so does the lettering, allowing the reader to move easily from one state to another. The fear of the opening scenes is replaced by normality and wonder in the scenes that follow. Otsmane-Elhaou also introduces elaborate flairs to title captions and some of the wizards speech, to emphasise the otherworldliness of the characters involved.
Together the creative team mix genres and styles to produce a roller-coaster of an action comic. Part Mob movie, part fantasy story, part visually exuberant science fiction tale. Tommy Gun Wizards celebrates all of these influences and, in the end, the enjoyment of the creation is evident on the page.
When Jonathan Ross’ Turf was released there was a lot of excitement and hype in the comic book world. Tommy Gun Wizards deserves the same treatment. It is a fun, spectacular, comic and pure enjoyment to read.