Filthy Rich


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Filthy Rich


  • Words: Brian Azzarello
  • Art: Victor Santos
  • Publisher: Vertigo Crime
  • Price: $19.99
  • Release Date: Aug 17, 2009

Brian Azzarello is the author of one of two Vertigo Crime Graphic Novels hitting the shelves this week. Does the author of 100 Bullets still have gritty stories about the underbelly of society in him?

First of all, let me say a few words about the format. If nothing else, the new Vertigo Crime books from DC are smart looking. Printed at a 5 and half by 8 inch size, they are the size of the old pulp novels that graced the five and dimes of the last century. A striking spine dress gives the series a uniform look for your shelf and pulpy paper add to the atmosphere. Now, on to the content.

Richie Junkin is a washed up football star. He is stuck in a dead end job at a car dealer. Funny thing about that, he has no talent as a salesman. When his boss gives him a shot as bodyguard to his tabloid fodder of a daughter, Junk sees all kinds of opportunities to climb out of his gutter level life.

Azzarello almost does it here. He almost convinces me of the greatness he is so often ascribed. While comicdom admittedly owes him a great debt for being at the forefront of the current crime renaissance with 100 Bullets, not even that epic work is worthy of the hype that surrounds the best selling author of Joker.

He manages not to drag this book down with his signature penchant for incomprehensible idiom. In fact, the first half of the book is the work of a master story teller. As we are introduced to Junk’s world, the book is a smart character piece. It is interesting from the get go and only becomes more compelling as the protagonist’s world broadens with the rich details that set up a normal Joe’s descent into the underworld via the glitz of the paparazzi hounded lifestyle. It is even easy to forgive the obvious jabs that the writer makes at some celebrities’ expense. Junk is even a sympathetic character at first. He has just been dogged by some bad breaks. You even start to wish something, anything would go right for him.

Then he takes the bodyguard gig. It’s okay for a minute as the world is introduced, but it quickly starts to fall apart. The reader begins to wonder where the mystery is in this book that proclaims "A Graphic Mystery" on the cover. That’s okay, though. It can still be saved by a little suspense and tension. Maybe this is a gritty bit of slice of life through a noir filter. No puzzle, just grime.

Azz certainly tries. When Junk gets a little too attached to his assignment, people start to get hurt and the narrative begins to fray at the seams. Suddenly, what was a different and intelligent story becomes a cliche laden mess. The writer is just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. It is as if a master writer ran out of time and handed the rest of the scripting duties over to the writing team of Countdown. Loose threads dangle everywhere, only to be unsatisfyingly resolved at the last second.

The dialogue goes from honest to awkward. The twists and turns don’t twist and turn so much. It is all very telegraphed and obvious, like an old episode of Kraft Mystery Theater. The pieces of what little puzzle there is, are pieced together like a jumbo sized four piece toddlers picture of the Wiggles.

To make it all worse - Junk, the one character who doesn’t feel like a cardboard cut out, unravels as well. Instead of being an unlucky Joe, he turns out to be a copy of Marv from Sin City, except no one has him on any medication at all. Watching his descent into logicless decision after poor gambit after just plain dumbness becomes painful to witness. By the end of the book, the reader begins to wonder how anyone could be so clueless - especially given the fact that he has the wherewithal to narrate his own infinite stupidity.

Santos provides a bit of a bright spot to the book, but even the art is a short candle. With a great sense of space and the contrast of the black and white, the art creates the grime that is absent from Junk’s mindless rambling. Junk almost becomes the imposing force you are expected to believe him to be as he fades into the black of night or the thick smoke of a club. There are sexy curves and sultry lips that add a dimension missing from the gratuitous sex scenes.

Problem is, the artist never finds a voice to stick to. The clear and pleasant design work Santos gives the interior art is assisted by a firm grasp of storytelling, until there is a fight scene and all sense of what is going on is lost. What’s worse is the inconsistency of the character design. One moment Junk looks like he could be in Powers, the next he could be Agent Grimes and then he could be Hunter as drawn by Cooke.

Filthy Rich starts out looking like a million bucks, but turns into a shirtless pauper by the end. Turns out it is just slick make up disguising the bum of a story beneath. In the end, it will get you from point a to point b, it is that obvious of a story. As a debut to what promises to be an interesting line, it is a major disappointment.

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  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 21, 2009 at 4:26am

    I was there at the NYCC when Vertigo announced their crime line and was über excited but when I saw the line up of creators involved, I must admit that my enthousiasm was a bit lessened. The only ones that caught my eye were Iain Rankin, Christopher Gage and Peter Milligan. They all seemed to have something new to say ... Azzarello never was a favourite ... too much recycling ...

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