Overview

Jack Cross #1

Review

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Jack Cross #1

Credits

  • Words: Warren Ellis
  • Art: Gary Erskine
  • Inks: Gary Erskine
  • Colors: Brian Reber
  • Story Title: Love Will Get You Killed, Part 1
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $2.50
  • Release Date: Aug 24, 2005

The one thing scary times need is a scary man. In a new ongoing thriller from Warren Ellis, Jack Cross more than fits the bill. Perhaps he’s even scarier than the America he lives in.

There’s a war in the streets and a war in the shadows. While terrorists are whacked, buildings are blown sky-high, and suitcase nukes are sought, the nation’s intelligence agencies take turns spooking the hell out of each other. Enter Jack Cross, political activist and the maverick’s maverick. An old flame finds and pulls him out of official non-existence to break a rogue agent who turned on his own Homeland Security anti-terrorist team. For the job he gets two million and two more years of freedom. With total carte-blanche to get the job done, Jack shows up at a DHS facility, where it doesn’t take long for him to peg the rogue as a CIA plant. "There’s only been one war since 9-11," he says after a bit of torture, "and that’s been between the intel agencies." But perhaps there’s a war going on inside Jack, too.

It only takes one panel, in which a DHS suit sneers, "America doesn’t need people like you," to which Jack responds, "Are you sure about that?" for Warren Ellis to show the spine of Jack Cross’ character. He’s classic Ellis—an outsider with his own code willing to go where insiders won’t—in a classic Ellis plot—one in which the world we carelessly take to be real is but a curtain, pulled back, after much ass-kicking by the protagonist, to reveal something much darker, dangerous and more screwed-up than we could imagine. Except for one or two new character wrinkles, it’s standard Ellis stuff. And yet, Jack Cross works for me because of something else that’s classic Ellis—Jack Cross himself has a distinctive voice. It’s techy and hard-boiled at the same time, with definite anti-authoritarian undercurrents, as well as a streak of a personality disorder. I like it. I wish more writers, particularly a few with well known names, understood as Ellis does that how main characters sound distinguishes them for the reader as much what they look like or what they do.

On other matters of technique, there’s not much suspense in Jack Cross, and the torture runs perhaps a page too long, but Ellis’ economical set-up and pacing are otherwise well done. And the theme he touches on—that terror doesn’t just take place on a grand stage, but also in those little, hidden places we might not choose to consider—is intriguing from a political as well as a psychological point of view. It’s particularly driven home on the last page. Instead of a cliffhanger, we get something that tides us over to issue #2 just as well—a powerful glimpse at the war Jack wages with himself.

I’ve liked Gary Erskine’s work in the past, particularly on The Filth and City of Silence. The illustrations in Jack Cross #1, however, are largely unimpressive, feeling done-by-the-numbers at times and rushed at others. His characters seem anesthetized, and often, the bottom of page 9 for example, are rendered as little more than posed action figures, sometimes with closed eyes and mouths while speaking. While there are only a few pages of true "action," for the most part Erskine’s images convey little energy or movement, and in the second half of the issue some of his up-angles on faces are distorted. Adding to the lifeless, rushed feeling of the art, a panel at the bottom of page 12 is simply duplicated in smaller scale on page 13. Then there are those bizarre bullet effects on pages 2 and 3, as if the characters, instead of being shot, are about to ignite in a blaze brought on by spontaneous human combustion. However, in the final pages, once Jack has done his thing, Erskine settles in and shows more consideration for his characters, capturing some unexpectedly complex emotional reactions in the midst of the scene’s calculated violence.

Not as manic and chock full of bizarre ideas as Desolation Jones, nor as slick and inspired as Global Frequency, but certainly not as dry as Ocean, with Jack Cross Ellis offers an interesting take on the domestic spy game that has enough character potential to bring me back for issue #2.

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