By Van Jensen & Nate Powell (Gallery 13/Simon & Schuster)
ISBN: 978-1-50116-895-6 (TPB)
Winâ€™s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Dark Winterâ€™s Tale you must not missâ€¦ 9/10
Itâ€™s been a while since we covered a crime yarn and this new release looks like making a few well-deserved waves, so letâ€™ go back a lifetime or two and look at events that have passed into history while regrettably remaining all too fresh, familiar and immediateâ€¦ like any woundâ€¦
Before moving into screen scripting and writing comics and graphic novels such as Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, Cryptocracy and Valkyrie Beer Delivery – as well as established properties like The Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman and James Bond, Van Jensen worked as a crime reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. It was there and while palling around with local cops that he first learned of this case. The facts never let go of him and, years later, with the stunning collaboration of multi award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell (March, Come Again, About Face, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole, The Silence of Our Friends) the events were dramatized here as Two Dead.
Even after separating the True Crime nature of the story, this is a chilling and unforgettably potent crime noir examining institutional racism, police bias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders through the lens of history. Itâ€™s set in Little Rock, Arkansas where recently demobbed war hero Gideon Kemp is starting his new job as a police detective. Itâ€™s October 1946 and the FBI-trained family man just wants to put his past behind him and do good.
He cannot, however, escape the pressure of a crushing and tragic mistake made during his service that still haunts him, blighting his days and nightsâ€¦
From the start, the new job is a trial. Secretly enlisted by Mayor Sprick, Gideon is supposed to fight a deeply entranced organised crime presence in the town as a detective, while secretly getting the goods on his own boss. Veteran old school cop Abraham Bailey hasnâ€™t met a problem yet that couldnâ€™t be solved with volleys of gunfire and – despite being popular with the white voters in town – heâ€™s becoming a problem for the powers that be.
Just how much so, and what ghosts and demons drive the ethically-challenged hardliner, neither conspirator can truly guessâ€¦
Little Rock is prosperous, growing and segregated, with a strong but hidden Klan presence. Across the poverty-ridden tracks, the coloured citizens live separate lives. Esau Davis makes ends meet here running errands and taking bets for mob chief Big Mike. He is well aware of the dangers of upsetting – or even being noticed by – white cops.
Originally the police had tried recruiting blacks into the force, but as they kept turning up dead, the authorities eventually let the program drop. Now Esauâ€™s war hero brother Jacob tries to keep the peace in their part of town with an unpaid, unarmed volunteer militia, but theyâ€™re no match for gangsters or self-righteous police looking for easy arrests. They are especially unprepared for gun-happy Chief Bailey, who has an obsessive hatred of all criminals, likes keeping trophies of all his â€œjustifiedâ€ kills, and never met a door he couldnâ€™t kick down or anybody who wasnâ€™t guilty of somethingâ€¦
Every player is tormented by their own ghosts, but as Kemp and Bailey warily test each other out while successfully dogging the footsteps of the murderous mobster – who has his own appallingly bloody peccadillo to assuage – an uneasy trust is formed. Rather than expeditiously doing the Mayorâ€™s bidding, by-the-book Gideon stalls and prevaricates as the war of decency against crime escalates, exposing corruption among the cityâ€™s leaders and dragging in honest Jacob, who is soon just another gun in Baileyâ€™s relentless war.
With blood running and the death toll mounting, Gideon and Jacob are powerless to head off a brutal confrontation. It seems no one can atone or win achieve redemption hereâ€¦
The ending is one you wonâ€™t forgetâ€¦
Rendered by Powell in sepia and black line utilising a style gloriously reminiscent of classic Will Eisner, Two Dead is a superb and upsetting thriller, made irresistibly compelling by Jensenâ€™s deft use of language, gift for building suspense and multiple narrative perspectives and, like all the great noir tales, revels in a world of villains with no heroes to balance themâ€¦
Â© 2019 by Blue Creek Creative, LLC and Nate Powell. All rights reserved.