Joe Canelli is a corrupt cop in a corrupt force in Franklin City, a mythical American metropolis dominated by powerful drug lords. He tries to ignore recurring dreams of powerlessness as he routinely cleans up the little crimes of the city and the little criminals who can’t buy their way out of court, and convinces himself his moral laxity is justified by the weight of the circumstances that surround him. But the solid ground of understanding between law and law-breakers begins to turn to quicksand when a mysterious gang massacre is followed by cops ambushed in the streets…
I have to confess: I was deeply worried about reviewing this latest graphic novel from artist-writer David Lloyd. After all, I’ve known David for many years now, going back for Marvel UK and his work on ESPers, when I helped out with some arcane technical aspect of creating film of his art for that book. We’ve talked about Kickback while discussing the world of comics over pints at the Bristol Comics Festival. Hell, he’s bought me pints – and offered sage advice on creating comics on many occasions.
I owe this guy. So, what would I do, I wondered, if I actually didn’t like Kickback? What would be my options?
The fears grew when David kindly sent me a copy of the book, and graciously included a dedicated drawing in the frontispiece. Reacting like the cop at the centre of the Kickback story, I told myself, surely this was a bribe. Surely this could colour my judgement?
I’m telling you all this, in case it comes out in interrogation later. You know, the way some US Internet news sites declare an interest if a news story features their parent company. Because if I tell you any fears about not enjoying Kickback were completely unjustified, I want you to believe me – no bribes were needed to make that claim. No kickbacks for pushing Kickback, okay?
Because I am going to push Kickback. It deserves pushing.
First published by Editions Carabas in France, this Dark Horse English edition is a solid, powerful piece of comics storytelling, a police drama easily on a par with the best of novel writers like the late, great Ed McBain and films such as Serpico and LA Confidential. Fans of Frank Miller’s Sin City and Will Eisner’s comics work will surely enjoy this, too.
The art, David employing computer effects for the first time, is more than equal to his past success with V for Vendetta or Nightraven: House of Cards. It’s a dark, brooding piece, with plenty of visual clues suggesting the reasons for the war against the cops that’s threatening the people of Franklin City; carefully employing many a visual device to move the story along, developing both central and supporting characters.
Script-wise, the story of police corruption is balanced with some well-realised characterisation. Even minor characters are quickly moulded in the mind of the reader through a deft blend of dialogue and art. I particularly liked Joe Canelli’s airship-obsessed grand father, Girlfriend Candy, concerned at Joe’s state of mind as he pursues unpleasant truths; and sassy reporter Dinah Mclean, who helps Joe solve a dangerous case.
If you’re a police procedural fan, I think you’ll love this book: the visuals pull you along, demanding your attention, laying trails for the eventual bloody conclusion to the tale. Lloyd spins a brilliant, absorbing yarn, bringing to bear every comic storytelling trick he knows without overusing any of them, focused on making telling the story the most important part of the work.
If there’s any issue with the book, it’s that there are some exposition panels that are a little overcrowded with balloons — but hell, when 99 per cent of the book is state of the art, top notch crime noir, I don’t know why I’m even bothering to mention them.
But there’s that kickback feeling, again, see? That generous frontispiece is lying open on my desk and I can feel the urge to sink a beer growing slowly.
Next time though, David, I’ll buy the first round. As a thank you for another great piece of comics storytelling. And my bribe: if such is your plan, let’s have more from Franklin City. Kickback is surely just the start of more from Canelli and crew.
• Buy Kickback from Amazon.co.uk (Hardcover)