Monday, July 4, 2011

Preview - Cowboys

Graphic novels can be a tricky proposition.  More often than not, the terms "graphic novel" is erroneously used to describe a collection and repackaging of individual comic book issues that comprise a single story arc.

Cowboys, by Gary Phillips and Brian Hurtt, is an actual graphic novel, in that it's not a collection of issues.  It's the tale of two undercover agents, one a cop and one from the FBI, who are working opposite sides of the same case.

The story begins with Deke Kotto and Tim Brady reaching their inevitable showdown, before flashing back to show how they got to that point.

We see Deke, the stereotypical super cop and alpha male in every sense, taking down criminals and seducing every female who catches his eye. Kotto's power hungry Captain wants to take down suspected money launderer Ian Scarpagio in order to prove his worth to the Mayor. So he sends Deke undercover in an effort to break his career making case.

Meanwhile FBI SAC Mike Penmore gets a tip that Aziz, a reformed criminal turned Imam, is funneling money to fund terrorist activities. Penmore sends Tim Brady, the quintessential suburban family man, to go undercover at Joint Jamm Records, which has close ties to both the streets and the Imam.  Tim, eager to prove his worth, gladly accepts the assignment.

Kotto relishes the opportunity to go undercover to escape the turmoil of his family life.  His wife is fed up with his flings, but Deke remains in the marriage if only to be a doting father to his son, whose disability he still harbors guilt about.

While undercover Brady become seduced by the allure of the street life and by  Jenny Estrada, a recording artist for Joint Jamm Records.  His ladder climbing ability, which got him the undercover gig, makes him indispensable to Mig Coles, the yiddish spouting head of Joint Jamm Records.

Naturally Scarpagio and Coles have business dealings which set Brady and Kotto on a collision course.  Things get equally twisted as Estrada become pivotal in both cases.

In the end, the past rears it's ugly head, there's plenty of death and bloodshed and more than one person gets played.  It's as murky as any noir ever made.

Gary Phillips' story has all of the noir hallmarks; twists, turns, fem fatales and double crosses.  Phillips crafts a backstory for Tim Brady that makes it easy to see how he falls for the streets. He also takes time to develop Kotto into a three dimensional character as opposed the stereotype he is when we first meet him.

Phillips also deserves props for having a truly multicultural Los Angeles.  Even Samoans are represented in this book.

Brian Hurtt's art it stellar.  He deftly handles a variety of different scenes, giving each the nuance and detail they deserve.  Seriously, this story contains scenes of suspense, brutality, seduction and action and Hurtt pulls them all off in spectacular fashion.  Even the quiet scenes pop.

And Hurtt deserves high praise for his facial expressions.  When Kotto is actually rebuffed by a female his expression is priceless and when Brady finally makes up his mind about which side he's on, it's heartbreaking.  

The lettering by Clem Robins should be noted for capturing the tone of a scene while never distracting from anything.

Cowboys is a thrilling ride from start to finish.  It's got an ending that's anything but happy, and completely satisfying.  You're going to want to buy this book because when it gets made into a movie (and it will become a movie) you'll be able to tell all your friends that you were down from jump.

Cowboys is a Vertigo Crime graphic novel  and will be released on July 19th in comic shops and July 25th in book stores.

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