By Ian and Jason Miller (writers), Jok (art), Estudio Haus (colors)
You ever have one of those days?
Detective Wayne Hambler sure has, especially since he died and woke up in Near Dis, a town without pity on the very cusp of Hell and populated by liars, thieves, and sinners all looking for a shot at redemption. Now employed by the city’s police department, Hambler has no choice but to investigate a new breed of crime for his demonic bosses while doling out ethereal justice and waiting for a chance to escape the threat of eternal damnation. Hambler is aided in his duties (heh heh…. “duties”…ahem, sorry) by a team of disparate law officers from throughout time, who are all in turn managed by a gruff demon named N’Gash. Over the course of five chapters, we are drawn into their lives, jobs, and a grisly conspiracy to undermine Near Dis’s power structure. And much to my delight, there is a lot to like about this original graphic novel!
To be fair, Jason and Ian Miller aren’t exactly breaking new ground here with this story. The guys are working in the firmly entrenched, clearly defined Cop Genre and they know it, but knowing that they know it, I’m able to adjust my expectations accordingly and enjoy the ride. If I have one complaint, it was that Hambler never really came through to me as a fully defined character. Seeing as we literally arrived in Near Dis with him, I assumed that he would have been our Virgil, guiding us through this city and introducing us to its inhabitants. I was hoping he would have been our emotional anchor through the story, but instead he came off as being very taciturn and hard to relate to. If the Millers had spent less time on the supporting cast and more time with Hambler I think I could have been more engaged with the story, but this was by no means a deal-breaker for me. I also felt the story was a little disjointed, coming off at times as more of a series of independent stories than one cohesive narrative Luckily for the guys though, this book is easily entertaining enough to sustain an ongoing series should Arcana and the Millers with to pursue it further, and I’m hoping they do because Hambler’s new beat is one ripe with the potential to tell some damn fine stories!
In many ways, Near Dis turns out to be the true star of this comic; a seething metropolis of contradictions, packed with angels and demons and all manner of unsavory, noir-styled rogues. Even as Hambler and his team were investigating their cases, I found myself wanting to see more of their bizarre city if only to enjoy more of Jok’s outrageous designs. In Jok, (not to be confused with DC’s Jock) the Millers have found an amazing talent capable of bringing their twisted visions to life. His style is wonderful and reminds me of John McCrea’s work on Hitman or Keith Giffen’s later work on books like Trencher. Gritty, yet inexplicably crisp and well-defined, Jok’s lines are just as skilled capturing all the subtle nuances of his cast as they are detailing the larger, perverse world they inhabit. Gloriously rendered by the color wizards at Estudio Haus (and serious props to you people if you’re reading this–you’re on my radar now and I’ll gladly pay good money to follow your work!) Jok’s quirky, haunting style makes Near Dis as creepy as it is fascinating. Jason and Ian are lucky to have such an outstanding art team at their disposal, and as long as they can stay together to tell more stories then they can count on me to be a loyal customer.
It’s clear that the Miller Brothers have something special on their hands here. This is a city teeming with stories to be told and crimes to be solved, and I wouldn’t mind sticking around to see what happens next. Well done, gentlemen. Now get back to work and give me more!