By: Gur Benshemesh (story), Ron Randall (art)

The Story: If you’re going to be a killer, at least let it be the work you love to do.

The Review: Ah…pulp fiction—the grandfather of comics.  We throw the term, “pulp,” around a lot in this biz, yet I don’t think we have a really precise definition of what it actually means.  For most of us, we recognize pulp by the feeling it evokes more than any salient characteristics.  It’s edgy, sensational, slightly exploitive; it appeals more to our id than our intellect.  Overall, it has a wildly independent, distant streak; it doesn’t quite care if you love it or not.

That makes Alexander Julius Marazano the ideal protagonist for Silence & Co., a piece of modern-day pulp.  You can’t really call Alex a hero in the traditional sense, nor can you even really call him an antihero.  Alex is a professional killer, plain and simple, who does what he does because he’s good at it and it makes good money.  While he does have his noble qualities, he tends to downplay them, preferring to see himself as he is.  “The killer with a conscience, eh?” another character remarks.

“Something like that,” he says.

“Not so much to actually stop killing, obviously.”

“I’ve made peace with what I am.”

And he really has.  At no point in the story does he make the slightest effort to garner your sympathy, which only makes him more magnetic a character, honestly.  Instead, he lays out his life bare, for you to cast judgment as you will.  It’s really up to you whether you think a rough childhood as a mafia bastard and a disillusioning military stint are enough to redeem him.  It may be, it may not be.

It doesn’t really matter either way, however.  Alex is simply the lens through which we can experience his world, so his blunt, unsentimental attitude is perfect for letting us see what he sees unfiltered.  And the world of top-class hired killers—“The Life” as he calls it—is an very compelling one.  When Alex explains the “little understood art” of surveillance, he keeps your attention throughout, despite the technical complexity of it all.  There are a lot of such scenes in this story,

Part of what keeps you so engrossed, besides the intense bursts of action that regularly pepper the volume, is Alex’s narrative.  It’s the slick, street-smart patter of a Damon Runyon novel, updated for a contemporary audience.  At one point, he gives you his “three simple rules for surviving ‘The Life.’  Always plan your own; because other people are assholes.  Never leave anything to chance; if something can fuck up, it will.  And there are no civilian casualties.  Ever.  So far, I’d broken two, and we hadn’t even hit lunch.”

For all that, Benshemesh builds his tale on a platform of pulp archetypes: the canny killer, the hardened and cynical investigator, the beautiful dame, the backstabbing turncoat, and the seedy criminal underworld that drives them all, mostly against their will.  What Benshemesh does very well is upgrade all of these figures to make them more credible and sophisticated.  The investigator works out of the FBI, the dame is a razor-sharp money launderer, the turncoat turns on all parties, and the underworld has become practically corporate in its operations.  One thing they all have in common: they are smart—wickedly so.

I would like to invite all artists from The Gathering to take a good, hard look at Randall’s work on Silence & Co., because this is black-and-white art done right.  Without the help of color to give tone and depth to his figures, Randall makes impressive use of shadow and silhouette to create surprisingly detailed and dimensional shapes.  Between some radical panel-size changes and switches in perspective, tension and suspense remains high throughout.  Think of the old James Bond newspaper strips on steroids and you’ll have a fair approximation of the style Randall delivers in this book.

Conclusion: Pulp at its finest.  A terrific sample of the genre, proving that you can have sex, drugs, and violence in a story and still keep it classy.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I do love a smart woman with a cool wit.  “You work for a very bad man, Sylvia,” Alex tells his hostage.  “But you’re the militant wing of the Salvation Army, right?