By: Ed Brubaker (story), Sean Phillips (art), Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)

The Story: A windfall of (stolen) money and a beautiful (wounded) woman—lucky for him.

The Review: I was in a bad romance, once.  I won’t turn this into a confessional, but suffice to say, it was one of those things where the attraction was so strong that it overshadowed everything else—almost.  Even though all along I sort of knew she was wrong for me—wrong for anyone who wanted to live a peaceful life—that magnetism kept us in place for a long time, until our problems got to the point where even that couldn’t save the relationship.

So I get how romantic entanglements that seem doomed from the start can happen, and how you can get caught in that snare again and again, even against your wishes.  Granted, for the men in Jo’s life, this is more the byproduct of her supernatural powers than anything else, but that only makes their bewildered, desperate attachment to her more sympathetic.  They seem incapable of resisting her allure, even from a distance.

Take Nick, who himself bemoans the fact that Jo “brought me nothing but despair and destruction,” yet adamantly believes that “it couldn’t be for nothing.”  Even when she’s miles away, he can’t seem to escape her, though he does manage to escape imprisonment with the “help” of one her agents.  Both of them are on the run, guilty of multiple crimes, and even crazed to various degrees as a result of their association with Jo, yet as you can see, they continue to follow the path she’s lain down for them.

Even though I can’t say that I find Jo compelling in herself (although that’s easily attributed to my latecomer status to this title), her effect on men is fascinating to watch, particularly as their obsession with her derails their lives.  Before you start feeling too sorry for these fellas, though, keep in mind not all of them are entirely innocent to begin with.  Our latest victim of Jo’s charms, for example, is the recent perpetrator of his first bank robbery and already mulling over strategies for the next one.

It’s entirely possible that without Jo inspiring his compassion, down-on-his-luck band member Lance would have few redeeming qualities, but that doesn’t make him any less interesting.  This has everything to do with Brubaker’s fluid and meticulous narration.  Like any good writing, it flows naturally, but still hits all of the writer’s marks with precisely the right timing:

“Things always went sideways somehow.  Lance had learned that the hard way a long time ago…when the band was on their first West Coast tour.  You just had to roll with the fuckups and minor disasters, or you wouldn’t survive.  Which turned out to be good training for robbing a bank.”

Brubaker applies this same rhythmic talent to his dialogue, which is some of the most natural and credible I’ve read in recent months.  It has none of the forcibly witty double-talk that Brian Azzarello uses in his dialogue, nor does it engage in complicated flights of exposition as Scott Snyder tends to do.  Instead, Brubaker focuses on short, effective lines that are pure concentrations of character, revealing personality and motivation all at once.  Listen to Lance confessing his deed to bandmate Jon: “I did it…what we were joking about.”

“No way.”

“You’re holding the evidence right now.”

“Fuck…that’s crazy…what was it like?”

“Fucking easy.  Easier than in the movies, even.”

Phillips has an interesting style of art in that he deemphasizes the importance of line in his figures.  In an approach that recalls post-impressionism, images come into being through well-formed combinations of shapes and splotches, resulting in some very organic visuals that work well with his noir shadowing.  When artists focus too much on their linework, their shading often looks mathematical and artificial; not so with Phillips.  Breitweiser’s colors never get in Phillips’ way, but are so flat and unremarkable that the art would almost look better without them.

Conclusion: A great sample of Brubaker’s writing skills, though it’s a little hard to tell where he’s going with his latest arc.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Sounds like Lance and his friends need to stage an intervention for their pal Tom, lest he turn into the next Brian Wilson.