By: J. Michael Straczynski (story), Ben Templesmith (art)
JMS and Ben Templesmith are writing a hopelessly romantic comic; introducing new and interesting mythologies to the genre. The characters exist in the real world and are subject to the rules and physics of the world around us, but there are hacks and secret passages and rules that govern the twilight regions between this world and (for lack of a better term) the “afterlife”.
Straczynski is very clear that these aren’t alternate dimensions or some other sci-fi type of convention. This is heaven and hell and purgatory, demons and angels, sins and sinners. Joe Fitzgerald is a private detective who knows a great deal (but not everything) about the rules and shortcuts that govern access to the afterlife. His wife is dead but because of the arcane rules that control his life, Joe has the opportunity to interact with his wife in a small slice of paradise for just a few minutes whenever he dies in the pursuit of an honorable end. It is during one of these moments that Joe realizes that there is something wrong in heaven and his wife is being pursued by dark forces. Joe is determined to call in every favor and use every trick that he knows in order to rescue his wife.
Straczynski is writing a wonderfully nuanced exploration of love as an endless power that transcends everything. The negotiations and double crossing that characterize Joe’s desperate search for his lost wife are heartbreakingly sad and beautiful. For instance, his method of accessing information about the afterlife requires him to deceive the ghost of a confused young woman who haunts the house where she took her own life over rejection and a broken romance. Joe visits the ruins of the house and calls for the ghost who replies in a low, slow, spooky moan “Joooooe…but you were just here—“ to which Joe replies “No, Julie that was a long time ago, I –“ and Julie interrupts him with “—just here, we just spoke—“ and Joe resignedly agrees with “Yes. Sorry. I was…in the other room. I never left. I’d never leave you alone.” Templesmith’s gray and olive colors and muted, simple pencils describe sadness and inevitability and betrayal. It is a beautiful and poignant scene of mournfulness and heartache. This book is full of similar scenes.
Ten Grand is not all melancholy and gloominess, however. Straczynski is a talented writer and he knows how to keep the story moving along at a good clip with action and tension. It isn’t often in comics when a reader can say “Gee, I didn’t see that coming” but Ten Grand has several such moments. My only criticism is that this title started out as a gritty, hard boiled PI – type pulp fiction story but has clearly veered into the Hellblazer / Hellshock / Sandman realm so quickly that it gave me whiplash.
Straczynski has accumulated an impressive resume of stories that are set in the supernatural – with Othersyde (1990), Demon Nights (1988) and The Book of Lost souls (2005-6) but I don’t think that he has written as obvious and nakedly religious – themed supernatural story as he has with Ten Grand. Templesmith’s style fits this series perfectly, as it did with the early “30 Days of Night” series. I was surprised that a very good friend of mine who is normally a huge Batman/JLA/Spider-Man reader also looks forward to and excitedly discusses Ten Grand every month. Readers will either love it or hate. I’m going on the record as loving it.
Conclusion: Fans of supernatural pulp and romance will love this exploration of hyper-religious supernatural and the occult, as will JMS and Templesmith fans.