Not long back, I discovered a terrific printed collection of what was termed ‘Geezer Noir.’ The skinny is that these were stories about the old and restless – bitter, angry, jaundiced souls who weren’t quite yet ready to let sleeping dogs lie. Most of the protagonists were, debatably, their own worst antagonist, and they went about their business dispensing justice at the end of a barrel, the swipe of a blade, or the swing of their arthritic-seized fists. Despite having some mileage under the hood, these rough’n’tumble men had forgotten more about dispensing pain than the young Turks they encountered had ever taken the time to learn. Consequently, they headlined some short but crackin’ good reads. It was all very loose. It was all very noir. And the tome of stories was edited by novelist Duane Swierczynski.
How fitting is it that Duane provided the intro for Image’s SUNSET? Why, it was a match made in the old folks’ home, it was!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
In his younger years, Nick Bellamy knew how to live. After the Korean War, he found better ways to use his particular brand of skills in service to a Vegas kingpin, the kind of gangster who wasn’t above using the irons for more than just idle threats. Hoping for a shot at his own form of retirement, Bellamy defied his best interests and double-crossed the Gianelli mob, putting the big guy himself behind bars for what he thought would be a life sentence. Now – thirty years later – Gianelli’s out … and he’s gunning for his former enforcer if it’s the last thing he’ll do. Can Nick set aside his best interests one more time and save the li’l lady and the son he never raised before bullets fly?
If it’s hard-boiled prose you’re looking for, then SUNSET is exactly what the doctor ordered. Mind you: it ain’t perfect. In fact, I’d argue it’s a far cry from it, and that could be because the young guns who whipped up and spun the story – Christos Gage (writer) and Jorge Lucas (artist) – are just that: young guns. They haven’t quite walked enough miles in an old man’s shoes to recognize what true Geezer Noir should be, but they’ve steeped themselves in enough literature and/or books to know a good thing when they have it. Whether they intended it or not, the storytellers created a tug’o’war between the past and present that ends up being a bit more distracting than it should be, though I suspect most readers will simply delight in being along for this ride.
And it is a wild ride, indeed.
Artistically, Lucas’s artwork is good, though I found some of the panels requiring more attention than one would want in a tale that’s supposed to be about action, about movement, about pace. Too many faces – largely, the aged ones – appear similar to one another, and the only distinction between one black-and-white panel to the next is some crow’s feet here and a laugh line there: that’s not enough so far as this four decade veteran of reading comics is concerned, and some of the panels could’ve used less black and more white for purposes of clarity. It’s very similar in tone to what Frank Miller’s already done (to vastly greater effect) in his line of SIN CITY comics, so I’m honestly surprised they banked so heavily on colorless images here. Parts of it end up feeling a bit derivative, but methinks Bellamy wouldn’t have concerned himself so much with the mere act of flattery by comparison. He’s a true original – a last-man-standing – and, like he lived his life, he’d want his experiences to be told without association to somebody else’s narrative.
Also, SUNSET’s conclusion really stretches that old thing we call “suspension of disbelief” too far. I won’t spoil it, but let’s just be perfectly clear that it involves a casino, some state-of-the-art security systems, more C4 than you’d want to shake a stick at, and a big boom. A really big boom. I think Gage watched too many Hollywood actioners and took the easy way out. If I learned anything from my short time with Nick, it would be that he wasn’t interested in an easy way out. He’d choose the most sublime. Making things go boom just felt cheap.
SUNSET is published by Image Comics, Inc. The story is created and written by Christos Gage; the work is drawn by Jorge Lucas; and the lettering is by Troy Peteri. This collected volume is digest-sized, and it contains a smart (and fitting) introduction from author Duane Swierczynski. If you’re interested in special features, then you’re in store for the original proposal in the afterward, along with some other artwork and character designs by Gage. It’s a swell assortment; think of it as icing on the literary cake.
RECOMMENDED. At times, SUNSET is far too cinematic, too formulaic to serve as legitimate hard-boiled fiction – a vanity project crafted by Christos Gage and Jorge Lucas clearly with high hopes of bringing Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman together with maybe Ann Margaret or Sophia Loren as the aging squeeze. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, much like the big motion picture set pieces that populate the latter half of an otherwise crusty tale about violence, vengeance, and (surprisingly) Viagra. As a one-off read, it’s solid enough to get two pistols up, but methinks it seriously lacks re-read quality. Enjoy it while it lasts!