Choker #1 – Hot Ink Advance Review
While a few damaged (and probably now collectible) copies of “Choker” #1 have made to the stands, the official release date of the new miniseries by writer Ben McCool and artist Ben Templesmith isn’t till the 24th, but we’ve got an advance review of the comic to tide you over while you wait.
“Choker” is the story of Johnny Jackson, an ex-cop turned down-on-his-luck private eye who’s sunk so low that he’s willing to do almost anything to bring his life back to what it was before everything fell apart. Now, that may sound like a story you’ve heard hundreds of times before, but in this case it’s done differently and it’s done well, and “Choker” impresses quickly with its premiere issue.
The book is so effective, in part, because it starts in such a familiar manner. The reader is introduced to Jackson, miserable in the midst of his run-down gumshoe’s office, and stuck dealing with yet another upset husband who’s found out his wife is cheating on him and now doesn’t want to pay Jackson for finding it out for him.
Through what seems to be your standard film noir protagonist monologue, Jackson tells us about Shotgun City, his city, which is not a pleasant place for anyone to get by, but damn it, it’s where he makes his home and his living. That’s when we all start to get comfortable with the traditionally gruff, hardened P.I. in a modernized noir that would seem to be unfolding before us. But then, with a delicate touch, McCool and Templesmith begin to reveal a world we weren’t expecting.
The Shotgun City that initially seems not so different from our own world is gradually replaced with grimy, dark dystopian near-future, one that makes Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” look like a pleasant drive through an idealistic 1950’s suburb. And it’s almost all done through visual details, added carefully panel by panel in background buildings or characters to create an impressive whole.
McCool resists the easy temptation of using the private detective inner monologue to deliver an info-dump exposition that throws all the background information at the reader all at once. Instead he’s patient, leaving the world-building in Templesmith’s skilled hands and instead using the reader’s peek into Jackson’s mind to show us a man nowhere near as tough as our first impressions would indicate. Jackson is not a strong-willed P.I. finding a way to survive in an unforgiving city. As hard as he tries to project that appearance, deep down he’s a desperate, tragic man at the end of his rope grasping at any chance to change his life. Like the reveal of Shotgun City itself, Jackson’s personal history is revealed one fact at a time to an impressive effect by the issue’s conclusion.
As a result both Johnny Jackson and Shotgun City contain several familiar elements and yet are in the end new and unique. Templesmith’s artwork has a look unlike anything else in comics today, and his design work for the characters and settings shows tremendous care, planning and effort put into every panel. His style is an excellent match for the story being told. McCool also impresses here, carefully pacing the first issue in a way that presents enough to hook the audience while simultaneously making sure the story never buckles under the weight of excessive exposition.
“Choker” is off to an encouraging start, and if the next five issues are as good as this one, it’ll end up being a remarkable series.