The Bronx Kill is now the third I've reviewed in the fledgling Vertigo Crime series - an ambitious effort to tell standalone crime stories using the graphic novel format. The other two (Ian Rankin's foray into Hellblazer and Jason Starr's The Chill) were attempts by celebrated authors to write for the comic format. I didn't find them spectacular successes - if anything, I think they helped disprove the theory that 'just because you're a good author, you can write for comics'.
In The Bronx Kill, Milligan, a tried & true comic book writer, shows them how it's done.
The Bronx Kill is skilfully-paced & wonderfully executed. The author/artist relationship comes across as trusting & strong, there's a great balance between how the story is carried in text and picture. The story isn't simple: our protagonist, Martin Keane, is a self-absorbed wanker. He's from a long line of cops - so his career as a writer is a point of constant disagreement with his father (not that it affects him, as he's hidden behind a think wall of angsty wankery).
Still, he's got a beautiful wife and a surprisingly successful career, so pretty much everything is ok (although he complains a lot regardless). However, whilst on a trip to get over his writer's block (and get in touch with his family roots), the beautiful wife disappears. Martin is blamed and plot, as they say, thickens.
Whoddunit?! The story is punchy & filled with good surprises.
Ironically, the only problem is when Milligan ventures into non-comic book writing - keeping alive Vertigo Crime's square peg/round hole tradition. In this case, we're treated to long excerpts from Martin's book. They're not only distracting, they're just plain bad. (Sorry Mr Milligan). This adds to the annoyance - I'm sure I was supposed to be taking out emotional clues & historical significance, but really, I was too busy wondering how why anyone ever bought the character's book.
There are some great writers that have proven that they span formats and write for both novel & graphic novel (Mike Carey and Neil Gaiman are two examples). But Vertigo Crime seems to be on a crusade to prove everyone can. They can't.
In this case, The Bronx Kill is saved by having a comic book writer write a comic book - and he does a very good job of it (just skip the wordy bits).
The Bronx Kill (Vertigo Crime) is released on 23 March, 2010.