Graphic Novel Review: The Executor

The Executor 

Written by Jon Evans

Art by Andrea Mutti

Cover by Lee Bermejo w/ Brainchild
Letters by Clem Robins



$19.99 / 200 Pages / Black & White/Graytones / Hardcover

Suggested for Mature Readers

Vertigo

 

You remember Joe Ullen.

Everybody remembers Joe Ullen.

Especially in humdrum Elora, New York, where they took to sporting Kings jerseys once he was plucked away to coast on LA ice. The townies cheered. They spoke up when some tourist nursing the cheap stuff started groaning about Joe's aggressive style, his tendency to play a little harder than the other guys. Took umbrage when they called him a goon. Even after he busted his knee in that mess with the other guy, had to give up the game for good, they still loved Joe Ullan. They remembered him, took pride in the games he skated and weren't too bitter about what might've been lost. Life does that sometimes. People in Elora know that. They can't watch him on TV anymore, but they can remember.

All these years later, Joe should've figured on that. Shouldn't have been surprised to learn that one Elora girl in particular would still have him tucked away in her memory. Miriam Litwiller. She loved him even when he had a mullet. Later, when things got bad, when it came time to thinking about what might happen after she was gone, she looked down at the paperwork and wrote the name Joe Ullen. Executor. She hadn't spoken to him in whole lifetimes, but if anybody could sort this out–should sort this out–it was Joe. So when they found Miriam, or what little was left of her in the driver's seat of that burnt out car, they called Joe. He hadn't thought about Elora in a while, at least not purposefully. It was always there in the darker recesses of his mind, just like the ice. Just like Miriam. Just like everything. But he probably never expected to get that call or to find himself on a plane to the east coast. To have that kind of responsibility. Joe had a steady girlfriend in LA. He had the kind of job where you got big checks and you could keep your old uniform behind glass as a kind of trophy. He hadn't heard from Miriam in ages, was sure she'd moved on just as he had. So why'd she name him executor to her estate? Why saddle him with the task of going through her stuff, making lists, signing papers, delivering low figure checks to all the people in her life? Her friends. Her real and current friends? Why not hand it off to their old friend Naomi or her father the police chief? Why should he have to take the money to her boyfriend on the Mohawk reservation? Nobody likes him up there.

Joe finds himself in the back of the local bank, alone with her safety deposit box and it's contents. A note addressed to him. A reminder.

It's not long before people are shooting at him.

Life does that sometimes. The people of Elora know all about that.

This latest release from the Vertigo Crime label is a classic yarn. No hocus pocus, just straight up crime. It focuses on that time-honored conflict of man against his own past. Run all you want, but your history won't just haunt you, it will hunt you unto the ends of the earth. Crime novelist Jon Evans turns in a taut and tense script steeped in the genre's tradition. While early passages include a lot of exposition to get readers up to speed with Joe's ties to Elora and its people, the storytelling evolves into something very economical as it progresses. It was also refreshing to find a modern noir without a narrator. Everything is told through dialogue and visuals, so we're only being guided through the mystery by direct actions and discoveries, not the protagonist's subjective interpretation. It's a very clean approach, and it keeps what's really a very traditional mystery from becoming melodramatic. There's a great simplicity to the story, so the plot is only ever as complex as it can afford to be in 200 pages, a tremendous accomplishment in this combination of medium and genre. It's the kind of compelling crime drama that had me eating out of its hand. I hope this isn't the last we see of Jon Evans in comics, because he has a great handle on the medium. Easy comparisons to Jason Aaron and Scalped aside, I think he has just as sophisticated an approach to ensemble mysteries and writing about some very wicked criminals.

Artist Andrea Mutti offers some truly knockout visuals. He's tasked with illustrating a very believable small town, and there's a consistently strong sense of place throughout. Joe's LA office, the town of Elora, Miriam's lived-in home, and the Mohawk reservation all feel like distinct settings. Joe really gets to dig around on this mystery, and that's important. It feels grounded, established, so the search and the journey are absolutely compelling. If there is any downside to Mutti's finely rendered locations and characters, it's that there are moments when the art feels a little stiff. By generating so many details and focus to the landscapes, the panels lose movement. There are times when characters are so expressive, that it's like those awkward party photos that never make it from your camera to your hard drive, much less to Flickr. Flipping through though, there are so many fantastic pages, including character moments as well as quiet establishing shots Evans and Mutti work well together, especially in background moments that help to create a suspenseful tone, as in a panel where two character have a conversation told through dialogue boxes over an image of a shadowy owl descending upon a mouse.

I've read most of the Vertigo Crime offerings, and The Executor is an easy favorite. While some prose novelists haven't made the strongest transition to comics, Evans really stuck the landing. If you're a fan of Scalped, Criminal, or Robert Mitchum flicks, this is a must.

Pick up The Executor on Amazon.

 

Story: 4 stars   Art: 4 stars  Overall: 4 stars
 

Paul Montgomery will be staying the hell out of Elora. Find him on Twitter or contact him at paul@ifanboy.com. 

Comments

  1. JimmyF1982 JimmyF1982 says:

    My store is holding a copy for me. Can’t pick up until friday but really looking forward to this.

  2. Neb Neb says:

    I thought the art looked great in the preview in the Vertigo books, and since the story seems to pan out, I’ll definitely be grabbing this (plus Area 10, which I’ve been slacking on picking up) tomorrow.

  3. Bryce31 Bryce31 says:

    Never heard of the writer or artist, But it looks interesting. Think i’ll pick it up next week.

  4. Will be picking this up.  All the Vertigo Crime books i’ve read so far have been worth it.  Area 10 was great!

  5. CGPO CGPO says:

    This was definitely one of the better ones.  But still, none of them have "wowed" me.  I may start just picking up the ones by authors I like, such as Andy Diggle and Simon Oliver’s ones next year, or ones whose story really interests me.