Pick of the Week

Pick of the Week – 11.30.2011 – Near Death #3

What did the
iFanboy
community think?

167
Pulls
Avg Rating: 4.3
iFanboy Community Pick of the Week Percentage: 0.2%
 
Users who pulled this comic:
story JAY FAERBER
art SIMONE GUGLIELMINI
cover TOMM COKER

Size: 23 pages
Price: 2.99

It’s funny how even after 10 years of writing reviews and talking about the kind of stories I like and the ones I don’t like, that something can come along and tap into a long forgotten area of your brain that triggers enjoyment.  Every once and a while I’m reminded that maybe I shouldn’t be so set in my ways of what I find to be personally enjoyable.  We often get so lost in how we define what’s “good” and what’s “not good” that we close ourselves off from unanticipated surprises. For me, one of the best surprises of 2011 has been the comic book Near Death by Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini.

To make a confession here, I’m not the biggest fan of the crime genre of stories, across both comics, television and movies. Sure, I’ve enjoyed the good ones through the years, most notably Criminal from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips and the Parker graphic novels from Darwyn Cooke, but generally when it comes to crime, especially “Noir” (a word that’s gotten trampled with overuse these past few years), I tend to pass and move on.  Now, I’m not saying that crime as a genre is bad, and those of you who enjoy it are wrong. Not at all. I’m just saying it’s not for me.  But every now and then, something slips through my personal defenses through the sheer quality of work, I have to bypass my preconceived notions and admit that it’s really quite good. When I read Near Death #1, I realized that this was going to be one of those times as it tapped into a “like” area of my brain that I had long forgotten about.  A few months later, Near Death #3 continues to deliver on that level of quality that I picked up on while reading the first issue for several reasons.

But first, for those who haven’t checked out this series yet, here’s the gist of Near Death:  Markham is a professional killer who has a brush with death, during which he realizes the error of his ways and to avoid going to Hell, he decides to rededicate his life to balancing his karma by saving lives. He’s attempting to save a life for every life he’s taken and in doing so, we’re presented with a variety of interesting situations.

Near Death #3 presents one of the more interesting situations as we get a glimpse of Markham’s past. We’re introduced to a police detective who’s partner Markham killed years before.  Markham becomes aware that this police detective is being targeted by other crooked cops, saves her life and then helps her bring down the crooked cops.  That’s the story in a nutshell, pretty simple and straight forward, and that’s part of Near Death’s charm.

One of my favorite aspects of Near Death is it’s format. So far, each issue has been a self contained story.  The first issue established the premise and the setting, and each subsequent issue taps into that, but for all intents and purposes, each issue is self contained. You could easily pick up this issue without having read the previous issues and enjoy it, guaranteed. Faerber is able to clue the reader in on who Markham is and what he’s doing with ease, all within the context of the story.  The art of the self contained issue is one that has been pretty much on the outs in modern comic books. With the advent of the collected edition and decompressed storytelling, we’ve grown accustomed to the 4 to 6 issue story arc. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the occurrences of a single issue containing a single story are rare.  Sure, we may get a one shot in-between arcs, but to my knowledge, no comic is committed to the “one and done” format in the way that Near Death does so well.

But the major reason why I like Near Death is that area of enjoyment of 80s TV shows that lie dormant in my brain. Amazingly, Near Death skirts the edges of being a crime book and being an action book. Whenever I tell someone about Near Death, I compare it to an 1980s action TV show, or even most recently the Human Target TV show on FOX. I’m not denying the crime aspect of the book, it’s definitely there, but the manner in which Faerber and Guglielmini present Near Death isn’t the overwhelming Noir type of book that we’ve seen in comics recently. Sure there are shadows and violence and the like, but for example, the climax of Near Death #3 doesn’t involve much violence at all. In fact the resolution is done in a manner that I would expect more from a 1980s action television show than a modern day crime comic.  Faerber isn’t afraid to refer to his admiration of Robert B. Parker and Stephen J. Cannell in the back matter of Near Death, and it’s no surprise once you read the comic. This could easily be a TV show (and hopefully one day it will be). Faerber is working the episodic format of the comic with style, as each issue reveals a little bit more about Markham. With Near Death #3, we get introduced to the feisty female police detective who hates Markham for killing her partner, but now owes him her life. That’s a fantastically complex relationship to introduce and one that I expect to see more of in future issues as now Markham seems to have an ally in the police station. Or at least an ally that wants him dead, and that makes for some great stories. Now, I loved the work of Cannell in the 1980s and it’s a type of TV show I had long forgotten about, until Human Target came on TV. I was bummed when it was canceled, but now I have Near Death to fill that little bit of enjoyment in my life.

Now the place where Near Death veers away from the 1980s vibe is with the art, and rightfully so. Artist Simone Guglielmini is definitely going to be compared to Sean Phillips, as their styles and subject matter are very similar, but it’s important not to dismiss Guglielmini as a Phillips clone, because while the style is similar, Guglielmini is able to give it his own special feel and flare in a very different direction than Phillips. I don’t think I’ve seen a car drawn as well in comics as Markham’s Maserati. With this third issue of Near Death, Guglielmini definitely has earned his seat at the table with Phillips, Michael Lark, Matthew Southworth and other artists we’ve seen drawing this type of crime stories.

As we wind down 2011, us critics start to look back on the year and pick our favorites. After just three issues from Jay Faerber and Simone Guglielmini, the compelling motivation of the main character of Markham, along with the solid storytelling and single issue format has given us some comics that are being handled masterfully,  I have no hesitation when I say that Near Death is one of the best new books of 2011, and Near Death #3 is just the latest example of why.

Ron Richards
I love that car
ron@ifanboy.com

Check out Near Death #3:

Comments

  1. Darn. I liked the first 2 issues enough, but randomly decided to leave this on the shelf this week. I hope an issue is still there when i hit the store next week.

  2. Weeee! My day has been made.

  3. This book has been great.

  4. I liked the first issue without loving it but really, really like the second issue even more. It subverted my expectations in a delightful way as I came into it expecting a gritty crime book but found it tempered by that 80’s tv show feel Ron mentions. It mixes the veneer of Brubakers Criminal with the sensibility of Magnum Pi crossed with The Equaliser. I find it an offbeat yet comforting combination in an entertainingly nostalgic kind of way.

  5. I love “Ron Richard’s Patent Curve Ball POTW”.

  6. Dammit Ron! Fine! I’m picking up all three issues next week. Although I’ve decided to drop my four DC books to make way for this and other upcoming Image books.

  7. That presmise sounds cool all on its own. Since I have such a light week, I might just see if I can find all three issues and get caught up.

  8. Good review, Ron. This sounds like an interesting comic, I might have overlooked, but they way you reviewed it made me want to check it out. Thanks for the head’s up.

  9. I don’t think its an accident that Near Death has the derivative feel of an 80’s television show format. Faerber’s heart is in television and this series appears to serve as a ‘spec script’ for the networks.

    I think this series plays it’s part of a typical 80’s Cannellesque action well, albeit predictable, but I’m not, even having read all three issues, am convinced this series will elevate past that status.

    I understand that ‘Pick of the Week’ is based on an individual’s taste (to each his own), but I do think Near Death’s newly elevated status of ‘Pick of the Week’ is an uneven choice when considering the other titles released in this anemic November fifth-week.

    • I don’t know if you’ve heard on the shows, but Ron has raved about every issue of this series. He loves it.

    • No doubt Ron’s passion for this book comes through with this article, but his excitement quickly veers toward hyperbole when he compares Guglelmini to the likes of Sean Philips and Michael Lark. Not to diminish GugIelmini, but its rather quick in the game to shelve Near Death’s artist next to these established craftsmen. In my opinion, Guglelmini’s art/inking is too ‘scratchy’ compared to Philips & Lark’s polished inking. In fact, Mr. G’s art hindered my effort in continuing the series.

      Ron ramps up further by stating, “…Near Death is one of the best new books of 2011, and Near Death #3 is just the latest example of why.”
      This book is ‘good’, but…I would be curious what other books would be considered the ‘best new book of 2011’.

      I would never want to shrink someones thrill about anything, but perspective is what separates a review/article from a sales pitch.

      Near Death is a television ‘spec script’ in the guise of a comic book.

    • Hey Kmanifesto, I think you should listen to POTW episode No.293. Specifically the email section of the show.

    • @jackietam – Thanks for pointing me to the podcast. I’m still a little green as it relates to this site, but I want to be clear to you or anyone else having read my post.

      The process by which the ‘Pick of the Week’ is chosen is not lost on me. My critique was less about the pick, but more a statement on the exaggerated language used to elevate a ‘good’ book by comparing Gugliemini’s art to Sean Philips and Michael Lark.

      I don’t feel that I have ‘attacked’ anyone personally or demeaned Ron’s opinion and I certainly don’t rely on the views of another to justify my own. I simply expressed a differing view in order to put things in perspective.

      I enjoy the iFanboy community and I hope that my participation can include the occasional comment that differs from the writer or fellow posters.

    • @Kmanifesto says: Near Death is a television ‘spec script’ in the guise of a comic book.

      Just wanted to say that is 100% not true. Whether you enjoy the book or not is one thing, but it’s meant to be a comic, first and foremost. Yes, I work in television so it’s not inconceivable that Near Death could make the leap from comics to TV, but that’s not the purpose for the book. It’s a comic — if it’s never anything but a comic, it’ll still be a success in my eyes.

      I’m only having a strong reaction to your innocent comment because, as a comic book fan, I can’t stand books that are obviously thinly-veiled TV or movie pitches. You know, stuff like Cowboys & Aliens, where they do the bare minimum necessary to create a comic and then use it as a movie pitch.

    • @JayFaerber – I gladly accept your rebuke and just to prove that I’m not the worst of the lot, I found Near Death good. In all honesty, it was the art by Guglielmini that kept me from proceeding past issue #2 with your project. I respect him as an artist, but the chosen style was too distracting even with the compelling premise.

      As to why I made the statement “Near Death is a television ‘spec script’ in the guise of a comic book”. It was based purely on the impression I had after reading the first issue and having researched your career.

      To be fair, I don’t think it would be an implausible conclusion to anyone, having read Near Death and researched your career path, to come away with the impression that Near Death was essentially ‘pitch material’. I accept your explanation and appreciate the insight.

      And, for the record, I don’t want to give the impression that I equate Near Death with the likes of Radical or Platinum. That ‘honor’ is strictly reserved for those with an obvious contempt for the comic book craft.

  10. I’m really bummed I didn’t jump on board from the get go on this. I’ve loved everything else Jay has done so far. I mainly missed this because I haven’t been able to hit the store on Wednesdays like normal, and it sold out at my store, and I forgot to get it reordered, etc. Looking forward to the inevitable trade.

    • @Kmanifesto – I just hope my comic book cred is never in doubt. 😉 I’ve been writing comics for over 10 years, and I’ve been working in television for less than a year.

      And yes, it’s not lost on me that Near Death would be pretty easy to translate to TV. My agents are certainly shopping it around. But that’s just gravy — the comic book is the meal, as far as I’m concerned.

    • @JayFaerber – I’m not sure if this is the arena for such a question, but If someone wanted to commit a random act of goodwill by buying one of your books, which title would you benefit the greatest from?

    • Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.
      -Helen Keller

    • @Kmanifesto – I guess the latest issue of Near Death would benefit me the most, since that’s the only book I’m currently working on.

  11. Oh crap. The writer of the book is posting in this thread? Now I feel terrible about ripping it to shreds! 😛

    After seeing Ron pick this, I went back and read the first 3 issues (The Power of iFanboy!). I’d been meaning to check the book out since it debuted. As the 206 in my user name gives away, I’m a Seattleite through and through. So of course I wanted to check out the book that Faerber initially sold as the city of Seattle itself being a character. Portland has had it’s go with Stumptown and Scarlet. It’s about time it’s big brother got it’s just due. 😉 And in that regard, fantastic job, Jay! I’ve really enjoyed picking out the specific streets and neighborhoods. I know it only works on a few of us, but that adds a really cool dimension to the story. I can picture Markham meeting a contact alongside the viaduct (RIP) or hanging out in his wicked Smith Tower penthouse sweet. So call me a sucker, but that alone did the trick for me. I’m sold. You got me.

    On to the other aspects of the book. I have to admit that I’m not quite YET as thrilled as Ron is. It’s been a fun book. And I really enjoy the unique feel and vibe it has. The episodic narrative really does make it feel like a tv show and unlike any other books currently. I do see where someone might feel that it’s a glorified spec script. After all, most indie comics now days are. But so what? Even if the book has dual goals with this title, what’s the problem with that? This book is trying to be an episodic crime story. Just because it would work on tv, doesn’t make it any less valid a story. I don’t personally get the same vibe as I do from some other artists who do 4 issue minis and have the screen rights sold after issue one (won’t bother naming the obvious names). Here’s the main reason I don’t have any problems with this feeling like a tv show (as well as being a good tv pitch). Jay’s back matter professing his love of old crime shows. I read those and got it right away. The dude has a genuine love for that genre of entertainment. It’s obvious that was a fan spewing about the stuff he loves. No different any of us talking about the comics, movies, or tv that we enjoy. Even if this book is an attempt to get into TV, I got no problem. The creator clearly has a reverence for both mediums.

    Not trying to play the role of kiss ass by any means. As I said before, I’m not exactly crazy thrilled by the story just yet. I dig the overall premise, have found the issues solid, enjoy the format, and obviously love the setting. But I kind of feel I myself personally need a bit more of a through line. When it comes to television, I’m admittedly much more of a serialized fan than that of episodic tv. But I can enjoy an episodic format if there is enough of a bigger overall story going on in the background. Compare season 1 of Fringe where it was extremely episodic to the still episodic, yet more overarching seasons 2 and beyond. No comparison which I was more hooked by. Thos book is still in the early stages, so maybe that’s in the plans. But I think a bit more of an overarching hook would really do the trick for me. As well as a few well-rounded recurring characters. I don’t mean to act as if I feel the book lacks these things, for as all that I know, that stuff might be to come. But I just wanted to give my honest opinions if the author does in fact end up reading this.

    But most of all, keep up the awesome Seattle stuff! I can’t wait to see what else you have in store in this regard. A shootout near the docks? A fight on a ferry? How about some dirty dealings going down near the Fremont Troll? lol. You just know the Elephant Car Wash would be a great background. And at the very least, Markham has to stop by for some Dick’s!

    Best of luck, Jay. You got me rooting for your book.

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