Sunday, May 9, 2010

"The Executor" by Jon Evans and Andrea Mutti (Vertigo Crime, 2010)

DC Comics' Vertigo Crime strikes again with The Executor, and it is their biggest score yet. Written by Jon Evans with art by Andrea Mutti, the story begins with former hockey star Joe Ullen receiving a surprising letter naming him the executor to his high school girlfriend’s estate. Seizing the opportunity to escape his failing relationship with Alice and pen-pushing real estate job, Joe heads back to his old stamping ground in upstate New York in the fictional town of Elora. But instead of tying up loose ends, Joe begins to unravel the mysterious death of Mirriam Litwiller, as well as a decades old tension between the town of Elora and the nearby Native American reservation and several unsolved murders that Joe might know about than he cares to admit.

While the story could use a little more detail about Ullen’s relationship with Alice (she appears only on a few pages at the start of the book and never reappears), once Evans and Mutti land in Elora, the narrative takes off and never looks back until the final graphic panel, when all of the pain and trauma that Joe dug up finally sinks in. It’s a simple story, but all the more compelling and emotionally crushing because of its straightforwardness. Mutti’s cinematic panels match the clarity of Evans’ plotting. When action speaks louder than words, Evans and Mutti smartly choose the former. For atmosphere, nothing beats finding soggy corpses on a rainy night in the woods on the reservation, and for excitement you can’t top the shoot-out in a blazing abandoned factory.

What distinguishes The Executor is its attention to the present-day race and class issues surrounding Native American identity. Evans shows a lot of sensitivity to the subject, which too-often seems to go overlooked. Without resorting to didacticism, he points out how America as a nation still hasn’t come to terms with its complex history. This social context also makes for a gripping plot motivation, on one level showing how latent and unresolved tensions can quickly manifest as violent gestures, and on a larger level showing how society can perpetuate and escalate this violence through ignorance.

If you like your anti-heroes with a troubled conscious and an unredeemable past, don’t miss The Executor. It looks crime on the micro-level—small-town wrongs and personal demons that are worse than anything in the big cities because they are all the more real.

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