Brian Azzarello is the author of the very good hardboiled crime comic book series 100 BULLETS, which has been collected in a number of trade paperbacks, and if you haven’t read them, I recommend the series. FILTHY RICH is a stand-alone, hardcover graphic novel set in the early 1960s, and the Gold Medal influence in it is obvious. The protagonist is Richard “Junk” Junkin, a former high school football star and three-time All-American at Notre Dame who is drafted to play pro football, only to tear up his knee in the final preseason game of what would have been his rookie year. Unable to play ball anymore, he winds up selling cars – or at least trying to sell cars – for the top dealership in the state. Unfortunately, he’s not very good at it, so the owner of the dealership decides to have Junk work as the bodyguard of his wild, beautiful daughter, who has a tendency to wind up in the tabloids.
Well, you know the mix of embittered protagonist, beautiful but amoral young woman, flashy nightclubs, and greed isn’t going to work out well, and sure enough, it doesn’t. Murder rears its proverbial ugly head, and Junk, in true noirish fashion, like a guy in a Charles Williams novel, keeps getting in deeper and deeper.
Azzarello’s script is good, capturing that early Sixties feel for the most part. However, I felt like something was a little lacking in it, and I think that’s due to the fact that Junk comes across as pretty unsympathetic, despite the bad deal that life has given him. In the best noir novels, you want to be able to at least hope the protagonist won’t screw up everything completely (even though you know he probably will). It’s hard to work up that feeling for Junk, and the ending seems more like what he’s got coming to him, rather than a tragedy. I have to admit, though, it’s pretty chilling, especially the final page, thanks in part to Victor Santos’ art, which seems to have been influenced by Frank Miller’s SIN CITY. I really didn’t like Santos’ art that much, since a lot of the time it’s hard to follow, but he caught the mood of the ending perfectly.
So FILTHY RICH gets a qualified recommendation from me. It didn’t really work for me part of the time, but there’s still some good stuff in it. If you love those old Gold Medal novels like I do (and I know a lot of you fall into that category), I think there’s a good chance you’ll find things to like in this one. If Azzarello does any more of these hardboiled graphic novels, I certainly won’t hesitate to read them.