Writer: Andy Diggle
Artist/Colors: Mukesh Singh
Creator: Guy Ritchie
Letters: Rivikiran B.S. & Nilesh S. Mahadik
Cover artists: Neelakash K. (regular) and John Cassaday & Greg Horn (variants)
Editor: MacKenzie Cadenhead
Publisher: Virgin Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$4.25 CAN
It certainly doesn’t seem as though Virgin Comics — with its celebrity endorsements, big-name industry talent and East Indian culture influences — certainly doesn’t seem to have set the world of comic books on fire. There has been potential in the concepts, characters and craft, but of the titles I’ve sampled, none have really hooked me or set tongues wagging in fandom circles. This latest Virgin offering caught my attention thanks to two names. One is on the cover — movie director Guy Ritchie’s manic action/crime movies are a lot of fun, so I hoped for the same from this book. And writer Andy Diggle, best known for Losers from DC/Vertigo, is a consistently strong talent in comics today. Do they add up to a winning combination for a new comic-book property? Well, only in part. The atmosphere is engaging and the pacing of the plot interesting, but ultimately, Gamekeeper comes across as somewhat derivative in nature, eliciting easy comparisons to some well-known Marvel properties.
A young runaway wanders through the Scottish wilderness, looking for a remote estate where the owner is rumored to take in lost souls with nowhere else to turn. He’s discovered by Brock, the mysterious estate gamekeeper and personal assistant and confidant to the wealthy landowner, Jonah Morgan. Morgan agrees to take the youth in, but the kid isn’t what he appears to be. Of course, Morgan has his secrets as well, secrets that evil men would kill to have for their own. Of course, they didn’t count on encountering Brock and his… special skills.
Singh’s artwork is certainly in keeping with the gritty tone of the characters and crescendo of violence in this debut issue. His art actually reminds me a bit of Michael (Sandman) Zulli’s style, given the level of detail and rather slender approach to the figures, as well as Salvador Larroca’s current realistic work on newuniversal. The first page, with its vista of a beautiful, untouched, natural landscape, is certainly striking — perhaps too much. The later scenes, set on a plateau, are far sparser and less interesting from a visual perspective. The colors are quite dark later in the book, which is in keeping with the dire mood the storytellers are trying to establish. However, it’s so dark that it’s difficult to discern what’s happening at times.
The betrayal that’s at the heart of the plot of this opening issue was quite effective; it took me by surprise, in any case. Diggle’s script proceeds at a brisk pace (though it’s not nearly as frenetic as the pace of Ritchie’s films). We’re still trying to grasp the premise when disaster and action erupt at the Morgan estate.
Jonah Morgan himself is an interesting figure here, as he doesn’t seem entirely benevolent in his demeanor. There’s an almost paranoid quality to the character that doesn’t seem entirely consistent with his decision to care for runaways and homeless kids who find their way to his home. I don’t doubt the character is kind, but his guarded attitude and fierce determination to protect what is his at any cost instills an edgier quality in him. His wife’s resistance to his role as a benefactor helps to set the Morgan family further apart from a more saintly reputation as well. Of course, it would seem the plot here results in the reader being denied any continued role for Jonah in this story.
After I read this issue, there was something about the way the property, plot and players are crafted that didn’t quite sit right with me. The title character, Brock, reminds me far too much of Wolverine. He has no costume or animal powers that I tell, but he’s a hunter without equal and a violent figure who is willing to kill without pause. He’s the kind of guy who is The Best There Is at What He Does, and he’s far to derivative of Marvel’s most popular mutant. The Morgan estate and its owner’s willingness to take in young people also make for an easy comparison to Charles Xavier and his school for gifted youngsters as well. These elements make Gamekeeper seem far too familiar in tone, and that sense of a lack in originality is alienating. 6/10