Posted by Don MacPherson on July 25th, 2011
The Rinse #1
Writer: Gary Phillips
Artist: Marc Laming
Colors: Darrin Moore
Letters: Steve Wands
Cover artists: Francesco Mattina/Paul Azaceta
Editor: Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $1 US
Gary Phillips is a comics writer with a focus on the crime genre who consistently offers up compelling drama and strong characters, but with The Rinse, he’s really outdone himself. This is not only the most compelling comic book Phillips has written, but it stands out as one of the best crime comics I’ve read in some time. The Rinse, with its riveting, knowledgeable narration, is just as good as Ed Brubaker’s Criminal, and that’s really saying something. Phillips is joined by a talented artist who does an excellent job of capturing a sense of realism here, and a convincing look reinforces the strength and intelligence of the script. The main character is a thoroughly likeable figure, well-rounded and quite charming. But the character that really steals the show isn’t a character at all but rather than underworld trade that serves as the core premise of the book.
Jeff Sinclair seems to have friends everywhere. He’s always on the go, meeting with clients, contracting with people who provide him with the services he needs to get his job done. Jeff specializes is turning tainted money into untraceable and legitimate cash. He calls what he does putting the money through the Rinse, because it comes out clean on the other end. He’s the king of the money launderers, and he’s so good at his job, he’s able to pick and choose his clients. When a nervous accountant comes to see him about millions he needs to hide and process, Sinclair soon discovers that a big, bad man is looking for that money, but it’s a guy he’d love to stick it to. As a result, he soon finds himself in some dicey situations, but nothing he can’t handle. What’s waiting for him at home, though, is another matter altogether.
Marc Laming’s artwork is incredibly effective. He offers a nice mix of realism and simplicity in his linework. The overall look here reminds me of a cross between the styles of the late Curt Swan and a 21st century talent, Paul (Graveyard of Empires) Azaceta, who also provides one of the covers for this issue. I’m also reminded of Peter Krause’s work on Irredeemable (also published by Boom! Studios). The greatest strength that Laming brings to bear here is that there’s always a strong sense of place. His backdrops are always impressive, whether it’s a major-league ballpark or an upscale watering hole. The realistic look of the locales makes it easier to believe in and immerse oneself in the more extreme, alien underworld aspects of the story.
The colors bring a pall and tension that adds to the reading experience. Sinclair seems to be living the Life of Riley, but the colors cast a gloomy quality over the story, signalling danger and uneasiness. I had one qualm with the lettering, in that the font used for the narration captions is a little hard to read at times. The taller, thick letters are rendered in a slightly unusual shape, but on the other hand, the different font does convey a more personal “voice” for the protagonist.
Sinclair is such a likeable character because he seems to be all things to almost all people. His intellect shines through in the story. He’s comfortable in high society and in low places. He seems to judge people for who they are, not their stations in society or their ability to line his pockets. He enjoys finer things and simple pleasures. He’s an everyman yet cosmopolitan, friendly and not aloof or mysterious. It could just be his facade, another tool in his arsenal that enables him to do his job so well.
The one aspect of the story that doesn’t quite work is that Sinclair is depicted as an ethical money launderer. He’s a discerning criminal, as there are lines he won’t cross, people with whom he won’t work. It’s a bit hard to swallow. It’s acceptable as part of his character, but not so much as part of the plot. The concept of money laundering has such a dirty association. It’s hard to imagine that Sinclair wouldn’t touch cash that had the taint of drugs or blood on it. It’s hard to accept the notion of a money launderer with a heart of gold, but the strengths of the book far outweigh this slight glitch, so I can get past it.
The most fascinating aspect of this comic book is Phillips’ successful description of how dirty or hidden money is moved through channels to make it accessible and legit. At times, it feels like we’re watching an episode of How It’s Made about laundered money, only there’s a lot more personality in the narration and descriptions. Phillips goes beyond the mob-movie cliches of money laundering and directs out attention to a wider yet more nuanced scope of the practice. It feels incredibly well-researched and genuine, and I’d be shocked to learn Phillips dreamed it all up as a pure fiction. The Rinse is as strong as such other Boom crime/intrigue comics as Talent, Potter’s Field and The Foundation, and this first chapter is being offered at a price that most shouldn’t pass up for even a middling comic. And this is no middling comic. 9/10
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