Torpedo Volume One trade paperback
Writer: Enrique Sanchez Abuli
Artists: Alex Toth & Jordi Bernet
Translation: Jimmy Palmiotti
Cover artist: Bernet
Letters: Amauri Osorio
Reprint editor: Scott Dunbier
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Price: $17.99 US
The manager at my local comic shop pointed out he had a couple of discounted Torpedo books on the store’s clearance racks, and I’ve long been interested in curious about the work, having enjoyed Bernet’s contributions to Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s Jonah Hex series from DC a few years back. I plunked down my cash and happily took it home. Not surprisingly, I found a beautifully illustrated book, boasting a fun pulp-strip approach and deliciously gritty, fitting artwork. But to my disappointment, the clumsy plotting and dark characterization proved to be incredibly off-putting. I was expecting the titular hitman character to be a cool anti-hero, but he’s far from that. In fact, it’s next to impossible to find any character that fits the role of protagonist in any of these short stories. Every player in these crime dramas is so unlikeable that I really didn’t enjoy spending any time in their worlds.
Italian immigrant Luca Torelli finds life in America, which held such promise of peace and prosperity, to be hard and ugly instead. He stumbles into the only line of work that offered any level of comfort, and that was contract killing. His successes quickly earn him the nickname of “Torpedo.” Aided by his bumbling associate Rascal, Torpedo often develops ruses to allow him to get closer to his prey, such as hiring prostitutes to seduce targets or dressing as a clown to give him a perfect vantage point from which to deliver his killing blows. He’s also willing to take on jobs without the promise of cash, opting to force vulnerable women to compensate him in less quantifiable, more carnal ways.
There’s no denying the dark beauty of the line art. Alex Toth’s simple, noir approach suits the material quite well. When Jordi Bernet took over the strip after only two short stories by Toth, his style — while different and bringing a more grizzled look to the the main character — is nevertheless consistent with Toth’s, making for a smooth visual transition. Both artists render the most beautiful women, and Torpedo’s rugged good looks set him apart from the otherwise grotesque, exaggerated men who populate the grimy streets of pre-Second World War New York. Bernet’s work boasts what seems like a clear Joe Kubert influence; his efforts often look like a cross between the styles of Kubert and Frank Robbins. The panel layouts are simple and straightforward, giving the property an even more authentic, vintage feel and appeal.
Originally published in Spain (and in Spanish) in the early 1980s, Torpedo is sadly tarnished by the passage of time and an evolution in social values. Torelli is depicted in this first reprint volume essentially sexually assaulting at least two women. I can see how an underworld figure would do so, especially one living in 1936, so the problem isn’t that it’s not believable. It’s that it’s something for the villain of the story to do, and I don’t accept that Torpedo is meant to be viewed as the villain. By the end of the book, he’s such a reprehensible figure, I ultimately decided I didn’t want to read any more about him.
Interestingly, the first two short stories — the two illustrated by Toth — depicts Torpedo as having something of a heart, sparing the lives of two people — one a target and the other a child seeking revenge for the death of his father. Some quick online research shows Toth left the property after finding the stories too dark and distasteful. So perhaps one can’t attribute the off-putting nature of the writing as a product of its time.
The harshness of character and circumstances aren’t the only problem here. The writing is occasionally clumsy and contradictory as well. For example, despite Torpedo’s reputation as a killer for hire, other characters who know of him seem oddly unfazed by his sudden appearance in circles that he doesn’t usually frequent. No one seems to actually fear him, which I suppose enables him to do his bloody work effectively but runs contrary to his supposed infamy. At times, writer Enrique Sanchez Abuli portrays Torpedo as a lethal legend, and at others, he’s an anonymous criminal. Torpedo purports to know all of the players in New York’s underworld, but his own reputation is portrayed inconsistently.
However, one of the last stories in this reprint features an interesting reaction to racism and a con on Torpedo. By this point, I was pleased to see him get some comeuppance, and the twist of a racist cop’s role in the scheme surprised and entertained me. The writer’s twisted sense of humor didn’t quite work for me in previous strips in the book, but it clicked for me in this instance, as it was the first time his plotting struck me as being particularly clever.
I picked up this book fully expecting to love it. It certainly had an impeccable pedigree, given its inclusion of art by Toth and Bernet and being translated by respected industry figure Jimmy Palmiotti. The cover color and design were also crafted by the late Darwyn Cooke, so with such respected creators on board as apparent fans, I figured it was a lock that this would be a great read. Sadly, that proved to be far from the case, at least for this particular reader. Maybe this would have appealed to me in my teens years or in my early 20s, but not anymore. 4/10
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