Gunning for Hits #1
Writer: Jeff Rougvie
Colors/Letters: Casey Silver
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Several years ago, there was a short-lived primetime show called Love Monkey. Starring Tom (Ed, The Flash) Kavanaugh, it was a romance show set against the backdrop of the music industry. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the humor, relationship dynamics and the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of a music discovery and evolution of an album. Gunning for Hits evoked memories of Love Monkey because both explore the music industry, but Jeff Rougvie, writing from experience, offers a much darker examination of that world. We see it through an ugly, brutal lens, and I couldn’t look away. Gunning for Hits is to Love Monkey what House of Cards is to The West Wing. This harsh reflection is riveting, but at its heart is a genuine love of music and how it can help one transcend the mundane. (I assume the bulk of my readership is now taking a moment to Google Love Monkey; I admit, it’s a fairly obscure piece of pop-culture history).
Martin Mills is a record-label rep trying to sign an up-and-coming band fronted by a once-in-a-generation singer/songwriter, and the musician’s girlfriend/manager is determined to get everything she wants, no matter what. Unfortunately for her, what she knows about the music business isn’t much, and Martin, he knows it all, has seen it all. And a demanding 20-something isn’t going to make him nervous… not after he survived his previous line of work.
The opening panel establishes that this story is set in 1987, and it quickly becomes clear that the reason is because Rougvie wants to explore a different and perhaps more lucrative time in the music industry. But despite that commercial and historical context, there’s a timeless quality to the script. It feels incredibly contemporary despite being set three decades in the past.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Rougvie’s script, what caught my attention here initially was Moritat’s involvement with the book. Moritat’s has never disappointed on any project — Elephantmen, All-Star Western, The Spirit, it didn’t matter. His unique style has always been impressive, and that remains the case with this latest endeavor. I noted with interest that the writer, in a text piece in the back of the issue, cites the late Darwyn Cooke as a signification inspiration in the long journey in making this comic, because often, it feels as though Moritat is channelling that master’s noir but simple style here. The basic designs for the characters here make it easier for the audience to recognize a piece of their own world in this one.
The inky tone of the earlier scenes make for a powerful contrast with the bright crash course about the music biz that Mills offers, brought to life by Moritat’s cartooning. I also love that the voracious and corrupt nature of the music industry is presented in an incredibly innocent-looking style, reminiscent of the art style on Monopoly cards.
While there was certainly an interesting flourish by revealing Martin’s past life in the underworld, I’m honestly not entirely convinced it was necessary to add this facet to the character. The intensity of his current line of work is more than enough to sustain the reader’s interest… Hell, this education about the music world had a stranglehold on my brain.
As harsh as the negotiations and industry education are in this issue, Rougvie quietly reveals what drives these characters: a love of music. On the surface, it looks like it’s all about power and greed, and those are definitely major motivations at play here, but Martin and the naive musician whom he’s trying to sign definitely connect through their shared love of a reclusive music legend. The script touches on this positive aspect only briefly, but it’s a vital balance to the manipulations and malevolence that dominate this establishing chapter. 9/10