Posted by Don MacPherson on September 29th, 2009
Die Hard: Year One #1
Writer: Howard Chaykin
Artist: Stephen Thompson
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Cover artists: Dave Johnson/Jock/John Paul Leon
Editors: Ian Brill & Matt Gagnon
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $3.99 US
When Boom! Studios announced it acquired the Die Hard and planned to present an “untold” tale of cop John McClane’s days as a New York beat cop, I applauded the idea. Die Hard certainly isn’t the kind of movie licence one expects to find in comics today, given that the bulk of the franchise is more than a decade behind us. Such properties usually get the comics-medium adaptation or use at the height of their popularity, but I think the folks at Boom! rightly realized that Bruce Willis’s McClane character is an action-movie icon that’s never going to go out of style. When you say, “Yippee ki yay, motherfucker,” I doubt there’s anyone 16 and over in Western society who doesn’t know exactly what you’re talking about, even though what you’re saying sounds like gibberish. Yes, a Die Hard comic is a good idea. Unfortunately, Howard Chaykin’s script doesn’t read like a Die Hard comic. It’s an interesting look back at the New York City of a different era, but it lacks the John McClane/Bruce Willis charm, the humor and the inventive action that made the Die Hard movies such successes.
July 4, 1976, America’s Bicentennial, but the date is also noteworthy for another reason: it’s recruit John McClane’s first day on the job as a New York City police officer. Paired with a lazy training officer, it doesn’t take McClane long to demonstrate the sort of instinct and initiative that will one day make him a super-cop with a reputation known coast to coast. Meanwhile, a throng of crooked characters from throughout New York are about to converge on Midtown Manhattan amid the patriotic celebrations, all with murder and/or greed on their minds. And unfortunately for a naive girl from Indiana who just moved to the city a few months ago, she’s about to find herself in mortal danger as a wrong turn lands in the middle of a terribly dark deed.
Stephen Thompson’s name is a new one to me, and he offers up some solid work here. At first, I found that his style was in keeping with that of Boom! Studios standby Paul (Potter’s Field) Azaceta, but the further I delved into this comic, the more his work reminded me of that of other artists. Thompson’s line art boasts kind of a loose but realistic look, reminiscent of the work of such artists as Brent (Astro City) Anderson and Phil (Nevada) Winslade. The most impressive aspect of Thompson’s work here is how he captures the period. This vision of New York is a bit dirtier and more hostile in appearance, and he also depicts the fashions of the time pretty well. The one real misstep he makes is in the design of two key characters. McClane’s training officer and one of the antagonists are both portly, nasty, white cops, and while there was no mistaking them given the scene breaks and dialogue in this issue, I can’t help but wonder if it might open the door to confusion later in the series.
The writer introduces a number of characters here, stringing together a bunch of brief scenes, each of which identifies one or two players in the drama that will really start rolling in the next issue. It’s a clear approach, but Chaykin’s characters just aren’t that interesting. Almost all of them are so completely unlikeable that it’s difficult to accept them. They’re one-dimensional monsters, save for the damsel in distress, who’s portrayed as so naive and vulnerable that she comes off as more of a prop in the story than a well-rounded character.
Chaykin offers up an interesting piece of historical fiction here. It’s not McClane who’s the star of the show, but the context in which that this crime story is about to unfold. It’s easy for the reader to accept McClane, our narrator, as an expert on the seedy side of the city. Chaykin doesn’t offer a history lesson, per se, but rather a cultural flashback. He quickly and effectively establishes the atmosphere that’s vital to the story.
Of course, the problem is that the setting shouldn’t be the star of the show. This is a Die Hard comic, after all, but McClane seems no more important a part of the plot than any other player. I realize Chaykin is setting the stage here; perhaps the story will read better in a collected format. But when it comes to this original episodic approach, he needs to hook the audience in a hurry. This debut comic book needs the attitude and excitement that the readership expects from the Die Hard brand, and it’s not to be found… yet. 5/10
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