Filthy Rich original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Victor Santos
Letters: Clem Robins
Cover artist: Lee Bermejo
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo Crime imprint
Price: $19.99 US/$24.99 CAN
I picked this book up shortly after its release, and I was interested in DC/Vertigo’s new noir, crime-fiction imprint; furthermore, I’m a fan of Brian Azzarello’s writing. He’s quite comfortable in this genre, as he’s demonstrated time and time again with his work on 100 Bullets. The small hardcover format makes for an attractive package as well. Unfortunately, what’s inside that package isn’t nearly as strong as I’d hoped. The plotting seems a bit scattered, but the biggest problem with the storytelling is the inconsistent and occasionally confused artwork. Still, Azzarello’s examination of the culture of celebrity from America’s past demonstrates that tabloid journalism and paparazzi predators aren’t only a modern phenomenon.
The whole world was within football star Rich “Junk” Junkin’s grasp after college, but a gambling scandal and a career-ending injury transformed him from a golden boy into an outcast who had to scratch and claw his way through the world. He soon discovers an attempt at a career in car sales was pointless, but it leads him to a new job: as hired muscle to look out for the wealthy auto dealer’s wild daughter. Junk quickly finds himself immersed in the hedonism of high society, surrounded by temptation and guided by his short temper.
The book’s title is a bit puzzling, given what one finds in the script. The title is a play on the main character’s name, Rich, the fact that he’s out of place in the world of the privileged and wealthy, and the depravity he finds in those lives that are supposedly better and more fulfilling. I get that. The problem is that the main character really isn’t known by “Rich.” He’s almost always referred to by his nickname, “Junk,” and I get the point of that, as the character is essentially called garbage by all of these society types. The latter play on words is more effective and on point, and the one in the title seems a little too… cute.
Spanish artist Victor Santos is well established in the European comics market, but it seems clear to me that American comics creators have had significant influence on his work. The most apparent of those influences is that of Frank Miller. Santos often channels Miller’s work on Sin City in Filthy Rich, but his mimicry makes for a pale imitation of the American comics master storyteller. Other elements in Santos’s black-and-white art here put one in mind of the styles of such talents as Phil (El Diablo) Hester, Erik (Savage Dragon) Larsen and Scott (The Shield) McDaniel. Santos’s figures are distorted, and he often chooses some oddly unusual and distracting angles to serve as the PoV for various panels. Overall, the art has an inconsistent, uneven look.
This is definitely not a book for optimists or those who firmly believe in the inherent goodness of one’s fellow man. To describe Azzarello’s plot and characters as dark is to describe Antarctica as somewhat chilly. There’s nary a single character with any redeeming qualities, not in the slightest. I have no problem with dark stories, but I also need something relatable, and it’s just not to be found here. Furthermore, I found several of the characters — mainly the men Junk meets in the high-society party scene — to be interchangeable, so much so that it was difficult to distinguish among a trio of key supporting players in the drama.
As I made my way through the book, I kept waiting for Azzarello to hook me, to win me over. But even the ending left me dissatisfied. In order for it to work, one has to accept that Junk, who’s clearly not the brightest guy, is suddenly possessed of a clever mind. His plan to cover his tracks seems beyond his capacity, and I just didn’t buy that this bruiser, who always makes the wrong decisions and succumbs to his emotions at every turn, is suddenly transformed into a master manipulator. 4/10
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