I decided to cover this comic as penance for my continued failure to see the Ryan Gosling film adaptation released a few years ago. Like several other movies, it’s rested in my Netflix cue for a couple years until it was taken down, put back up, and removed once again. In all that time I could not muster up the emotional energy to take in what I had heard was an intense movie with Gosling at his coolest as a stunt driver by day, getaway driver at night. Like the film, this movie also functions as an adaptation of James Sallis’ novella, and creators Michael Bendetto, Antonio Fuso and Emilio Lecce undoubtedly succeed at providing it’s LA a distinctive tone while establishing a grounded version of LA through which the nameless Driver operates. Things start out with the Driver holed up in a room with three corpses of unknown origin before jumping us back to a meeting between the Driver and Cook, a criminal looking to hire a getaway driver and 4th man for an upcoming job robbing a pawn store engaged in illicit activity. Through the course of their conversation, the Driver lets Cook know his rules— he only drives, rather remain ignorant to the details of the job, and will not participate in the actual robbery. Although hesitant to the Driver’s principles, Cook hires him on, starting the Driver along the path that finds him in the opening scene’s scenario. The rest of the issue introduces us to the rest of the Driver’s LA life, showing us his work as a stunt driver, interacting with local thugs, and explaining to us some of the basics about his double life. At issue’s end when things on Cook’s job don’t end up going according to plan, the creators have managed to craft a world and a character that intrigue us despite their removal.
In the issue’s back matter, James Sallis states that he envisioned Drive as a contemporary Western, and it’s evident that the comic’s team had that in mind when coming up with this adaptation. In addition to some of its narrative tropes, such as a relatively quiet protagonist with a Code, the comic also borrows visually from the genre. The stylistic homage to the Western genre are carried out well, and I particularly enjoyed the art team’s use of close-up shots of the Driver and Cook’s faces during their meeting, which focuses in on the Driver’s eyes in his panel and Cook’s mouth in the page’s last panel. It gives the impression that the Driver is unflinchingly a person that knows who he is as he stares down Cook and suggests he find another driver if he can’t pay him sufficiently. In Cook’s panel, the art team zooms on his face, cutting his eyes out of the panel and showing the reader that the Cook may just be all talk. It elevates what could have otherwise been an unremarkable talking heads scene, and allows the reader to view Cook from the Driver’s point of view.
The comic’s art style may appear simplistic to some readers, but I thought it was well-suited for this grounded story. Although faces lack detail and are often covered in shadow, penciller Antonio Fuso and Inker Emilio Lecce ensure that readers can easily determine each character’s disposition and mood. The Driver himself looks only slightly less Hollywood handsome than Gosling, but it’s an attractiveness that wouldn’t draw attention to the Driver, providing him the anonymity Bendetto’s script assures the reader is the Driver’s primary concern. The art team’s depiction of the Driver as a stoic person leads to surprising moments, such as his assault of a man that taunts him while sitting on his car. Both the scene’s establishing page and the brief confrontation have a grimy beauty to them due to Jason Lewis’ coloring, which places the scene during one of LA’s notorious pollution-tinged pink sunsets. It serves as a reminder of where the story takes place, and also links the scene back to the comic’s Western ancestors by putting it’s first instance of violence at a liminal time of the day often depicted in filmic versions of the genre.
My biggest gripe with this comic is that the narration feels a bit overdone at times. Although it’s interesting to gain some insight as to how the Driver manages his dual lives, it sometimes felt as though conveying some scenes solely through the visuals could have better aided the comic’s pacing.
I may not get to Drive the movie for another few years, so I’m glad I’ve got this comic to tide me over until then. Although crime comics have become pretty vogue recently, I haven’t taken to any of them the way I have towards Drive. Through its intriguing leading character and unique look, it’s definitely a comic I enjoyed much more than I initially thought I would. And now that the proverbial crap has hit the fan, I’m looking forward to seeing where this modern Western takes me.
Drive #1 Writer: Michael Bendetto Pencils: Antonio Fuso Inks: Emilio Lecce Colorist: Jason Lewis Letterer: Frank Cvetkovic Publisher: IDW Publishing Release Date: 8/26/15 Format: Mini-Series, Print/Digital