When Ten Grand first came across the Comic Bastards desk, I was pretty jazzed. I mean, with those names, how could you not be? As I read through the first few issues, though, I was nervous it was just another Constantine clone. And I mean movie Constantine. While I don’t hate that film with the same vitriolic passion that others seem to, I also wanted Ten Grand set itself apart, to add something new to the supernatural detective dynamic. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t. But you know what? I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Because I really, really like this book. First off, let’s get to the blatant similarities within this issue and the movie Constantine, just to get that shit out-of-the-way. There are really just two big ones. Yes: he uses some suped-up, saintly knuckle-dusters to face-fist some demons. Yes: he travels to the afterlife to save someone. Once you can get over these very two small devices, however, you’ll see how well-written, touching, cryptic and fascinating this story is becoming.
As we meet up with Joe, reluctant agent of Heaven, he is attempting to conjure his guardian angel via her sigil and an unwitting human host. For some reason, however, the spell has gone all whackadoo, and that salty little seraphim just ain’t taking the bait. As one might imagine in the world where heaven and hell are constantly on the brink of war, this raises a few red flags. On a path to find out just what the fuck is going on, Joe finds himself in a very uncomfortable, yet amazingly well-directed encounter.
Joe and a ghost named Julie share something of a past, and the history and expression of their relationship here - if you can call it that - is probably the best part of this book. I love the way Straczynski writes the dynamic between them, almost as an Alzheimer's-addled old woman, and a young man who is desperate enough to go to her for help. He doesn’t feel good about taking her “money,” but he has no choice. Their exchange in this issue, as well as the character of Julie herself, is touching, sincere and a phenomenal bit of development.
Ten Grand #4 does ache with pathos, but this is also a fun supernatural thriller, and a great take on the worlds of divinity and damnation. At the same time, its threat is both powerful, yet terrifyingly mysterious. We still have no idea what is going on after Heaven (or somewhere very much like it) was evidently invaded by demons. It seems with Joe on the move, though, that particular shit is going to hit the fan in what I imagine will be quite a delightful way involving lots of sweet supernatural weapons from Joe’s personal armory.
Visually, Ten Grand is ... well, it’s Ben Fucking Templesmith, so it’s pretty goddamn terrific. I love this guy’s scrawled sense of urgency, and while his style in Ten Grand seems more contained and focused than I’ve seen in his earlier books, those wild strokes of his continue to crack and splinter against the page in what remains a very unique visual experience. His limited use of alternatively harsh or depressing color (depending on the mood being conveyed) is so well-chosen in this book, establishing this coarse texture throughout it. When he does choose to light things up (which he does in this case with Julie’s incorporeal form, made as it is with a sort of vivid neon thread), it’s always a fireworks display that makes me ooh and aah like a kid on some really messed up version of the Fourth of July.
Despite its sometimes identical nature to the debatably imitation-worthy Constantine, I still have to give this book a five out of five. With strong, emotive storytelling and a deepening pool of characterization, met by an artistic direction that remains a full-spectral experience, Ten Grand #4 at least stands apart as some truly exceptional comic booking.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: Ben Templesmith
Publisher: Image Comics and Joe’s Comics
Release Date: 8/7/13