So, I dunno about you guys and gals, but I usually only give a passing glance at recap pages when I read my books. But I made an exception for some reason in Ten Grand #9, and wow, a shit load has happened in (and around) this series. Looking back, you can definitely point to a shift right after Templesmith’s departure; the hurried turning point where this book transformed from on thing into another, leaving a bunch of hanging plot threads in its wake. In this, its ninth issue, it feels like JMS realized that and is desperately attempting to wrap his story back in on itself before it unravels further.
Picking up on the much more overtly-supernatural plot the book has taken, rather than the street-level stuff at its start, this issue sees our hero, heaven’s indentured private investigator, Joe, having a conversation with Brother James, the man-cum-demon who killed the love of his life. Then again, this is less a conversation than a temptation.
Preying on Joe’s all-but-vitriolic dislike for the human race (barring his deceased ladyfriend, Laura, who here acts the ethereal damsel in distress), Brother James seeks to elicit Joe’s help in hell’s renewed war on heaven by exploiting his special arrangement with paradise (that being that he can briefly visit Laura in the afterlife each time he “dies” in the line of righteous service) to his own hellish ends. This part was mostly great, though that video game reference in the beginning fell pretty flat.
My problem is not the admittedly admirable effort JMS makes to hammer past events into current relevancy, or even that the “flashback” panels took up the better part of seven pages with direct Templesmith artwork rehashes (though that is a bit much, let’s be honest, and a pretty transparent way to cut corners).
My problem is that it feels so forced. Maybe this is the direction JMS was going to take this book in the whole time - you would presume that, anyway - but then why does it feel like he’s grasping at straws to have all of this make some semblance of sense? I’m also not saying it’s not an interesting twist, coupled by a (somewhat predictable) outcome at the end of the issue, it’s just that marrying the two different sides of this story like that felt jarring and inorganic. And the choppy artistic direction didn’t help.
C.P. Smith shows a great range this issue in the visual direction he has adopted for this book, but I have to be honest that putting his art beside Templesmith’s really hurts not just the book’s visual flow, but also reminds the audience how Ten Grand could have looked throughout, and how amazing that would have been. Again, I’m not trying to knock Smith, but for my taste and in this kind of story, it pales stylistically.
Thing is, even though I think this issue in particular took some cheap workarounds and felt frayed in its roughly-cut continuity, I’m still interested in seeing where this goes. Again, I’m a big sucker for angelic wars in the afterlife, so I remain on-board to see where the ramifications of this issue take us next time. I just don’t like being simultaneously reminded how badly this book apparently suffered after its unfortunate creative shift, or that something this “okay” could have been so, so much better.
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski Artist: C.P. Smith (and Ben Templesmith) Publisher: Image Comics and Joe’s Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 4/30/14