By Daniel Vlasaty
If you’re at all familiar with my reviews then you know my usual reading leans more toward the crime fiction side of comics. So, when I saw The Last Contract come up on the review list, you know I had to jump on that thing. I remember seeing this book on the shelves when it was originally coming out, but for some reason I never started reading it. And because of this, I guess, I didn’t know anything about the book at all. I went in blind, essentially, only going off the title and the cover. There’s a car parked near a lake or a river, a body visible in the trunk. The city skyline off in the distance. There are two people standing in front of the car, at the water’s edge. One on his knees, one standing behind him. You can’t see it but you just know he’s holding a gun to the guy on the ground. It’s all dark, colored in blacks and blues. This is all I had going into the book. And I had to know more.
What follows is a fast-paced, hard-as-nails noir action story. It follows an unnamed former hitman. He’s been out of the game twenty years and may or may not be suffering from Alzheimer’s. But he’s pulled back in one last time after a list of mob-ordered hits is stolen and threatened to be exposed. There’s an attack on his home and he ends up killing the two would-be assassins, stealing their car, and heading off to make amends for his past (with his dog Harv in tow).
Someone is threatening mob boss Burrell with leaking information about all the people, cops, and associates he had killed to get where he is today unless he kills the old man. So, Burrell’s working it for both sides – he’s going after the families of all the names on the list (thinking it’s got to be a surviving family member of someone he had killed that’s blackmailing him) and also trying to kill the old man. But the old man isn’t going to go down without a fight. He’s had twenty years to think about all the things he did wrong, all the people he killed. And maybe it’s because he’s old now, possibly dying, but he’s going to make up for it, even if that means only protecting one kid – the kid of a cop he killed during his last job for the mob.
I know I’ve seen Ed Brisson’s name on books before, but prior to this, I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything by him. And The Last Contract was one hell of a starting place. This book was intense. Right from the start it goes full-speed and never stops for even a second along the way. Like any good noir story, the writing here is sharp and hard and dripping with sweat, blood, and bullets. The old man is a great character, and he’s harder and more of an asshole than just about anyone I’ve seen recently in any medium.
The revenge/hitman story is not a new or wholly original thing. But I don’t think that matters. I think there are always going to be stories and storylines that we return to. That’s just the way it is. Everything is like something that came before it. But what matters, what changes stories, what allows them to work or fail, is what you do with them. Brisson took a story that’s been done before and made it its own thing. I think it’s the tension that carries this story and gives it a name of its own. This book is full of tension, packed onto every page. You get it from the old man’s side, from Dillion, from Burrell, and Sharon. Shit, you even get it from Harv (because if the old man doesn’t let him out frequently throughout the day, the old dog will piss on everything).
I’m a fan of Lisandro Estherren’s art. I’ve recently been enjoying it in the pages of Redneck. The art here is sloppy and chaotic. I say that it’s sloppy but I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think it fits the story perfectly, especially in the more action-y scenes of gunfights. If I had to categorize his style, I would call it dirty. Or maybe gritty. And I think it echoes the overall themes present in this book. Each page is packed to the brim. There is very little open/empty space in these pages. They are panel-heavy and the art or dialogue will occasionally cross the panel lines. Combine all of this with Niko Guardia’s colors that give The Last Contract its final noir touches. The book is dark and heavily shadowed. Full of deep blacks and nighttime blues. And even scenes that take place in the daytime are washed out and dirty feeling. It’s a theme that’s carries through every aspect of this book.
This book is perfect for fans of noir and fast-paced, action-y stories. I had never read Ed Brisson before, but after reading The Last Contract I will definitely seek out more of his stuff. This is a story with enough heart and danger and some of the toughest tough guys around. I am really surprised that I never got into this book sooner, considering it checks off just about every single box on my list of perfect crime stories. I love a book full of flawed characters carting around their own baggage.
The Last Contract