display | more...

A few weeks ago, for my birthday, I ordered myself a gift on ebay: a box of 180 assorted, random comic books. I paid a price that averaged out to about 30 cents an issue for this package, and then anticipated what was to come. When I opened the box, I was happily surprised at the mixture of comic books awaiting me. They included the usual Marvel and DC publications, with a smattering of other comic books, from different eras. And included in that was this volume, Grifter: One Shot, a square bound volume from 1995, written by Steve Seagle, based on a character created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, developed by Wildstorm Studios and published by Image Comics.

With almost every other comic book I read, I have some background knowledge when I start to read. But with this, other than knowing about Image Comics' reputation in the mid-1990s, I knew nothing. the cover certainly looks like a mid-90s Image Comic, with a man and a woman holding guns and wearing jumpsuits posing grimly on the cover, complete with a deeply-creased trench coat and a plethora of pockets and pouches. When I opened it, I am greeted with a man at a seedy dive in Washington DC, with the first panel showing Washington, DCs skyscraper skyline (Washington, D.C., in reality, does not have skyscrapers). Our protagonist, who is the titular Grifter, is drinking in the dive because he is tailing a former spy. Someone has been killing spies, and Grifter believes his mark is being targeted. He follows him to his hotel, where the hot lady spy comes falling out, fights with Grifter, and then poisons him, and Grifter is later revived by an ex-rival Soviet Spy who wants to go find the superspy who is training ninja assassin women to assassinate other spies and...

Okay, halfway through typing that, I realized that the whole thing sounded kind of silly. More simply: this is an espionage story, with a suitably grim 90s antihero.

Comic books and espionage fiction face a similar challenge: just how outside of the realm of reality do they want to go? This is especially the case with Image, who, as mentioned, were trying for grim and gritty. We start with our spy tailing someone in a dive bar, which is a realistic spy thing to do. However, over the course of the story, we are introduced to a secret gadget lab, a dude with a cybernetic arm, a two-person jet that can manuever between buildings, and a team of acrobatic, jump-suited ninja assassins who are all hot ladies. And our protagonist, Grifter, wears a bright red and black face mask. Although it starts feeling more realistic than the comic book fare of the Big Two, by the end what we have is a superhero comic, only with a few more hints of sex, and with an amoral protagonist.

A second standard of review: as mentioned, I got this in a box of 180 comic books. As someone who was bored and looking for curiousity, I can read it, appreciate the art (which is pretty good, in context), be amused by the story, and take a few minutes to think "Well, 90s, you did try". But the cover price on this was $4.95: a pretty considerable price, in 1995. I basically paid one-tenth of the cover price to be amused at the trends of the 1990s. But I felt no particular interest in the story, which was predictable, and no particular interest in the character, who was a fairly standard grim and gritty 90s antihero. But at some point, someone paid an hours service-job paycheck to read a 10 minute story with muscular posing and explosions. If I had been carried along in the trend at the time, and bought stuff like this new, I would have been pretty disappointed in what I got for my money.