On a first impression basis, the production value of this graphic novel is top class. Presented in a beautiful hardback edition with powerful cover art and black and white interior art, it was already off to a running start before I began reading. It looks to be the standard format for the series, and I look forward to filling a shelf on my bookcase with these lovely tomes.
How’d the inside fare, though? Well, I found Azzarello’s writing style a perfect match for the story’s tone. Terse and fast-paced, it put me in mind of Ken Bruen’s work. I could imagine Azzarello rattling out his words while he battled a hangover in a dark room that smelt of coffee and stale cigarette smoke. Now, for all I know, Mister Azzarello is a fine example of clean living, but the voice seemed to belong to a writer entrenched in vice. Although it takes a little while to build up to the real nitty-gritty in terms of violence, there’s always the threat of it present in the protagonist’s bearing. And as protagonists go, Rich ‘Junk’ Junkin is up there with the best of anti-heroes. His motivations? Sex and money, probably in that order. And when you learn a little about the women pulling his strings in this story, you might find you can sympathise with him.
The artwork also suited the mood. Stark black and white that assaulted the eye from each panel. There was a scruffy, dreamlike quality to a lot of the pages, and Santos is great at portraying the ugliness and frenzy of violence in his illustrations. My only criticism is that the lack of softer shading wasn’t always easy on my vision, and I wonder if the smaller page format contributed to my discomfort. But all in all, the match between writer and artist was one made in heaven.
I’d urge crime fiction fans to keep a close watch on the Vertigo Crime series. The next graphic novel on my reading list is Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell’Edera, and on an initial sneak-peak, the quality is as high as that of the debut offering. And with heavy-hitter Jason Starr up next with The Chill (art by Mick Bertilorenzi) I wouldn’t anticipate a dip in grit and fire.
Filthy Rich is a prime example of how noir should be done. It’ll slap the smirk off your face and leave you guiltily grateful for the tough love dealt. You want unapologetic and bleak? You’ve found it.