Review - Ex Con #1

"When you look at a crowd like this, what do you see? The horror of unrestrained wealth? Celebrity train wrecks waiting to happen? This may be the case. But I see something else. I see their lights."

Being a good con artist means being able to read people. To anticipate their moves based on their vices. You can then use that to your advantage in dealing with them, pressing their pain points to maximize your return. Some con artists are better those readings than others. Still, some like Cody Pomeray are even better, because they can literally see the emotion in the mark in Ex Con #1 from Dynamite Entertainment. The issue is written by Duane Swierczynski, illustrated by Keith Burns, colored by Aikau Oliva and lettered by Rob Steen.

1985: L.A. con artist Cody Pomeray had a gift for looking inside a mark's soul with just a glance. But one fateful night, he targeted the wrong man -- and was sentenced to the most savage prison in California. Pomeray would have been beaten to death on his first day if not for the intervention of Barnaby Creed, the most powerful crime lord in the Southland. Fast forward to 1989. Now Pomeray's out on parole, robbed of his special ability and tasked with doing Creed "a little favor." He has no idea he's just stepped into a long con, and this time, he's the mark.

Ex-Con #1 is more or less a scam artist story, with a slight twist. That twist is Pomeray's ability to physically read people and suss out what weak point to target in his dealings with them. Swierczynski's tale lays out in a way that capitalizes on this ability to excess: setting it in the 80s. Pomeray is believable enough as a con man who gets a little unlucky at one point and the set-up for the rest of the issue (and presumably series) plays out familiar enough. Color coding the different emotions in others is also pretty clever, as it more or less let's the reader see the world through the eyes of a talented scam artist. The dialogue is rather gritty as well, reminding us that Pomeray's world isn't really all that glamorous when the truth comes out.

Burns does a great job capturing the aforementioned color-coding of emotions. Characters exhibiting whichever emotion is relevant is outlined by a halo of a specific color, which also makes it easier for the reader to keep up with who's who. It's almost like a paint-by-numbers comic book in some ways. The players involved are also illustrated in a way that accentuates the largess in the world of Ex-Con #1, as some of the earlier scenes feature a ton of partying 80s style. Burns deftly handles the transition to the less celebratory prison scenes, depicting a world that feels darker and more restrictive (and rightfully so). Panels are presented in a way that also makes the book feel like it's a movie playing, with each scene carrying the action another step.

Ex Con #1 is a pretty gritty but interesting story about a con man and his unique ability. That ability makes things interesting for Pomeray, until of course he gets it taken away. Swierczynski offers dialogue that evokes the right level of grime in the world of cons and scams, ensuring that the reader knows this book isn't really for kids. Burns' style is a good match for the story as well, presenting Pomeray's world both before and after his powers and largesse decline, offering a glimpse at the fast times of such a world. Ex Con #1 is a pretty interesting first issue that could definitely up the stakes as it progresses and watching Pomeray do his "job" without his unique gifts should be fun.

Ex Con #1 is in stores September 3 with interiors below.