Review - Hard Place #1 (@imagecomics)

"Wake up, Gurney. It's time."

A good wheelman makes any crime that much easier to commit. Sometimes being a wheelman isn't all it's cracked up to be and there's a desire for a change of scenery. In Hard Place #1 from Image Comics, that change of scenery changes back real quick. The issue is written by Doug Wagner, illustrated by Nic Rummel, colored by Charlie Kirchoff and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic.

After five years in prison, AJ Gurney, a legendary wheelman in Detroit, has decided it’s time to go straight. He returns home to work in his father’s garage and disappear into anonymity. But during a visit to the bank, AJ is recognized by two violent bank robbers, and they demand AJ be their getaway driver. To ensure his compliance, they take a young female hostage; unfortunately, she happens to be the daughter of a Russian crime lord. AJ now finds himself pursued by a bitter police department and hunted by every asset of the Russian mob. Without a doubt, he’s in a very hard place.

Wagner immediately sets the tone of Hard Place #1 with the opening page that shows a devastating car crash as a means of establishing AJ Gurney's current state of things. From there, Wagner's narrative is very methodical as it follows Gurney as he moves through his old life, struggling to get it back on track. Wagner does an exceptional job of presenting Gurney as contrite about his past choices, which lends the ending of the issue even more emotional heft. The dialogue throughout the issue is very sound and Wagner writes enough where the reader feels informed without clubbing them over the head with facts. And the characters introduced throughout are intriguing as Wagner provides plenty of common threads to tie them all together.

Rummel's artwork is quite astonishing in its simplicity. He relies on chunky, black lines for characters and settings to make them seem imposing in their own ways. This is further accented by Rummel's decision to blacken the gutters which really allows the book to visually sink in on itself and provide literal depth for the characters. The shots of the car crash are done in a way that provides maximum impact as Rummel impresses upon the reader the foolishness of youth. Kirchoff's colors are the perfect finish for the artwork in that characters contrast well with both one another and their surroundings.

Hard Place #1 is a book that definitely lives up to its title. AJ Gurney is determined to travel the straight and narrow, but the problem with being part of any world is that it's hard to completely escape that world. Wagner's script is superb and effectively characterizes Gurney as a man on the mental mend confronting demons of his past. Rummel's artwork is the right kind of edgy and sharpens the message intended by the plot. Hard Place #1 is a great, all-around first issue that should definitely be checked out.

Hard Place #1 is available now.