It’s been a long time coming for Grand Passion #1. The series, written by Eisner-winner James Robinson with art from Tom Feister, was first announced back in 2013. Now Dynamite is about to finally release the first issue of the series, a mixture of hard-boiled crime, Robinson’s distinctive prose style, and unabashed romance. the question is, does this mixture come together into a heady brew, or a murky mess?
The answer is that it’s far more of a success, albeit one that may not appeal to everyone. Part of what makes Robinson and Feister’s attempt to tell a big sweeping romance work is that they meld that with a crime story. Ever since Bonnie met Clyde and the Postman Rang Twice crime and noir stories have always been at ease with injecting melodramatic romance as a central component of their makeup. Passion has been responsible for just as many crimes as poetry, after all, so the idea of large and almost unrealistic loves springing from hard-boiled noir feels as natural as can be. Also, the violent and thrilling aspects of crime mitigate the mushy sentimentality that can otherwise mar more straightforward romance tales. So all of that is in the plus column.
Robinson also knows very well that the thrill of committing or preventing a crime can be not unlike the thrill you get when falling in love, the danger of lives at risk often inspiring the passions in more ways than one. The narrative of Grand Passion #1 is split between following the criminal and romantic partnership between Mabel and Steve, bank robbers extraordinaire, and Mac, lonely new sheriff’s deputy in a close knit small town department. Mabel and Mac are about to come into contact with one another in an explosive way, creating a love triangle that is a pretty good definition of “star-crossed lovers.”
The aspect of the issue that may be a bit off-putting to some readers has to do with the Robinson’s slightly stylized dialogue. I like Robinson, always have, but there are times when his penchant for crafting a slightly heightened or unusual way of speaking can come off as stilted or just plain unbelievable. Using a stylized form of dialogue is incredibly tricky, as it can suck the reader right out of the story. Even the great practitioners (Joss Whedon, David Mamet, Aaron Sorkin, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Brian Michael Bendis) occasionally go too far and wind up not with characters saying real things in interesting ways, but instead characters saying things in ways no human being would ever, ever, say them. Why it works when it works is hard to define, but when it doesn’t it really doesn’t. I think Robinson’s style mostly works here, his slightly odd sentence structure making the characters feel real. I did think he occasionally overdid the folksy aspect of the small town people, coming awfully close to Mayberry-esque caricature. However, I’ll admit that your reaction to this will largely be a matter of taste.
The art by Feister is great though. He keeps things extremely grounded in a real-world feel, but doesn’t abandon a sense of style that makes the issue move along well. He does a great job using repetitive layout structure to draw parallels between the two main characters. A few repeated panels of a disinterested and lost Mac are echoed in the next scene with a similar layout of Mabel. He does a lot with small quiet character moments that get you inside a character’s head without doing a lot. But his subtle work is matched by his handling of the climatic action scene of the issue, which spirals out of control quickly and with great impact and violence. It’s a really cinematic sequence that is done well enough for you to imagine the sounds of gunfire and the burning smell of smoke. It’s a nicely constructed issue.
All in all, Grand Passion #1 is an effective opening that sets the stage for the outsized emotions and gripping crime thrills we’re going to hopefully get from the series. If you’re a fan of movies like “True Romance” or “The Getaway,” you’ll have no trouble embracing the heightened passions and hard-boiled action of Grand Passion #1.8.5/10
Grand Passion #1 will be released on Nov. 16, 2016