Writer James Robinson and artist Tom Feister continue their romantic crime series with Grand Passion #2, and like the previous issue the creative team has surprising success mixing a grandiose vision of love with a hard-boiled crime thriller. If anything, Robinson and Feister go even further in mashing the two aspects together, tinging the romance with a grittier and more explicit tone that keeps the star-crossed lovers side from adding too much honey to the gritty crime story. Indeed, the issue advances the hard-boiled narrative effectively, developing the intrigue hinted at in issue one.
The story opens much as the first issue did, with a scene of sexuality, albeit with a notable element now missing. I’m no prude, but I was initially kind of shocked at the explicit nature of the scene that opens the issue, but I actually think the issue needed this touch of no-nonsense and unvarnished sex, to remind us that we’re not dealing with a story that is about blushing naifs and damsels fair. This is a crime story, about crooks and cops and stolen money and corruption and vice. As such, even a story about grand passion will, in this setting, not pull any punches, even as the scene demonstrates Mabel’s commitment to a code that has its own strictures.
Robinson and Feister are still telling a crime story, and while the love angle is never forgotten, most of the plot of the issue revolves around cops and robbers. As Mabel deals with the fallout from last issue’s robbery and her commitment to avenging the death of her partner, no matter who killed him, Doc finds the sheriff’s response to a dead deputy strangely lackadaisical and the investigation of the robbery a shockingly low priority.
If there’s a problem to the issue I’d say it’s in Doc’s storyline, which shows him as being kind of slow on the uptake when it comes to the facts of the robbery. He’s obviously stumbled onto a conspiracy that his cohorts in the department don’t want to have anything to do with, and he’s clearly suspicious, but he doesn’t seem to be able to put two and two together. Of course, it’s possible that this isn’t a structural problem but rather an indication of a flaw in the character. There’s aren’t many noir stories that would exist in literature, movies or comics if the main character wasn’t, in the parlance of the genre, a sap. Is Doc a sap? That’s totally possible, and if so, in keeping with many heroes of crime stories. But if he’s not supposed to be a sap, not sure why he doesn’t see what’s coming his way. At this point, I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be intentional or not.
The conspiracy being unveiled is also pretty obviously going to be the one that will unite Mabel and Doc onto the same side, as nothing buries conflict between two people quicker than a larger, more deadly conflict hot on their heels. While this set up may be obvious, that doesn’t make it a bad thing, as it’s not much of a love story if the two lovers can’t be in the same room together.
But the pleasures of Grand Passion #2 come more from the moody art, captivating characterization (Mabel in particular, who we really get to know here), and Robinson’s trademark unconventional dialogue style. I personally like his way with dialogue, even though it is definitely stylized. But I think, as a genre, both hard-boiled crime thrillers and grand romance each are more comfortable with heightened dialogue that reflects a tone and style more than a realistic re-creation of natural speech. So, in this way, I found that Robinson’s style clicked very well, and added to the story rather than distracted, as it might be more wont to do in a big super-hero story.
Feister’s art continues to impress. He doesn’t fall all over himself to communicate a noir atmosphere, but there’s plenty of mood and style to his art. He moves between the two narratives really well, cross-cutting between settings in a clear and confident way that aids the script in keeping the storyline clear and moving with a great pace. The result is an issue where the script leads you along two separate narratives that dovetail nicely, and the art never telegraphs things in an obvious way. He handles the action scenes really well, keeping them grounded in a reality while not sacrificing a kinetic sense of drama. And in the scenes where he needs some noir touches, he provides them, but nothing’s just dark and shadowy for style’s sake, it’s all motivated by real-world conditions or to accentuate intense emotional moments. Either way, the style is motivated by something rather than just “looking cool.”
I really enjoyed Grand Passion #2, and even if there hasn’t been any narrative surprises for me so far, the approach of Robinson and Feister (along with some great color work by David Curriel that ties everything together and gives scenes that extra pop and solid lettering by Simon Bowland that helps to accentuate the rhythm of Robinson’s dialogue) has resulted in a series that so far feels different than a lot of crime comics in its touches of earnest romance. That mix of bullets and valentines makes the book enjoyable and fresh. 8/10
Grand Passion #2 will be released on Dec. 12, 2016.