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Moonshine has easily the most compelling concept for a comic in a long time. Pitched as werewolves versus mobsters in the heyday of the bootleggers, it has everything a supernatural period crime thriller needs. It’s characters are compelling, its art is beautifully matched with its tone, and the plot kicks off with just the right amount of bang, then backs off to just the right speed to keep it interesting.
Though the premise may sound simple (and easily awesome) enough, but the world which writer Brian Azzarello has constructed is incredibly rich and detailed. He manages to convey through a series of very simple scenes the brutality and squalor of the Prohibition-era deep south. His command of pace is on full display in the first issue, as he transitions seamlessly from a wonderful teaser scene steeped in horror to the introduction of the series’ main character.
Lou Pirlo, Moonshine‘s putative protagonist, is eminently relatable, but incredibly unlikable. He’s crass, rude, and too self-assured for his own good. The juxtaposition between Pirlo’s city-slicker style and the backwoods environment in which he finds himself is utterly fascinating. His “moves” with ladies are clumsy, and his smooth talk seems to fall on deaf ears.
Pirlo is not as capable as he thinks he is, and often finds himself on the wrong end of negotiations. The fact that he’s such a loser doesn’t make him any more lovable, but does help to humanize him. He drinks, he womanizes, he gets hung over. He’s a truly terrible person, but somehow he still wins the audience over.
The failure of Pirlo’s tactfulness to serve him in any meaningful way only makes the opposing force of hillbilly moonshiner Hiram Holt more frightening. Holt is simultaneously evasive and brutally direct. His apparent simplicity masks a vicious cunning and a terrible secret. The entire premise of the story rests on that secret. The fact that the first issue leaves it unexposed only makes the story more compelling. The reader knows what Pirlo does not, something which we share with Holt.
The art of Eduardo Risso, Azzarello’s co-creator on Moonshine, is a perfect complement to the book’s audacious script. His line work is grungy and squalid, perfectly evoking the aesthetic of backwoods, Depression-era rural Virginia. The way he contrasts the environments of the brief city scenes with those set in the hill country is subtle, but incredibly effective. The elements of the city scenes are composed primarily of straight lines and angles, while the rural scenes are made of sweeping, loose curls and crooked corners. That contrast serves to wonderfully enhance the fish-out-of-water feeling surrounding Pirlo. By the same token, Holt seems a natural part of his environment. That comfortability only makes him feel more dangerous. He’s an animal in his natural habitat. Pirlo is an interloper.
Risso also handled colors on the book, and his palette selection works brilliantly. The weathered, almost sepia-tone feeling of the colors gives the pages a certain aged sensibility. The look helps to ground the book in the period in a way which even the more obvious black-and-white wouldn’t achieve.
As a debut, the first issue of Moonshine succeeds magnificently. It’s characters are unique and real, its artwork a perfect companion. It teases the twist without feeling drawn out, and the end of the issue suggests an exploration of some of the seedier elements of the Jim Crow south.
Moonshine has the sudden kick and slow burn of the back-country likker after which it’s named. Luckily, it won’t blind you like it’s namesake, because then you wouldn’t be able to see how gorgeous it is. It would have been difficult to start on a stronger note, and the rousing beginning earns the first issue a near-perfect 9/10.