It took me a while to appreciate Robert Kirkman’s work because it took me a while to look beyond his work for Marvel. I wasn’t a fan of it and I think, at that time, I subconsciously put his name on my “don’t bother” list. It was only after recommendations from friends that I gave Kirkman’s independent work a chance with The Walking Dead and Invincible and that’s when I realized that Kirkman is one of those writers who needs to create his own worlds because Kirkman’s strength is developing his own characters, putting those characters through their own paces and seeing what becomes of them. He’s never afraid to do things an established company wouldn’t let him do…turn a hero evil, kill off a major character, eliminate villains and never bring them back, or end a series while soliciting for future never-released issues just so the audience won’t know it’s over.
He’s also unafraid of throwing ideas or gimmicks out there to see if they stick. In that spirit, he took over Top Cow’s Pilot Season for a year, writing all five of the offerings when there usually were different creative teams releasing single issues. Four of the concepts (Demonic, Stealth, Stellar, and Hardcore) eventually won their own series, although none by Kirkman, The one that didn’t was this issue: Murderer, which just happens to have the smallest of Spider-Man references, giving me an excuse to review it.
It certainly has a provocative cover. Our main character, Jason, faces us, holding his jacket open. He has a gun tucked in his belt and the inside of his jacket is filled with saws and sais and hunting knives. He wears a t-shirt (that does not appear in the story), that says, “If you are reading this, it means you are a bad person and about to die.” The art is by Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri and it has that lean, small facial-featured X-Men and Witchblade look that he established.
The art inside, though, is by Nelson Blake II, about whom I know very little except that he appears to have recently penciled Ms. Marvel and a Luke Cage series. I like his artwork here. It is a gritty story and he gives us lots of expressions of despair, anger, hopelessness, resignation, and apathy with his characters. The depicted murder is four panels of the victim’s face going from rage and fight to emptiness and death. Not that I want to get too far ahead of things here. The colors by Dave McCaig are mostly dull greens and browns but lit in ways that make things seem more bright than dark.
Now, what about Kirkman’s story?
It begins with a voiceover that clearly does not belong to the character depicted in the panels. As a young man gets out of bed and gets dressed, the voiceover tells us, “Can’t afford the rent this month. If that grandson of mine was worth a damn, maybe he could help out. Probably on drugs. Works every day. Never has any money.” As the voiceover says, “Why did his parents have to die?” and “Why couldn’t it have been Jason who…” the young man comes into the kitchen to greet his “Nana” and we realize that he is Jason and we’ve been eavesdropping on her thoughts. When they converse, Nana is friendly and offers him breakfast; a stark contrast to what she’s thinking.
Jason heads to the subway station and we again are presented with voiceovers, this time of people waiting for the train. (And there’s a kid in the crowd with the Spider-Man symbol on his backpack which is the excuse I am using to cover this issue.) So, is this the gimmick for this story? That we’re going to hear the thoughts of everyone except Jason? In the panel after the one showing the kid with the backpack, Jason covers his ears and bolts off the train platform and we realize (if we haven’t already) that we are reading these thoughts because Jason is hearing these thoughts.
In an alley, a man accosts Jason at knifepoint, demanding his money. But Jason can hear all his thoughts and knows that the man’s wife got sick and he has lost his job, making them desperate for money to buy food and to save the house. When Jason says enough so that the man knows he is somehow tuning into his troubles, he runs off. Good thing, too, since Jason is prepared to pull a big hunting knife from a sheath hidden by the back of his coat.
Jason returns to the subway, the thoughts assaulting him from all sides. He winds up on a bench in, perhaps, Central Park, listening to all the thoughts of those who go past him. Finally, a red-haired woman wearing sunglasses draws him. She is thinking about her boyfriend who has beaten her and given her a black eye. “He was supposed to be gone until this afternoon,” she thinks, “Why did he come back early?...He’s going to do it this time. He really is. Why am I going back? What is wrong with me? I’m going to get my stuff and I’m going to leave. I’m going to leave him. Why am I doing this? I know he’s going to be pissed that I stayed out all night. God damn it. I love him. What is wrong with me?”
Jason follows the woman to her apartment building, joins her in the elevator and gets off with her on her floor. He (and we) listens to her thoughts; her fear that “David” will kill her. When she gets to the apartment door, we start to pick up David’s thoughts, too. “Carry her out in pieces. Do it in the bathtub. She deserves this.”
The woman has entered the apartment but the thoughts linger behind. Jason knocks on the door and a belligerent David answers. “Who the hell are you?” he says and Jason responds by punching him in the mouth with brass knuckles. A tooth goes flying and David falls to the floor. The woman (whom we soon learn is named Rebecca) screams but Jason turns to her and says, “He hurts you. He will kill you. I’m here to stop him.” And after a moment, Rebecca says “Do it.”
At first, David tries to apologize to Rebecca but then he decides that Jason is her lover and he threatens to kill them both. Instead, Jason pulls out a taser and incapacitates him. Then, he bends over him and strangles him. We get three wide panels illustrating David’s life passing before his eyes, then (as we turn the page), nothing; David’s dead stunned face with tears streaming out the sides of his eyes, followed by another silent panel of Jason looking down at him.
Jason, then, turns to Rebecca and tells her, “My hands left impressions on his neck that can be photographed and measured. This won’t match up with your hands. He’s not drugged. They won’t think you would be able to overpower him. My hair and fibers are scattered across the room. At first, they will at least suspect that you paid me to murder him. They will find no phone, email or bank records to indicate this…and you will eventually be cleared. Just keep your story consistent. Tell them the truth. A stranger followed you home and killed him. You don’t know why. The truth.” But then she asks him why and he tells her. “I murdered him because he was going to murder you.” And we finally get our exposition on Jason. “I know things…about people. But the knowing has sort of wrecked my life. …I get it from everyone all at once. I can’t control it…Killing…focusing on a person’s thoughts as they fade out into death…turns it off. Gives me a few hours of peace.”
Rebecca takes Jason over to a safe and explains, “David has a lot of money...Used to say to myself ‘this bracelet cost one black eye’ or ‘these shoes were three broken ribs.’ His beatings were a tax I paid to live life like I had. I always wanted to ask him if he beat his wife like he beat me.” So, Rebecca wasn’t David’s wife. Somehow, I missed that.
She hands him a duffel bag that she takes from the safe telling him that she’ll tell the cops “you made me open the safe.” Then she tells him, “My name is Rebecca.” And “Thank you.”
Jason takes the bag to the home of the man who tried to rob him earlier. He knocks on the door and leaves it on the doorstep for the man to find. There is a lot of cash in that bag but he does pull out some hundreds that he leaves on the kitchen table for his grandmother with the note “For Rent.” And while Nana sleeps, Jason sits on his bed and says to himself, “Her name is Rebecca.”
So, after living a life of distance, Jason looks like he may try to connect with Rebecca. He has already blurted out, “You’re very pretty” after killing David and she didn’t flinch. Instead, she gave him a bag of money. So, it’s possible that she would be willing to see him again but then what? If Jason has to keep killing to find any peace, can Rebecca accept that? Will guilt start to creep in for telling Jason to “do it?” Will she be able to live with herself as Jason continues to murder? Can Jason continue to murder if Rebecca can’t live with herself? And what kind of relationship can Jason have if he is besieged by other people’s thoughts at any moment? There’s a lot of questions to be answered over subsequent issues. Only there aren’t any subsequent issues. And that may be okay. It’s an intriguing concept but I don’t see it as something that could be sustained over the long term. Except this is the guy who got 193 compelling issues out of a zombie book.
In an afterward, Kirkman writes, “To begin with it was just a title. That was the initial idea. I don’t recall anyone ever doing a comic with that title-and it’s a cool title...Then I started thinking…there’s got to be something to this guy. A reason for the murdering…something to make him a compelling character that we the reader would want to know more about…We read these comic books and we think about how awesome it would be to have amazing powers just like the heroes…but what if it wasn’t awesome? What if it was horrible?...What kind of person would this man become from living like this? If he had these powers for a long time before we met him in the story, what kind of person would he have grown into as a result?”
It’s an intriguing concept but how far did Kirkman dive in? Did he have more issues in mind or did he stop at “what kind of person?” It’s not a new concept, this “telepath who is overwhelmed by others’ thoughts” but the “I need to murder to get some measure of peace” angle seems fresh. And it’s not Kirkman’s best concept but It would have been nice to see what he did with it.
In the end, I’m right on the fence with this one. It interests me enough to want an issue #2 but I’m happy to leave it at “Her name is Rebecca.” It has some riveting sequences, like David’s life flashing by before he becomes nothing. But it also feels strangely bloodless in spite of all the blood.
I’m going to stay on the fence and give it three webs.