[10 May 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
It was the crest of the wave for industry buzz this last Friday. Just on the eve of Free Comic Book Day, Radical Studios announced a partnership with IM Global to produce the film version of their critically acclaimed Last Days of American Crime, the high-end crime thriller written by Rick Remender and illustrated by Greg Tocchini.
The idea was complex, but communicated simply and clearly. The book was always too easy to read. And it happens at the intersection of what we can only hope is a sci-fi nightmare that will never come true.
Arc one of the setup is that Congress has voted to end hard currency. No more money. No more physical money at least. Instead every private citizen gets an e-card and get ‘e-minting’ machines to encode these cards, and allow the Fed to control the flow of money in a cashless society.
The second arc of the setup is the really scary one. Congress has voted to hack our brains. You, me and everyone you know. At midnight one week from now, someone most likely in the DoE, will flip a switch and a signal will start its broadcast. And all citizens will be unable to knowingly commit a crime. Everything from murder to jaywalking is off the cards.
And here’s the kicker. Graham Bricke, plans what will be the last heist in American history, to take place on the last night it possibly can—30 minutes before the signal starts up.
The whole of the book plays out in the last two weeks leading up to the last heist in history. It’s Graham navigating old antagonisms, avoiding old friends, managing the psychopathic Kevin who he’s partnered with, and both holding off and being drawn to the sexy and dangerous Shelby.
But that’s just what happens, that’s not the stuff of it. The stuff of it, what the story’s really about is Remender’s thoroughgoing meditation (through Graham) on the nature and the causes of crime. All thrown up against a backdrop of high-frequency, fast-paced action. Think the runaway smash-hit pulse of Fast Five colliding with the psychological intensity of the Saw series, and you’d get close. But Remender would still have a few aces in the hole.
Think of the almost-confessional tone of the conversation between Graham and his barkeep buddy. The way the ‘camera’ swings in and out from long- to medium-shot. You get the feeling of having surrounded Graham and the Barkeep, even in an open park. And then there’s that line. “Everybody’s a high-functioning something.” That one line. You can hang a whole story around that one line, but Remender has scores of those throughout the book.
Think of that scene and then play it back against the frenetic pacing of the driving-and-shooting showdown, where Graham has to rescue Shelby from gangbangers who’ve kidnapped her. Tocchini’s shifting back and forth from small, personal close-ups where Graham struggles while driving or loading or shooting, to the wide expansive vistas on the cars colliding or veering off…
The Last Days of American Crime begins shooting this Fall, and it’s already a runaway hit. Not because its got Sam Worthington (of Avatar and Clash of the Titans fame) locked in the role of Graham Bricke. Not because it’s Worthington’s Full Clip Productions that’s teaming with Radical and IM Global. Not because The Italian Job’s F. Gary Gray is attached to direct. These are all amazing feats and show the depth of dedication and commitment from the team at Radical to getting this project greenlit.
But The Last Days of American Crime is already a runaway success because it isn’t Watchmen or 300 or Sin City or Kick Ass.
In his book Graphic Storytelling Will Eisner, comics giant, industry innovator and inventor of the graphic novel format, suggested that comics both as medium (a story told through image-gap-image, sometimes with words) and as format (the daily strips that appeared in newspapers) was the perfect mirror for human life. Comics never resolved their storylines fully, just like real life always left something over for the next day.
The Last Days of American Crime has already succeeded because it isn’t Watchmen or 300 or Sin City. For those movies, the draw card was their otherness. Coming from the strange and isolated medium of comics, those movies necessarily appeared as artistically rendered.
But The Last Days of American Crime is different. Like Eisner wished for, it comes to us as something we can recognize from our own lives. It comes to us as the ordinary, as the mainstream, as the popular. And that’s something comics just hasn’t been in the last 50 years.