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Gangsters Before The Golden Gate
Advance Review: Caper #1

Caper #1
writer: Judd Winick
artist: Farel Dalrymple

Comics can be used to tell all kinds of stories. To any fan of the medium, that's really not news. You can't throw a rock at a convention and not hit a fan arguing that comics are more than just superheroes. Everybody must get stoned indeed.

But most popular writers of superhero books get pigeonholed as such, a factor that limits the acceptance of moving outside of capes and cowls while staying in the mainstream. Occasionally, writers will dabble in other genres, with only hardcore fans willing to indulge their reach. One poised to break into wider acceptance is Judd Winick. In his relatively short career (but aren't most, right now?), Winick has made a name for himself comfortably writing a bunch of medium-profile superhero books.

It's easy to forget the chameleon that Winick is. From Real Worlder to comic strip artist to humorist, Winick was definitely an unknown quantity when Bob Schreck asked him to take on Green Lantern. Sure, he showed a flair for engaging and moving storytelling with Pedro and Me, but that was also heavily drawn from real life. That he was so good at superheroes took fandom by storm, and there he has pretty much remained for the last couple of years.

Though he pushed at his new boundaries a little with the Vertigo series Blood and Water, it was still about vampires fighting a great menace to humanity - hence, it could be argued, a spooky superhero book.

Through all of his work, he has been an edgy and hip writer, sometimes relying on his facile wit to cover up weaknesses in characterization. Write what you know.

And now comes Caper.

This could be the book that lifts Winick to a higher level of recognition as a writer. Set in unfamiliar territory for his fan base, it's an early twentieth century crime sage. A few elements still reflect familiar Winick elements. Like Blood and Water, it takes place in San Francisco, his adopted home city. The protagonists, Izzy and Jacob Weiss, have what would have been called smart mouths, as do the rest of Winick's heroes.

Caper feels very different. The Weiss brothers have real history, not character details to be filled in as the series progresses. Enforcers for the San Francisco Jewish "mafia," the brothers are caught up in a life that makes at least one of them uncomfortable. But they're good at it, and it's all they know.

It's almost unfair to review this based on a single issue. Intended as a 12-issue maxiseries, the entanglements playing out here are only barely set in motion. Instead, Winick shades the story with little details building the Weiss' world. Even the dialogue, though snarky, remains true to the period.

Much of that detail comes from Dalrymple's art. A bit scratchy but packed with line work reminiscent of the time period it represents, it's easy to follow and easy to give in to the mood. This is a story of ordinary people perhaps pushed into dangerous lives, and Dalrymple never pushes us out of the realm of believability.

On the whole, the book deals with an historical subculture not too often given the spotlight, so you might even learn something. The mark of good writing, however, is not so much its educational value as your ability to identify, and Winick has accomplished that so far.

According to both the advance copy and DC's website, this book appears under the regular DC imprint, not Vertigo. It could be a bold move, but more, it's a healthy sign that the company is willing to take risks and put their weight behind more experimental books. If you're one of those who believes comics should be about more than tights, put your money where your mouth is, and take a look at Caper.


Derek McCaw

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