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Die Hard: Year One #1
writer: Howard Chaykin
artist: Stephen Thompson

It's summer in New York City, tourists are gathering for the bicentennial, and though everybody has started saying "I Heart New York," this isn't the lovable metropolis it became. Somewhere on the streets, a young comics professional named Howard Chaykin wanders around, a few months from getting the assignment to adapt a little sci-fi movie called Star Wars to comics. He understands the heat, he understands the grit - and he understands that someday in the U.S., we'll see comics as something for adults.

Chaykin doesn't put himself into the story here, but the atmosphere of 1976 NYC is something he knows well. The other thing he knows well, though he often has put a sci fi spin on it in his work, is crime. The gritty street crime that they used to make policiers about, back in the day when people used words like policier.

For a good crime story, it helps to have one good cop, and Chaykin has one of the best in modern culture, John McClane. You know, he's that guy. And maybe this is the story of how he became that guy, narrating with a world-weariness that can only come from a character looking back after decades of being ruined by ill-thought out sequels. After all, if the charm of Die Hard was how human McClane was, there's no better way to explore that humanity and that decency then to go back to his days as a beat cop.

Both Chaykin's and McClane's affection for those days come through in the narration, though this first issue spends much more time setting up the conflict for this arc. A variety of characters get introduced, one of whom will be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as some sort of real estate scam gets set up at the same time as a bank heist. All of it seems to be converging on a parade route with a familiar face doing crowd control.

The details will sort out as the story progresses, and it all seems a bit earthier and not as larger than life than the films. But that seems only right here. Chaykin's setting up a good crime drama the way they used to be; if McClane is nostalgic for a dirtier New York City, so are we for a good plot with urgency that doesn't require huge set pieces, just a lot of actual thought.

The writer's also working a little outside of his wheelhouse - so far, this doesn't have his almost trademark sexuality imbuing it. There's still corruption, but Chaykin is also presenting some innocence and an innocent or two.

He's also got an able artistic partner in Stephen Thompson, whose work recalls seventies artists like Ernie Chan and Tony DeZuniga while still having a modern feel. It's not particularly flashy, but it's solid, and Thompson manages the tricky task of capturing a Bruce Willis younger than we could ever have remembered. The streets as drawn by Thompson feel sweaty and grimy, and he's already captured his unlikely hero.

If you're a fan of Die Hard, this is a solid backstory. If you're not a fan, you should check it out anyway. You might be surprised to discover a good cop story about real people that treats the reader with intelligence. Hey, we've got an actual comic for grown-ups without it being pandering.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think!

Derek McCaw


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