To help launch the new official "Vertigo
Crime" imprint, the powers that be at DC Comics turn to
a man who knows crime fiction better than almost anyone
else working in comics - Brian Azzarello. He knows the darkness
that gnaws at the hearts of losers. He knows what it's like
to catch a bad break and use it to keep spiraling further
and further down. Forget the Shadow (for a moment - Azzarello
will get around to writing him); Azzarello knows what evil
lurks in the hearts of men.
With Filthy Rich, Azzarello teams
with Spanish artist Victor Santos to bring us Rich Junkin,
a former All-American football player who caught that bad
break, but only after sniffing around the darkness anyway.
Now he's a car salesman in the early 1960's, with all the
veneer of respectability you might think that gives him.
A desperate man, and none too bright, Rich
is, of course, perfectly set up to get caught up in something
he only thinks he understands. Mix in bright lights, big
city and a couple of swell dames, and you've got a recipe
So there's a few clichés in there. Azzarello
knows how to make it complex and dirty, and working in this
genre he's not so much relaxed as just clearly in his element.
In the center, Junkin lives and breathes, obviously making
bad choices and giving in to violent urges just when he
absolutely shouldn't. You can't agree with them; you might
not make them if you were in his shoes, but you can see
how those shoes fit him.
The story does have a couple of swerves
to it, but you may not come to this sort of thing for the
pathway. It's the atmosphere. You can almost hear an Esquivel
song sliding into mournful jazz, congas giving way to breaking
glass. Blinding bright lights keep trying to shine in the
darkness, but no go.
Of course, that's also because of the collaboration
with Santos. Suited well to working in black and white,
he has strong line work, though occasionally his grasp on
characters is a little more fluid than it could be. For
the most part, Santos uses contrasts very well; it just
may be hard to work in the shadow of Eduardo Risso, Azzarello's
last (and best) artistic collaborator.
The version I read of this was a galley
trade paperback, and that makes me pull back a little bit
on recommending this whole-heartedly. While it's good pulp,
I'm not sure that a $19.95 hardback is a justifiable format.
Filthy Rich feels like a great discovery in a cheap
paperback; a lurid cover (here by the great Lee Bermejo)
and muscular writing like this should be an inexpensive
pleasure, a small paperback to carry with you and read on
the bus or the train, to get lost in the glitz and the sleaze.