I was actually only planning on reading the first issue of The Brothers James, the pulpy crime comic from Ryan Ferrier’s self-published imprint, Challenger Comics. But after breezing through the first issue, I felt like I had to keep on reading.
A revenge story in the vein of 70s exploitation cinema, The Brothers James is the story of two twin brothers who, as children, watched a motorcycle gang violently murder their parents. Now a pair of vengeful adults, sullen, introspective John and cocksure, tempremental Jack are on a roadtrip around America in their beaten-down Challenger, hunting down the members of that motorcycle gang – now old and scattered – and killing them one by one. It’s a simple enough plot, only further complicated by the introduction of a sheriff involved in investigating the original case of their parents’ murder being on their tale, but it’s executed well. It’s the unusual quirks in the interactions that go beyond the broad strokes – like the owner of a diner admonishing them for their violent acts even after they’ve saved his life, or one of the retired killers’ pragmatic, accepting approach to their own demise – that give Ferrier’s narrative that added punch, and make this comic all the more compelling.
If there’s a flaw in the storytelling, I’d say it’s that the narration doesn’t entirely work. In the first issue in particular, there seems to be a clash in authorial voices at play. One voice is cold and clinical, categorising the monstrous crimes of the antagonists (and protagonists) and the acts of brutality committed with forensic detachment. This one works very well. But intercut with this, using the same style of caption boxes so there’s nothing to differentiate it, there is also this more conversational style, written with a kind of Southern drawl to it, commenting on the actions of the James brothers as if they were people he knew and he was telling a story about them round the campfire. This clash between omniscient narrator and what reads like character voiceover took me out of the story a couple of times. I just don’t think the chatty voiceover was really necessary, or added anything to the story. In recreating the stark, desolate atmosphere of those gritty 70s thrillers, perhaps some meaningful silences would have gone a long way.
But to be fair, that’s nitpicky stuff. Overall, for this being the first thing of his I’ve read, Ryan Ferrier impressed me as a writer here. I’d be keen to go check out his other, more well-known comic, Tiger Lawyer, based on this.
Visually speaking, I was somewhat torn. I was pleased to see art duties on issue #1 being handled by Michael Walsh, who has just recently come onto my radar with his stylish work in Image cult hit Comeback. He has this great, minimalist, hard-boiled style that puts me in mind of Sean Phillips’ work on Criminal, or Michal Lark’s approach to Gotham Central. It makes for a great match for Ferrier’s story, bringing this harsh, noir-tinged world to life. In short, Walsh makes The Brothers James his own.
It’s a shame, then, that he doesn’t come back for issue #2, perhaps due to being in demand after the aforementioned Comeback. He does the cover, but the interiors are done by Brian Level, and it’s not the same. I’m not suggesting Brian Level is a bad artist at all. He’s a capable artist, with a style that evokes 70s-era Batman or certain British comics of the time. But it’s undeniably different from Walsh’s. If Level had been drawing the book from the start, I doubt it would have been an issue, but once I’d had a chance to really connect with Walsh’s depiction of these characters seeing them then handled in a different style was unfortunately quite jarring.
But overall, The Brothers James is hard-hitting, gritty fun, and best of all, by the end of the second issue it feels like things are just starting to get going. I imagine this is a series that will go from strength to strength as it drives towards its bloody conclusion.
The Brothers James #1 is now available to buy from the Challenger Comics website, with #2 coming soon!