When’s the last time you remember a good car chase in a comic book? Or any car chase, for that matter?
I don’t mean simply mean car accidents or strong, super-powered characters throwing them or being thrown into them. I mean real, extended car chases like the ones we see in movies.
Well, towards the middle of Dead Body Road we are treated to perhaps the best car chase sequence that I can remember seeing in a comic (though granted it’s been a very long time since I’ve resumed reading comics regularly).
Dead Body Road (which joins the body of crime stories with three-word titles like Red Rock West and One False Move) is a simple revenge tale with little pretension, derived from countless revenge movies and books that writer Justin Jordan must have consumed over the years.
Certainly, we’ve been to this rodeo many times: there’s theft, murder, betrayal, retribution and wise-cracking thugs with silver tongues. The story and events are so familiar that you could read this comic while half-asleep and still follow along. Even the hero is like an amalgam of every dark-haired, grizzly-jawed revenge story anti-hero you know: Max Payne, Mad Max (the first movie), Porter (from Payback), Frank Castle (Punisher) et al.
But still, it’s all so much fun.
Good revenge tales never really get old because there’s a deep-seated need in the human psyche to see greedy, evil men who do horrible things get their due. And the catalyzing events that usually push the avenging hero into action are things that we all fear and can identify with. And from the very first panels, Justin Jordan and artist Matteo Scalera waste no time in establishing the motivation. From there it’s a matter of how well this familiar train of events is executed and it is indeed executed well (with many executions!).
In each of the six issues that make up this trade paperback edition, Jordan writes an afterward that’s equally enjoyable to read. In one of them he cites Elmore Leonard as a primary influence, and although I have not read a single Leonard novel I’ve seen enough film and TV adaptations of his work to have a sense for the Leonard worldview and aesthetic. One of his defining traits are compelling characters, though the villains and the ambivalent characters are usually more interesting, and that trait can be seen in Dead Body Road as well. The characters here are simply variations of stock archetypes we’ve seen many times before, yet they are so well drawn, both figuratively and literally, that you can almost hear them when they speak.
Matteo Scalera is an ideal artist for Jordan to work with on this title. I know “gritty” seems like a hackneyed word to describe a crime comic, but his work here really is that, gritty yet vibrantly colorful. He’s joined here by colorist Moreno DiNisio and the two have a wider palette of colors to work with than your average cinematographer. Had this been the standard for the crime genre back in the day then the French term we’d all be using now wouldn’t be noir but arc-en-ciel (“rainbow,” and yeah, I looked that up).
A good revenge story is like a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s simple to make and you’ve had it a million times. Yet there are tricks to making it good that only the most experienced preparers know. And when it’s done well, it’s oh so good…