Would you fight hell itself just for five minutes with the one you love? Would you do it if it meant dying every time? For many, such a thing would be a tall order, one perhaps not worth the effort. But for our friend Joe, there’s no question. J. Micheal Straczynski and Ben Templesmith bring us the next dark and gritty supernatural drama, TEN GRAND #1.
“In my dreams, Laura is beautiful. She’s always beautiful. I want to tell her how much I miss her, how much I love her…But the words won’t come. Then I remember. I can’t talk to her here. Not like this. Not while I’m alive.”
These words greet readers to TEN GRAND, published by Image and Joe’s Comics, the comic studio of celebrated (and, depending on who you ask, derided) writer/publisher J. Michael Straczynski. One might remember JMS from his work on He-Man, Babylon 5, and his six year run on Amazing Spiderman.
Oh, and he’s also the guy who co-wrote the last ASM story he worked on, One More Day. Suffice to say he asked for his name to be removed from the credits of that story. But there’s enough vitriol for OMD already.
The thought one should have when hearing about TEN GRAND is a valid one: “Hasn’t someone else already done this concept?” This is true, in that TEN GRAND bears a remarkable resemblance to Rest In Peace Department, a graphic novel published by Dark Horse recently adapted to film. They share the same basic premise: a man bound for hell dies, but is given an opportunity to work for heaven in their fight against evil in exchange for a chance at salvation. But it’s about here where the works diverge wildly. RIPD stars a police officer inducted into a formal heavenly organization made up of slain law enforcement, which he joins for a chance to get revenge on the one who killed him.
By contrast, TEN GRAND #1 introduces readers to Joe, a former mob enforcer who’s last job before retirement brought him against a demon summoning man who murdered him and his girlfriend Laura. Joe is offered a deal by heaven: fight against the evils of hell, and each righteous death will be rewarded with a chance to be with Laura for five minutes. After the five minutes, he’s brought back to life, and set back to work. So while many refer to RIPD as Men In Black with supernatural forces in place of aliens, TEN GRAND uses its basic premise (dead sinner works for heaven to escape hell), and runs in a different direction.
It’s because of this that I hesitate to call TEN GRAND a rip-off, though its release could not have come at a better time. Even if it were made specifically to ape RIPD’s success, there’s nothing in the book (I’m speaking of the metaphorical book, not the issue) that says a derivative work can’t be good in its own right.
And I do think TEN GRAND #1 is good. Every page uses its space to fill in character motivations or build the world they live in. We meet Joe at his job, a seedy bar where he takes jobs from people who need help in occult matters. Jobs he takes with a $10000 fee, because it’s just enough cash to weed out the non-cases (scammers, clowns, and crazies) while still being relatively affordable. Incidentally, this is where the name of the comic comes from.
Ben Templesmith provides the art for TEN GRAND. He’s an artist I’ve sort of been following for a while due to his unique style. I cannot speak for the actual process used, but his works look like watercolor with the line work painted over it. This gives his work a scratchy, dirty effect, which works very well with the type of stories he’s typically employed for. Other notable works I can recall off the top of my head are Fell, 30 Days Of Night, and two issues of Silent Hill: Dying Inside. That last one should be skipped, by the way, because as explained here, it was a terrible work that only got worse when Templesmith left the project. TEN GRAND thankfully is a work that utilizes his skills very well.
It goes without saying this is a comic meant for older readers. Honestly, the fact that Templesmith did the art should be more than enough to assume as much.
Worth noting is that Joe’s Comics is attempting to implement a different publishing schedule. According to the editor page in the back of the book, their books will be allowed to run for as long as is necessary for the current story arc, and then will be suspended for a few months. This, according to JMS himself, would give them a chance to evaluate whether further issues are necessary, and plan things out without padding the downtime with filler. This is, in my opinion, a great idea, and I want to see how well Joe’s Comics can pull it off.
Final Verdict: I recommend TEN GRAND #1. Not sure whether I’m going to keep reading, but what I’ve seen thus far intrigues me. Also, the comic comes complete with a QR code for a fully voiced performance of all the dialogue. Unfortunately, I do not own a smart phone, and thus cannot speak for the quality. If someone does take a listen, come back and leave a comment on what they thought of it.