From Bonnie And Clyde to Natural Born Killers, star-crossed lovers on the run from the law and racing head-first to a date with death have been a popular box-office draw for decades, and if you’re willing to tinker with the formula just a bit it’s not too great a leap to see how drive-in classics like Bonnie’s Kids and Black Mama, White Mama are cut from very much the same cloth. With the popularity of the exploitation ethos at an all-time high in the pages of indie comics thanks to series like Alex Di Campi’s Grindhouse and Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet, then, it was probably only a matter of time before we got our own funnybook stand-ins for Mickey and Mallory, and now that writer Frank J. Babiere and artist Victor Santos’ new Image five-parter, Violent Love, is on LCS shelves, my only question is — what the hell took so long?
These two have teamed up before, on the Boom! Studios revisionist super-hero min-series Black Market, and their experience and familiarity with each others’ storytelling strengths is on full display here, as this first issue reads almost as seamlessly as something from the mind and pen of a single creator. Our opening installment treats us to the tragic backstory of only one of the pair — whirlwind-of-trouble Daisy Jane (I assume Rock Bradley will get his due next month) — and if you dig well-developed “origin stories” you’re going to find a lot to like here. True, we’ve met Daisy’s like before, but I’m no sure we’ve ever met anyone quite like her, if you get what I’m saying. A solid framing sequence set in a dusty Texas backwater is the perfect narrative device for plunging us into this tale of doomed romance, and while the pacing of the issue is anything but breakneck, there’s a whole lot of character development packed into this book’s extra-length page count (Image is doing this with a lot of their “number ones” lately — and keeping the cover price steady at $3.99), as well as action aplenty. I found it to be a fairly quick read on the whole, true, but not an insubstantial one by any stretch of the imagination. In short, you get your money’s worth from this comic on the strength of Barbiere’s script alone.
Fortunately for us all, though, that’s only the half of it. Santos’ slick and stylish line art may be a bit “cartoony” for some folks’ tastes, but there’s simply no arguing that it fits this material to a “T” and goes a long way toward advancing the cinematic flavor of the proceedings. There are a number of pages that are laid out almost exactly like film storyboards, and if you get the feeling that this whole thing is playing out like a movie that just hasn’t been made yet, congratulations — you’re not alone. Santos also handles the coloring on this book himself, and his watercolor-flavored digital palette looks just plain great and gives everything a “grainy old 16mm” finishing touch. Are you picking up on the idea that I’m pretty much in love with this comic yet?
I guess there’s always a possibility that this series will go right down the tank and I’ll leave to eat these words, but — nah, that ain’t gonna happen. These are confident creators and I’m confident in them. Everyone — genre cinema fans in particular — would be doing themselves “a solid” (do people still say that?) to jump on board Violent Love right now. I try my best to avoid hackneyed catch-phrases like “highest possible recommendation” in my reviews, but ya know what? Barbiere and Santos’ obvious labor of love deserves exactly that.