The Comic Queen

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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Frank Ironwine Review

Story by Warren Ellis; Art by Carla Speed McNeil
Apparat (from Avatar Press) $3.50

I’m always skeptical when something, no matter what it is, is advertised with the creator’s name first and listed over the product name. This always seems to indicate that the product is inferior and only marketable because an important name is attached to it. For this reason, I was concerned when I read about “Warren Ellis’ Frank Ironwine” in Previews a few months back. Still, it was the concept that grabbed my attention and pushed me passed that initial prejudice.

As Ellis explains at the end of the issue, Apparat was created to serve as a kind of “what if?” Mainly it is what if superheroes didn’t take over the comic industry. What if crime pulps had remained? The Apparat line is to put out the first issues to imaginary series that would answer these what if questions. Frank Ironwine is the 21st century crime pulp that never existed.

Ellis and McNeil do a great job updating this genre. The book isn’t as transparent as they were back in the day. The story type has matured with our culture and the book captures that by using plot devices and character twists that never would have been used in a pre-Jerry Springer and reality television world. The case that Detective Ironwine must solve this issue isn’t one that uses regular CSI technology either. It harkens back to a time when Columbo had to catch his suspect in his mistakes, not rely on DNA or fingerprints to catch the criminal. As Ellis explains in the afterword, he prefers this approach and thinks that this more personal style is how crime pulps would have evolved in a world without Spider-Man. I agree that this works well in the story, but I’ve always been a Columbo fan.

Frank Ironwine himself is a pretty likeable guy, even though he shouldn’t be. He isn’t bumbling, but definitely could use a turn of good luck. He is tough, dirty, even gritty, and makes a lot of enemies. Despite this rough exterior, he knows how to win over a suspect or witness and get what the needs out of them without their knowledge. He is a little unsavory and that suits him.

McNeil’s artwork is great here and fits the storyline’s style. She captures Ironwine’s cool demeanor, especially on the cover, where he, disheveled, smokes a cigarette. Frank’s new partner, Karen de Groot is also well portrayed. She is dismayed that her partner is so seemingly insane, but can still solve a case with ease. Her expressions show her incredulity. The backgrounds are also nice, but the characters take the center stage.

Happily, I was proved wrong about Frank Ironwine and my initial skepticism was unfounded. I wish there was more to come or at least more stories like this.
Bottom Line: B+

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