Full disclosure: I translated the first two volumes of Deadly Class, a previous Rick Remender comic-book series, into German. It wasn’t an assignment I’d asked for, nor is this review. The Rick Remender-related assignments just keep finding me, and I like money.
Death or Glory starts out on a five-page sequence set at a burger joint in “Yuma, Arizona,” populated by two white-trash employees and a lone customer. They’re about to close, and Curtis, mopping the floor, wants to call it a day soon because he’s got a date with Susie who “works down at the HoJos.” Ken, however, who sports a mullet and operates the cash register, reminds Curtis he’s “on trash duty tonight,” and proceeds to taunt his colleague about Susie. “Wouldn’t dare put my pecker in that,” Ken says, but he does suggest Susie has performed oral sex on him—he illustrates the act for Curtis using his tongue and fingers—and he claims “Scotty down at Firestone” can corroborate “she’s a butt-licker.”
It’s not a very original first page, in other words, nor one that’s particularly pleasant unless you’re really, as a matter of principle, into trite stock characters or displays of good old-fashioned President-of-the-Locker-Rooms-of-the-United-States-style workplace harassment and sexually degrading remarks about women.
A common defense of this type of material is its ostensible realism, and I’m sure places like this, with stereotypical jerks inside of them, do in fact exist. But so do pits full of cattle shit, and I haven’t seen too many first pages of genre comics with those on them, not to my recollection. More to the point, it’s a very boring first page with a load of boilerplate dialogue—dummy lines you maybe put down to replace them with something marginally more inspired later. I mean: It’s the first page! But no.
Then a Chigurh-type psychopath shows up and murders the employees and their customer with a Chigurh-type contraption—he uses liquid nitrogen rather than air, presumably because the latter is harder and less fun to visualize in comics—and there’s a movie-type credits page before the scene changes and we meet the heroine of the story, a young woman named Glory, who proceeds to attempt a heist—involving corrupt cops, money, and drugs—to save her surrogate father, who needs a new liver.
Then: action, shots fired, things going awry.
Turns out Death or Glory isn’t entirely as dire as its first page suggests. It’s a competent heist-gone-wrong cat-and-mouse thriller set in a neo-western world found readymade in films like No Country for Old Men and Hell or High Water and, for fans of car tires screeching on dirt roads, Moonshine County Express, white-working-class anxiety and all: no jobs, shitty jobs, no health insurance. “These dudes are just holding it together,” the honest burger-joint customer says, defending the burger-joint employees on page three, just before they all get murdered. “This is an underserved community and jobs are scarce--” Everyone in Death or Glory is underserved. And everyone’s just holding it together, until they’re not.
This is a pretty comic, thanks to Bengal, a French pencil, ink, and color artist who has drawn albums for Delcourt and Dargaud and worked for American publishers including Marvel and DC. Bengal sells the car chases and makes the numerous indoor sequences nice to look at, and it’s clear he has fun with the colors. No Travis Charest, exactly, but more interesting than Olivier Coipel.
I guess Death or Glory, like quite a few books published by Image, IDW, Dark Horse, and a bunch of other outlets, is the type of material Kim Thompson was advocating when he suggested, in 1999, “More Crap Is What We Need.”
That first page sucks; the characters are too flimsy to communicate the anxiety effectively; the film references are too obvious and too desultory to add up to anything; and the main reason Remender and Bengal decide on a woman protagonist seems to be so they get to do a three-page sequence where she climbs out of the tub and has a breakdown in the nude.
But if I were waiting for a plane with nothing better to do than read some comic for casually entertainment-related purposes, then Death or Glory could be something I might, you know, put my pecker into. Provided I make it past page one. Which I might not.