Plot: The king of cities gets noir.
Summary: When I had heard that a limited series focusing on Jack Hawksmoor, leader of The Authority, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Jack Hawksmoor, if you don’t know, was altered by alien beings to be connected to cities. Cities and their components; doors, subways, concrete, talk to him, give him information, obey his commands. It’s a very abstract power, one that has felt underdeveloped through the course of The Authority’s inconsistent life. At most he has the street grab somebody or he gleans a small piece of information from a TV (which is never really shown, just handled in dialogue). Jack’s appearances in The Authority usually consist of him coming through a portal and kicking the bad guy in the head, which pretty much summed up what I expected from this limited series. But being an Authority fan since almost the beginning and taking into account the kooky, brutal fun Midnighter has been I decided to give Hawksmoor its day in court.
I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I didn’t expect it to be great… I didn’t even expect it to work. But when I read issue #1 and now #2 of Hawksmoor it was something I never would have expected it to be; a classic private detective story.
All the elements of a private dick story are in place here: The tough guy narration, the hot dame that the hero knows is trouble from the get-go but still can’t stay away from, a failure from the past which haunts the hero (but solving this case will help him atone for), cigarettes, sex ,murder, deception and a twisted plot. Sure our gumshoe, in this case, can literally hear the city talk. But the heart of this story is hardboiled.
The first issue made it easy to miss, what with ancient gods and giant robots but even then it felt like a detective story. Issue #2 removes any doubt as the plot clicks perfectly into Sam Spade structure. The dame is connected to the murder of a civil engineer and doesn’t tell the whole story (she was having an affair with him). We also learn that something went wrong for Jack years ago in San Francisco and the city has never forgiven him for it. Then, right on cue, the metaphorical “two guys with guns walk in” plot twist strikes. Jack’s pursuit of the suspects ends with more questions than answers and the sense that our hero has only hit the tip of the iceberg and is probably in over his head. The issue ends with Jack bedding the troublesome dame and someone watching from the shadows.
The grafting of the private detective story onto Hawksmoor would be satisfying enough but writer Mike Costa also really understands and clearly illustrates how Jack’s powers work. The complaint of the 'under-development' of Hawksmoor is completely erased. Costa’s writing makes Jack’s powers vibrant and exciting, (the first issue’s battle with the giant robot being the best example) and it only serves to better the story and character development. In other words, Costa makes “The king of cities” feel more organic.
Fiona Staples art is distinctive and sharp. A detective story relies on what isn't said, what’s just below the surface, hidden. This story would be severely crippled if we couldn’t feel the characters thinking and maneuvering behind their stoic masks. Fiona’s art captures this vital element bringing the story to an even higher level of accomplishment. The look is not outright film noir (if it was there would be stark contrast, light and shadow used more graphically, like the 'hypernoir' of Sin City) but the subdued pallet and tense mood is dark and sinister enough to make the point.
Final Word: Even if you don’t give a damn about Mike Hammer or Philip Marlow you can enjoy this book for all its other virtues; a story that is wild but not out of control, a labyrinthine plot, tough guy dialogue and moody beautiful art. Understanding what the story is paying homage to only creates another level of enjoyment.
I came into Secret History of the Authority: Jack Hawksmoor with little or no expectations. What I’ve gotten (so far) is a great surprise; a work of art that has wildly exceeded any expectations I could have had.
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