Die Hard: Year One #1
Written by Howard Chaykin
Art by Stephen Thompson
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Russ Burlingame
"Die Hard: Year One #1," is the kind of comic that you might expect to have a really slick look. After all, it’s based on one of the most popular action franchises of the last thirty years, and one that relies in no small part on special effects. But no, the first issue of this series is actually pretty gritty, which is good. It feels like a film made in the 1970s, and of course all the sorts of films I’m thinking about (from to ) were set in Manhattan, as is the comic.
The story, which follows John McClane through New York’s bicentennial celebration where he walked the streets of Midtown Manhattan as a rookie cop, has a lot of moving parts and this first issue is trying to get all of them off the ground. People who love New York fill the pages, and the ones who hate it are there, too, pretending to love it for the bicentennial. Having recently spent a year in this city, I know McClane is right when he says that the rest of the country espouses their hatred for New York, but then can’t wait to get there when something exciting happens.
But there are a few people -- a civilian, and a couple of cops -- vying for some mysterious resource from a man who has just decided to jack the price on both interested parties. The cops are dirty, which is established within a panel or two of their first appearance when one of them backhands his wife and the other -- who the narration tells you has been sleeping with that same woman behind his friend’s back for years -- pretends he didn’t see anything. Walking away from her, though, he reminds his friend that after whatever it is that’s going to happen today, he’ll never have to see her again. He reinforces later that there’s something big on the horizon for them, telling his friend basically that today is the first day of the rest of their lives. It’s not until you see them pull a gun on the man who has jacked the price on whatever it is they want from him, that you know they’re THAT kind of dirty cops.
The comic itself is a little clumsily written. Although a far cry better than Howard Chaykin’s last mainstream offering (DC's recent “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” miniseries, which was arguably the worst work of Chaykin's long and brilliant career), the script bounces all over and doesn’t always seem to shift scenes on the right note. As often as not, I found myself reading the dialogue, picturing it in my head and saying, "Nope. If this were a movie, and people were saying and doing these things, that wouldn't just be an arty, quick, MTV-style cut. It would be awkward." And of course, MTV didn't exist (and that style of editing wasn’t nearly as popular) in the Seventies anyway, rendering some of the more positive elements of the story a little bit moot if we were supposed to understand the scene changes in that way. All things considered, it feels more like Chaykin simply hasn't got it anymore when it comes to writing dialogue, and that's a shame, because from what I can see the book has a lot of potential and an art style that really suits the characters and setting.
The nice cliffhanger at the end of "Die Hard: Year One #1," which ties a trio of the ancillary characters introduced in this issue together, will change the whole tenor of the rest of the series. When the next issue picks up, it’ll be important to know exactly how the three characters involved react to each other, because that’s something that may or may not discredit everything that comes after it. Assuming Chaykin can pull it out, maybe he can also start to make the book feel more coherent and less jumpy since the need to cut between subplots will be a little diminished by these two threads merging.