Best Shots Advance Review: JOHN WICK #1 'Sparse But Viscerally Entertaining' (6/10)

Dynamite Entertainment September 2017 cover
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment
Credit: Dynamite Entertainment

John Wick #1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Giovanni Valletta, David Curiel and Inlight Studios
Lettering by Tom Napolitano
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

Everyone’s favorite pet-loving murder machine gets a sparse but viscerally entertaining origin story in John Wick #1. Picking up before the events of the first movie, writer Greg Pak offers a Year One-style take on the character, stripping away the wry self-awareness of the films and presenting a more gritty, down-to-earth take on Wick and his fantastical world. Though the flashbacks to the gang violence of John’s childhood don’t quite land as well as you might hope, Greg Pak and action-heavy artist Giovanni Valletta still manage to pull off this debut, despite a bit of clunky exposition. While the flashbacks are certainly a hindrance for now, action is still your reward once you pick up John Wick #1, as we make our way down a memory lane paved with bullets, blood, and plenty of creative ways to hurt people.

John Wick likes it quiet, but, as we all know, things around John Wick don’t seem to stay quiet for very long. Therein lies the rub of Greg Pak’s script, which will be familiar to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the first John Wick film (or even action films in general). While trying to live a quiet life in El Paso, John stumbles across a plot to rob and kill a man, but thinks little of it. Later on, he is forced into action thanks to a name from his past reentering his life.

It’s here where things start to get a little shaky. While Pak still displays a firm grip on action tropes and propulsive plotting, he can’t seem to make the action in the past and the present jibe as well as it really should. Instead of just treating this new call to adventure as simply that, Pak introduces an almost dreamlike flashback to John as a young kid in Baja, California, where he was a car-jumping scamp who would steal from local crime gangs. Pak also does his level best to justify John’s innate sense of heroism as in the flashbacks he witnesses great cruelty at the hands of the gangsters and just barely survives himself.

On paper, all of this sounds great, and should give us a better look into John as a character. But in execution, the flashbacks just take us out of the main story. Worse still, they don’t really tell us that much about John just as a person other than he’s always been somewhat mixed up with a bad element and that he can jump really high. This lack of direction also spreads to the artwork as these pages look sketchy, and not in the good way. Though the art team definitely bring it during the present day scenes, the time spent in the past gives the artwork an incompleteness that they really can’t shake off. As a reader, I understand that the point is to give us basically a list of 'targets' that we will be seeing throughout the series and to humanize John a bit more beyond “can shoot really well” and “loves animals,” but I do wish that it didn’t come at the cost of the issue’s momentum because, sans flashbacks, this debut issue could have really hit harder.

But speaking of hitting harder, artist Giovanni Valletta and colorists David Curiel and Inlight Studios really knuckle up with this debut by nailing the likeness of Keanu as well as the franchise’s precision when it comes to violence. Though most of Valletta and Curiel’s pages are establishing pages, working to lay out the geography of Wick’s new El Paso-based home and the unsavory elements it attracts, once John truly gets into the action, the issue and the art team really soar.

Their flight culminates in a brutal, but wildly entertaining 10-panel double-page splash that details John just wrecking a gaggle of henchmen with only a couch cushion and the thugs’ own weapons to protect himself. Valletta’s craggy but screen-accurate style really sells each punch and shot as Curiel and Inlight Studios bring it all together with neon-colored backgrounds and pulpy earth tones that convey the dustiness and heat of El Paso perfectly.

Though hampered by some thin flashbacks, John Wick #1 is still a fun time, though not nearly as fun as it should be. Greg Pak, Giovanni Valletta, David Curiel and Inlight Studios really get the tone, visual language, and action beats that make this franchise but their execution could use a bit of work in future issues. Here is hoping that the next time we see John Wick on shelves, he’s back the way he was during the first movie.

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