All it took was one name on the cover and I grabbed this book off the shelf: Kurt Sutter.
I'm a fan of the man's work on FX (Sons of Anarchy, the Shield, Bastard Executioner), of how he takes protagonists who start with good intentions and slowly turns the screws on them. Sutter's shows use a slow burn to develop characters' moral compasses, to see how grounded their ethics are when confronted with a choice that either furthers their plans or doesn't, conscience be damned. That's why I picked up this book.
However, this was a bit disappointing - there wasn't a slow burn to be found. The character's dialogue is Sutter-esque -- hardboiled, self-loathing, and painfully honest -- but the narrative felt too rushed.
Lucas Stand is a former marine, a man who is having trouble finding a way to fit into the home he came back to. He guzzles booze, ingests copious amounts of drugs, and lives with a daily pain due to being on the receiving end of an assault rifle in Afghanistan. But it's all static; I couldn't get a beat on who this guy is, where he came from, what his motivations are. I like some mystery in a character, but only if it's compelling - with Stand he says his childhood was fine and he's a junkie now to deal with his constant physical pain. ...So? Then what?
The opening scene in the mall was the best insight into who this guy is, and it went by pretty quickly. The art also makes this book fly by, and that's not necessarily a compliment; sometimes it was difficult to follow the action. The punches all looked weird, like the angle is all wrong for how the fist connects. Things happen in a panel and you don't know what it is. There is little consistency for what people are actually doing.
But the premise is interesting if a bit convoluted - Stand's actions while wasted are deplorable, his dealings with his own PTSD without relief, and he ends up being responsible for the vehicular death of several people. He gets irritated with himself (not sadness, not remorse), and puts a gun in his mouth. BOOM!
Next thing he (and you, the reader) know is that he's kinda not dead (?) and he's talking to a ghost/spirit/person about joining the heavenly (perhaps?) military. To do what exactly we don't find out until things go South in the mission, and even then it's garbled.
This could have been a good book if it were allowed to breathe. Sutter is an amazing storyteller, and the additional work by co-writer Caitlin Kittredge, penciler Jesus Hervas, and letterer Jim Campbell is commendable. The stand-outs in this issue were colorist Adam Metcalfe, who dealt with whatever drawings he was left with and still managed to evoke clear emotions within the story with his moody choice of palates, and the fantastic cover art from the great Lee Bermejo.
I may check out the second issue, but it's got a lot of work to do to get me to follow up on the third.