“Killer Groove” #1 features an all-star modern creative team, telling the story of a hippie musician, a hitman, a P.I. and chain-smoking youth in the 1970s. Read on to find out what makes it tick if I haven’t already sold you on this premise.
Written by Ollie Masters
Illustrated by Eoin Marron
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
In 1970s Los Angeles, Jonny is one of the thousands of musicians trying to make it big while working a crummy bar job, and getting drunk with his whiskey-soaked P.I. friend, Jackie. When Jonny gets tangled up with a local mob hitman, he not only finds a new and violent career, but maybe the inspiration for his music as well.
Ollie Masters lays out an elaborate and huge plot web in this debut issue, throwing plenty of layered characters and story threads at us to the extent that it feels like it should be confusing. In a way, it is. The beginning sets up a largely dialogue-less scene of an elder character escaping assassins and then jumps to a bar scene with a completely different cast. We later get another scene shift where a teenager is introduced, with her own agenda and plot threads to boot. Yet Masters manages to connect the dots of each scene in a way that feels natural. It not only helps, but it feels rewarding as a reader to go back through the story from the end, piecing together bits of imagery like the similarities between the nose on Lucy’s photo and Ignatius’ own face like a mad Hollywood detective.
Digging deeper, the characters themselves all feel freshly developed and intriguing from the get-go. One of the main protagonists, Jonny, doesn’t start out sympathetic at all. In fact, Masters makes sure you know that Jackie turned down his sexual advances because he said to her “I ain’t never been with no black chick before.”. Yet as despicable as he is, he still has a sense of pathos. Jonny is a relic from a bygone age, a hippie who didn’t know when to change, and we can see this most explicitly conveyed in the recording studio, where Jonny exclaims “Man. It sounded great before… but today, I’m just not feelin’ it.”. Jackie, on the other hand, is a great female protagonist, fitting comfortably even against a backdrop of rampant sexism like the ’70s. She’s a private investigator who doesn’t mindlessly spit all the overplayed cliches and stereotypes the profession represented in early noir/hard-boiled crime. She’s a real person who drinks, has control over her sex life, and questions things that deserve reasonable questioning: a cigarette-smoking teen toting around a cool six hundred dollars in cash asking to find her dad, for example. Yet she still treats Lucy with respect, cementing her as a deep but ultimately good-natured character.
Eoin Marron could not be a more perfect tonal fit for this book. What struck me about the work that I loved here is that he never tries to beat you over the head with the setting stick. Yes, this book is set in the ’70s, but the aesthetic isn’t bell-bottom jeans, afros, and/or disco aplenty. Marron gives it more of a timeless feel in this sense, with only small visual cues like Jonny’s questionable hairstyle and the interior design of his room, or the low-riding and boxy cars populating the streets. Another nice touch to make this comic classily look era-appropriate is through Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering. The boxes feel like they were hastily sketched onto a notepad, with texturing that looks dated in the best possible way. The choice of a smaller font lends to the seedy nature of the issue as well, thereby moving beyond just being era-specific in tone.
Marron handles sequential action and dialogue sequences superbly here. The fifth page jumps on board the recent resurgence of nine-panel grids in comics, yet in Marron’s hands, it feels fresh and appropriate. We get a sense of Jonny as a working-class man, with lots of close-ups of working with his hands and subsequently getting paid for the labor in the same hands. The nine-panel grid structure, being symmetrically plotted, gives the whole scene an orderly, familiar feel, that this is just another day at the job for Jonny. Later on, we get a solid action sequence with Jonny saving Ignatius from his target. The action here isn’t deconstructed, rather it feels like Marron is trimming the fat. The scene moves from the target pulling a gun from his holster to Jonny yelling in opposition, then to a shot of Jonny’s foot running forwards, as we jump to a shot of him beating the target across the head with his guitar case. Marron is trusting readers to fill in the blanks, and it makes for a compact reading experience that rewards readers for following along with each action-packed beat.Continued below
Putting Jordie Bellaire on your creative team in any fashion guarantees your book some degree of success, and her colors on this issue are sublime. Bellaire contributes a lot to making this feel like a book from the ’70s with some neat subtle touches. The word balloons are a faded newsprint color, which does a lot of setting work even only as a small touch by visually dating the comic. The bar scene is where it felt the most appropriate, however. Bellaire highlights key aspects of the scenes like Jonny’s gleaming blonde mullet, and the pinkish-brown of the pub’s wallpaper, that lends a lot to the ’70s tone. One touch I especially love is the scene within Jackie’s office. This could easily have gone the route of detective stereotypes and be drenched in shadows, but Bellaire sets this scene in stark daylight, with desaturated colors that give the scene an aged, yet clinical feel. It supports the narrative’s dry humor in this section whilst also showing us how dire Lucy’s situation is. Bellaire’s always been a great storyteller, and this is all on display in “Killer Groove” #1.
Aftershock Comics continue to deliver hit after hit, and this is totally evident in “Killer Groove” #1. The plot is dense yet rewarding, with characters that are flawed yet still deeply interesting. Marron’s art works well at setting and fun multi-panel sequences, and Bellaire breathes it to soft, sepia life. Every element of this comic meshes together to create a fantastic end product, one that feels important and a lot of fun at the same time.
Final Score: 9.2 – “Killer Groove” #1 is a great debut that feels like the product of super-talented creators in total synergy.