What would you do for the one you love? Most people would do anything – climb a mountain, pay a ransom, escort them home and so on. Love is a precious commodity and when one finds it, you do not really want to let it go. That is why Joe Fitzgerald will work for heaven and come back from the dead to do their bidding after every death he experiences. All of that for five minutes of time with his loved one in-between lives. And they are not usually easy deaths either, often coming at the hands of demons or violent acts. But that five minutes. It feels like an eternity sometimes, even though it is never enough. When in that moment, it could be forever, but when out of it, the little amount time spent is acutely felt. So when Joe is not in those five minutes, he is making up for the terrible life he led as a button man for the mob. That is until the man who initially murdered him and his wife Laura comes back. Not only is he back, he has stolen Laura’s soul from heaven to get at Joe. Joe of course, is pissed. Life and afterlife better look out.
J. Michael Straczynski has never failed to entertain. Sure there were a couple of tales he told or was to tell over at the Distinguished Competition, but it was the subject matter that failed to captivate a more discerning audience. Aside from that one blip that many writers get during their tenure, JMS has been writing so many good things over the years that it is hard to keep track. Babylon 5, Midnight Nation, Rising Stars, Spider-Man, The Twelve and more are all great examples of JMS at the top of his form and now Ten Grand can be added to that noted list. There was a little trepidation going into the book though as JMS has not been really associated with the horror genre. He has told stories with horror in them, but to do a straight up book with angels, demons, a trip to hell and all manner of things, is something new from the author.
What is not new from JMS, is the exploration of the main character’s moral compass and the choices they make. Whether it was Peter Parker or Captain Sheridan, you can trust in Straczynski to find out what makes the character tick and to bring it to the forefront. His past mistakes and motivations are cannon fodder for the author to tell interesting stories and Joe Fitzgerald, a man who just wanted to get out of the mob, is another prime example of that. Heaven, hell, angels and demons are popular tools that many scribes use and will continue to do so in the telling of stories and Straczynski could have done what many do, but instead he uses them in new and exciting ways to fully develop his story and explore our protagonist through them. Charon, the ferryman of the dead is presented in way that is wholly original and actually makes a lot of sense and his scenes with Joe are some of the best in the book. But when he tells Joe that he has essentially made some pretty terrible and controversial decisions, not in those exact words mind, the reader understands that there is still a lot to tell about Joe and much under the surface yet to explore. Julie, a ghost who committed suicide is a prime example of using an extra in the story to reflect the main character’s quintessence, and in this case Joe’s pity, sympathy and selfishness at exploiting her. It is in instances like this, that we as readers gain insight into Joe Fitzgerald more than any other. If we were to learn nothing of the man, the story would be much poorer indeed and it is thankful that characterization and the examination of it is one of JMS’s greatest strengths.
None of this could have been possible without a great artist, and with Ten Grand, we received two. Ben Templesmith has been immersed in horror for years and so he was a perfect fit for the book and is actually some of the best work he has put out in years. His pencils are actually quite beautiful in most places, demons notwithstanding, and are almost ethereal in nature at times. Of course the colouring more than likely has something to do with it, but if Templesmith drew like this all the time, his fans would increase legion-fold. But as many people would know, there were some problems during the course of the book’s production and he had to step away and so we gained C.P. Smith on the tail end of the story. And while it might have seemed a bit jarring for an instant, it was only that, and he slipped right in and made the tale all his own. His art has changed drastically from his time on Marvel’s the Invaders, and is actually a really nice fit for Ten Grand. And while it does not have that ethereal look that Templesmith’s work had, it does have its own charms. If Smith remains on the book, it will not be met with disappointment.
Recently Straczynski returned to the comic book world with a number of titles, Ten Grand being one of them. With so much time away, minus a couple of graphic novels about Superman, and the market getting an influx of incredibly strong titles from a number of different publishers, it remained to be seen if JMS could hold his own against all the Saga’s and Fatale’s. Turns out that he could and had lost none of the skills he had honed over the years. Ten Grand is compelling and entrancing, and it takes you on a journey not necessarily through time or space, but with and through the protagonist. Much like Straczynski’s previous works, it is an exploration of the man and not so much the situation. And much like his previous works, it is highly enjoyable and worth checking out.
4.5 out of 5