Comics are an interesting medium. What works for one comic is not guaranteed to work for another concept. In Image Comics’ new series Moonshine, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso (the creative team behind Vertigo’s 100 Bullets) combine several traits that shouldn’t work and makes them shine.
Moonshine tells the story of Lou Pirlo, a suave New York mafia goon who’s operating during the Prohibition era in 1929. The story is set in motion when Pirlo’s boss sends him up into the Appalachian mountains to secure some hooch from a bootlegger. Like any good bootlegger/mob story, things go south, bullets start flying, and people start dying.
Oh, and there are werewolves. Probably should’ve mentioned that…
Azzarello builds on a solid concept and spins a good story. He hits all the right beats for a mob tale, all the way down to having a character named Fat Tony. However, Azzarello somehow manages to skirt the border of cliche and instead couches the comic in all the familiar trappings of the genre. The issue is a good read all around.
The Art of Moonshine
For his part, Risso takes a lot of risks with his artwork and creative choices. He implements indistinct backgrounds, over-saturated color palates that border on monochromatic, and overly exaggerated anatomical features… But honestly? It works. Risso’s art doesn’t just support the story being told, it propels it. For example, the sepia tones of the daytime scenes makes you feel as if the whole comic is a story being told by an older narrator, whose memory keeps things indistinct and “old-timey”.
The character’s distinct features serve to inform the reader about their individual traits and personalities. Hiram Holt’s hands are huge and Risso portrays the moonshiner as a rough, bulky, and dangerous man. While Joe Pirlo has a square jaw, piercing green eyes, and clean facial features that back-up his nickname of “Handsome Joe”.
The escalating war between mafia boss Joe Masseria and Holt over control of their illegal liquor business, should be familiar to anyone who has watched 1920’s era mob films. Masseria sends a gang of New York thugs into town to strong arm Holt, who fights back with his gang of loyal hillbillies. Without dropping any spoilers…things get bloody.
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The most glaring issue with the story is with its pacing. Holt and Lou butt heads several times – with Holt always in the position of power – but Holt keeps letting Lou live. It starts to feel like it’s just dragging the story out, which ultimately detracts from the “surprise twist” at the end of the volume. Azzarello simply gives readers too many chances to guess at what’s coming.
Having said all that, Moonshine volume 1 is a great read. It was an unexpected surprise, that’s easily digestible in one sitting.