Publisher: Image Comics
Writer/Artist: Howard Chaykin
Release Date: 7th September 2016
It is 1950 and former US soldier Joel Breakstone has spent the five years since the end of the Second World War struggling with recurring nightmares of the liberation of Auschwitz. He lives for, and in, the bottle, toiling away his days on a novel that never materialises, and ignoring his wife and former life.
Searching for his stash of hidden alcohol around the house, he finds photographic evidence to suggest his wife is a prostitute. In his refusal to live in the present, he’s been blinded to the truth of his relationship. This incident, though extremely shocking and upsetting, is Breakstone’s saving grace; for the first time in five years he rides his beloved motorcycle – still buzzed from the booze, I might add – into the city to find his wife. Breakstone’s discovery coincides with his wife witnessing the murder of a high profile client and escaping the criminal ring she is involved with. As she evades the men hunting her and, unknowingly, her husband, so begins the cat and mouse game.
Over the course of the first four issues, the city – a metaphor for the present – and Joel’s life itself unravels around him as he slowly sobers from his usual intoxicated, numb state. Writer and illustrator Howard Chaykin presents a unique snapshot of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through a character study over the course of one night. Sombre flashbacks to Breakstone’s experiences in Auschwitz, which seem to be forever changing in their details, are layered on top of a noirish 1950s chase through the darkest dives in the city. The city is a character itself, littered with encounters with stereotypical noir caricatures: the tempting seductress feeding our hero information; the rival gang’s henchmen; the usual bar clientele providing some comic relief; and the usual noir trope of a manipulative femme fatale character embroiled in a murderous plot, chased by the man she betrayed.
As an extension of this, Chaykin’s unique artistic style further enhances the gritty, dirty underbelly of the crime-ridden city. Chaykin’s thick lines, accompanied by Jesus Aburtov’s bright, block colours, are a nostalgic nod to the design of 1950s comics.
In this issue, Breakstone closes in on his wife alongside the crime syndicate that she is desperately trying to evade. Breakstone’s wife has seen too much and must be silenced. This act of extermination mirrors Breakstone’s perpetual flashback of a Nazi soldier murdering a Jewish man and suggests that the next issue will culminate in him trying to save his wife from the organised crime unit, and thus finding some redemption from his haunted past.
A complex and very human tale of repression, renascence and redemption, the nostalgic artistic style of the comic belies its sombre and dark themes as a detailed character study.
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The writer of this piece was: Rebecca Booth
Rebecca Tweets from @rebeccalbooth