My opinion on DC’s VERTIGO CRIME series is no secret. I love them, I think that they’re an amazing concept with great stories, great themes,an awesome little hardcover format, it’s the perfect crime comic package.
As crime and noir comics have been making a critical an commercial comeback in the past few years, this series has helped fill in the gap that the end of 100 Bullets, Stray Bullets, and somewhat irregular release of the newer Criminal issues.
Anyway…in this latest little bit by the amazing author Andy Diggle and artist Victor Ibanez, the FBI and US Marshal Service square off against the underground urban legend known as the Rat Catcher. A mysterious and unseen mob hitman with secret ties to federal law enforcement information sources, he makes it his mission to target mob informants set to testify against their former employers. The name’s barely whispered even by the ugliest and scummiest of crooks. He’s a sword of Damocles over the underground, someone to always look over your shoulder for in case you ever even THINK about snitching.
No one’s ever actually found evidence of the Rat Catcher’s existence, and FBI agents who do believe in him are laughed at, but when a federal safehouse in Texas goes up in flames it starts a chain reaction that can only end in bullets and blood. And of course, as every good mystery goes, there’s twists and double twists in this story, where the Southwest sun seems to seep through the pages and really make you feel like you’re in this mile-a-minute crime thriller.
I really really enjoyed this concept and seeing it played out in a story. Diggle’s an amazing author, and he and Ibanez craft a story that, rather than depend on artistic shadows and darkness to symbolize the danger of the situation, instead is underneath a glaring sun and wide-open spaces. There’s nowhere to hide (metaphorically speaking of course), but at the same time when something does come at you, it’s like it came out of nowhere, creating an unnerving affect visually on both character as well as reader.
One of my favorite VERTIGO CRIME book so far is Area 10, with Christos Gage and Chris Samnee, is a perfect example of a slow-burning suspense crime, a buildup that’s as much about the quiet, the stillness, and the almost unbearable silence right before a huge final explosion. It’s what I love about it. At the same time though, Diggle and Ibanez’s work is drastically different in its amazingness. Rat Catcher is like a wildfire, a constant burn through combustable material, getting bigger and bigger and more out of control until finally, there is no real way to end up except in a totally-insane, straight-up disastrous, fucked-up situation.
Which is why it works so perfectly well here. In the same way that 100 Bullets brought Shakespearean intensity to hard-boiled crime comics, and a TV show like “Justified” (on FX, starring Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins) brought the Western and “big-city” crime genres to the American Heartland, Rat Catcher is bringing speed and the terror of an open space to the traditionally closed-in (visually) world of noir and crime.