Written by Christos Gage
Art by Jorge Lucas
Image Comics/Top Cow Productions, Inc.
Release Date: July 18, 2012
Cover Price: $19.99
It’s fashionable to romanticize the street-wise, toughness of old-timers who fought in WWII or the Korean War. They think our generation sucks. These grizzled vets probably think that someone reading this review on their fancy computer, or even worse their iPhone, makes them a candy ass. And, for some reason, we crave this abuse. We practically beg for it by plunking down our hard-earned cash—yes, Granddad, hard-earned—for any story starring a curmudgeonly old Luddite who doesn’t take any crap.
I hate to be a killjoy, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every generation in history has thought that the next generation is too soft. Our great-great-grandparents ragged on our pansy grandparents just as harshly—you know, the ones we’ve labeled the Greatest Generation. Even knowing this fact, I love tales that glorify our grandparents’ unyielding will and their outright refusal to let any hint of disrespect go unchecked. Sunset weaves this characteristic into a mob-action comic that’s one of my favorite books this year.
Nick Bellamy is a violent man; killing people is his one marketable skill—think Dexter Morgan only better socially adjusted. Nick’s father signed him up for the military before his 18th birthday, which led him into the Korean War. After an honorable discharge, Nick crossed paths with Vegas mob boss and casino owner, Mr. Gianelli, and earned gainful employment as his enforcer. For a time, his life was comfortable until he got his girlfriend, Nancy, pregnant and ran to the nearest chapel in Vegas to tie the knot. She left him to protect her son. Nick realized that he’s either going to die on the job or get killed for trying to leave the business. He decided to be proactive: he swindled Mr. Gianelli out of a few million and set him up for an arrest. Now, thirty years later, Mr. Gianelli is out of prison and immediately seeks out revenge against Nick and his family.
Gran Torino heavily influenced Christos Gage‘s characterization of Nick Bellamy. Sunset‘s premise isn’t quite “What if Walt Kowalski were a retired mob enforcer,” but the similarities between Nick and Walt are remarkable. Nick shares Walt’s amusingly bitter resentment of modern society, but Gage wisely shied away from any notable trace of the racism that seethed from Walt’s disposition.
Nick’s a killer and damn good at his trade, but he never killed anyone who didn’t deserve it. He’s quick to add that everyone in Vegas deserves it. Sunset is one of those unflinching stories that throw you straight into the action—the first panel is full splash page of Nick bayonetting a Korean soldier. The plot has a few surprising twists and layers that are perhaps amplified because you expect this story to be rather straight-forward. Outside of being merely a violent mob story, Sunset is a story of a man recognizing his past mistakes and making an attempt at redemption. Overall, this is one comic that you’ll read from cover-to-cover and lose all sense of time.
Nick’s diatribes on modern culture and technology are one of the Sunset’s highlights. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, Nick can’t help but rant about topics like rappers holding their guns sideways, cell phones, and Jersey Shore Italians. I nearly spit my Monster all over my iPad when he bitched about Vegas’ euphemisms for gambling and whores. Several of the rants feel forced, especially a few from Gianelli. But even those were still fun to read.
The art in Sunset is phenomenal. Jorge Lucas draws his characters and weapons with stunning attention to detail. Nick’s craggy face almost tells his entire backstory without a word—you can see the toll of hard years spent killing and fighting. Many of the backgrounds are spliced in from actual photographs, but still complement the style of the character line art. The shadows are so prominent that they color the scenes without the need of actual color. In fact, the addition of color seems like it would merely hide the nuances of the line art.
Sunset takes the good parts of Gran Torino and adds in a little Casino flavor—both are movies that I count amongst my favorites. So, it’s no surprise that Sunset is one of the best comics that I’ve read this year. The story immediately grabs your attention and lets you know that this comic is going to be bloody, it’s going to be nasty, and some feelings might get hurt. The flashback explaining Nick’s history is perhaps a little too drawn-out; I couldn’t wait to get back to the real action. But that’s a minor quibble because even Nick’s backstory is awesome and compelling. If you even remotely dig mob stories, then you will love Sunset.