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Graphic Novel Review: Scarface – Scarred for Life by John Layman & Dave Crosland

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To those familiar with Brian De Palma's over-the-top Scarface remake, the idea of a graphic novel sequel starring Tony Montana must give one pause. After all, we saw the rat bastard riddled with bullets at the end of the flick. Where do we go from here?

Well, this is comics, of course, and nobody stays dead forever in comics (unless you're a family member whose passing is designed to motivate a series hero, of course). So, like Jason Voorhees, the seemingly late drug lord rises to once more wreak bloody havoc in 80's Miami. (His system, a crooked DEA agent explains, was "so amped on coke that it couldn't remember it was supposed to die.") Ya can't keep a good gangsta role model down.

Crafted by John Layman & Dave Crosland (Puffed) with an ear and an eye for smirking ultra-violence, Scarface: Scarred for Life (IDW) originally appeared as a five-issue mini-series and is debuting this summer as a GN trade paperback, with a mini-series prequel to the movie also scheduled for July release. As a comics company, IDW is known for its canny media tie-ins (Star Trek, C.S.I. and, this summer, a ton o' Transformers titles), though sequelizing a hit movie from 1983 would appear to be pushing things. Be that as it may, Layman & Crosland's take on America's favorite coked-out psychopath provides its due share of sick chuckles.

The story opens after the shoot-'em-up-finish to the Oliver Stone-scripted Pacino vehicle: after spending eight months in a drug-induced coma, Tony wakes to find he's being watched by two slimey DEA agents. Stuck in a wheelchair and connected to a colostomy bag, our anti-hero still yearns to get back on top, but it's a sign of just how fallen he's become that both a street-level dealer and a weaselly former employee named Boots Eddie contemptuously kick our man's ass. Royally roused, our Ton' rises up to brutally suffocate Boots with his colostomy bag, thereby establishing the pattern of outlandish gangland violence yet to come.

The bulk of Scarred for Life is devoted to our anti-hero as he worms his way back into the Miami drug trade, working his way up toward Alejandro Sosa, the Bolivian Connection responsible for his first near death experience. Tony's former main squeeze Elvira is now Sosa's wife, but if our protagonist has his way, the cocaine kingpin will soon be dethroned. First, of course, there's a trio of lesser drug competitors to dispose of – gluttonous El Gordo and the smarmy Diaz Brothers – which our man does with an EC-ish eye toward the grisly ironic, then there are the two crooked DEA agents to dispatch, which is done in a manner that nip/tuck viewers will recognize. The graphic novel ends in a showdown in South America 'tween Tony and Sosa, an ambivalent Elvira on the sidelines, an ambiguous blood-flecked final panel leaving plenty of room for yet another sequel.

Laymon's script plays his story for broad dark comedy – each volume on the mini-series ends with the promise that a whole lotta expletives are gonna die – while Crosland's art is packed with energetic caricatures and nice little grotesque details. In one panel, for instance, we see Tony stunned to hear Elvira's voice on a work-related phone call, so surprised that the wax he's been picking in his free ear flies out in visible chunks. Now there's a detail you don't get in a lotta comic books!

Clearly, both writer and artist are having a blast working this skuzzy side of the street – getting as big a charge out of rolling around in the muck as movieman De Palma does in his more extreme genre works. Layman even gets to do a suitably nasty variation on the eighties Scarface's most quoted line. You'll never hear it quite the same again afterwards…

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!