When it comes to hard-boiled heroes facing off against demonic adversaries, Radical Comics has clearly staked out their own parcel of the shadowy turf. I recently received two review comics from the company, Driver for the Dead #2 and the premiere ish of Ryder on the Storm.
The two titles seem to mimic each other (kudos to Ryder for its play on the Doors, however); the two three-issue mini-series both star lone wolf heroes pitted against murderous supernatural nemeses.
In the second issue of Jeff (Snakes on a Plane) Heffernan and Leonardo Manco’s Driver hearseman Alabaster Graves continues the task of transporting the body of a dead witch doctor and his hot sceptic daughter across the swampy southland, pursued along the way by a necromancer who keeps stealing body parts from fortune tellers, collaterally slaughtering their unfortunate customers on the side.
The results are bracingly grisly, if a bit repetitive — by the time the third party of hapless Southerners shows up for a reading, we know they’re doomed — but it decidedly establishes what a mean s.o.b. the villainous magicman Fallow is. And Graves remains an expressive enough protagonist to make us want to see the showdown in issue #3.
In comparison, the tarnished knight hero of David (FVZA) Hine and Wayne Nichols’ Ryder on the Storm (no first name: “I don’t like it,” he succinctly explains to his femme fatale-y client) plays things a trace closer to the chest.
A p.i. working in an alt-universe 21st century cityscape out of a 30’s sci-fi pulp, Ryder gets hired by a Russian chanteuse named Katrina to look into the seeming suicide of a playboy who’s dispatched himself with a power drill. His investigation takes him to the Lust Garden, a decadent private sex club devoted to bloody sado-masochistic shows, and attracts the attention of the city’s wealthiest family — who would appear to be other than human.
It’s all connected to daemons plotting to regain control of the human race, of course. How could it not be?
Hine and Nichols treat this dime novel fare with an occasional visual nod to material as diverse as the Green Hornet and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. If the characters come across more constricted than the wounded leads in Driver, some of this can be attributed to artist Nichols’ treatment of his people, who look more wooden in their close-ups. Still, with this kind of hardnose genre work, flat affect is often part of the package, the better to contrast against the visual horrors we’re gonna be shown.
In this last, the first issue of Ryder delivers, most effectively in the unnerving club scenes and a sequence where a character gets his hand lopped. “There’s something uniquely disconcerting about seeing a piece of your body lying on the other side of the room,” we’re told — a classic piece of hardboiled understatement if ever I read one.