For all the (well-deserved, in my opinion) flak that J Michael Straczynski has received as a comic book writer, the man still knows how to write a damn good comic. Even when he's following a well worn plot seen in countless noir detective stories, Straczynski, better known as JMS by those who refuse to spell his name out a dozen times in a review, can infuse a book with a certain inaffiable quality that seperates it from its peers. Whether its the unfinished Squadron Supreme or his prematurely finished run on Thor, JMS's comics usually have an epic cinematic feel unlike just about anything else on the stands.
Ten Grand, the inaugural comic in JMS's "Joe's Comics" imprint at Image, marks JMS's return to comics. Drawn masterfully by Ben Templesmith, Ten Grand is a magically infused noir book in the vein of Hellblazer or Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Joe Fitzgerald is an enforcer for heaven who hunts down demonic forces in exchange for the promise of being reunited with his deceased wife in heaven. In one issue, JMS spends most of the issue fleshing out Fitzgerald, showcasing the man's loyalty to his wife, his rough past and how a heavenly enforcer operates in the age of the Internet.
It's a good thing that JMS spends most his time bulding the case for Fitzgerald, as Ten Grand's plot is rather standard, complete with noir tropes such as the standard meetups in shady bars and an enemy with ties to Fitzgerald's past. Even Joe Fitzgerald's name is a bit blase and expected for a private eye. If one was judging this book on plot alone, the first issue will leave most readers a bit disappointed. Still, there are hints that JMS could take Ten Grand in unexpected directions instead of beating the noir horse to death.
Helping to bolster the case for Ten Grand is Ben Templesmith's stunning and gorgeous art. Templesmith hasn't lost his touch from Fell or his other darkly drawn comics. He's a perfect choice to illustrate Ten Grand and uses his standard blends of dark colors and rough art to bring Fitzgerald's world to life wonderfully. Templesmith does a particularly fantastic job of bringing Ten Grand's unspeakably horrifying demons and angels to life. The artwork of Ten Grand is reason enough to pick up the comic and reread it over and over.
Ten Grand is a dark and captivating comic, despite its rather mundane plot. While there's certainly room for improvement, the first issue certainly ranks as one of JMS's stronger opening chapters and will leave the reader wanting more. Hopefully, this will be the first in a long, undelayed and complete noir series that will fill the void left by the recently cancelled Hellblazer.