Hit opens with moments before a dance of violence and bullets and spilled drinks, and ends with more gunfire on the horizon. This four-issue series, a comic book crime noir drenched in blood and bourbon, was originally serialized by Boom! Studios as Hit #1-4, published as an oversize Pen & Ink volume (think a single issue/cardstock version of the Absolute and Artist Edition idea) and then collected into beautiful trade paperback and hardcover volumes as Hit: 1955. It’s brutal, from start to finish, but in such a clever way that I found myself flipping back through pages I’d already read to see how far in advance the creative team had planted the seeds that paid off in the final issue’s climax.
But let’s go back to the recipe that makes Hit such a great concoction. It’s written by Bryce Carlson, who also edits for Boom! His passion for the subject matter is clear enough from the story itself, but the back matter of the single issues includes letters from Carlson – I don’t have the TPB or hardcover myself, so I’m not sure if they’re reprinted there – that gives context to Hit’s conception. The series follows a unit of LAPD officers who have been made into a hit squad. In effort to clean up the streets of Los Angeles, effectively purging organized crime, the higher-ups have sanctioned this squad, led by our charismatic and brooding protagonist Harvey Slater, to find out where the dirtiest of the city’s dirt hangs out… and then take care of them in a way that the law isn’t able to do on the books: quick and bloody.
Bryce’s notes reveal that this killer concept is based in truth. He writes, “…the person who told me about hit squads was a cop who spent decades of his life dedicated to the Los Angeles Police Department. He’s the reading you’re reading Hit, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough for pulling back the curtain and being my inspiration.” This makes considerable sense, because of both the realism the story is tackled with, as well as the complex, nuanced depiction of crooked cops. Some of them are trying to do right, pursing justice in the way that they see best fit, while others are changed by the job and what they’ve lost in service of safer streets. As revelations are made about characters over the course of this series – which I’ll remain vague on, because it’s all a hell of a ride – we always get the full picture. There are scoundrels hiding in the darkness of Hit’s corners, yeah, but they’re depicted, always, as people making tough choices and praying they don’t roll snake eyes.
The art by newcomer Vanesa R. Del Rey is the perfect fit for this book. It’s hard to believe that Hit is her first comic, as Carlson’s note in the last issue reveals. Del Rey’s work is so perfectly stylized, establishing a tone instantly, turning a good story into a truly fantastic comic book. Archie Van Buren’s colors round it out, and while I’m not previously familiar with his work, he’s a master of lighting. It’s easy to lose yourself in the story and flip through the book furiously to find out what nasty twist lies in wait at the turn of the next page, but there is some truly phenomenal color theory at work here. The scene from the first issue where Captain Blair stands in front of a window covered with blinds (pictured above), the smoke of his cigarette catching the fragments of light forcing their way through the partitions… it’s truly brilliant, working with Del Rey’s graceful inks to make even a simple conversation between a captain and a detective in an office as visually stunning as any action scene. The lettering is also fantastic, and often plays with the white space in between the panels, something I haven’t seen done to this effect much at all.
Hit got me, hook, line, and sinker. The team has recently reconvened for a sequel – Hit: 1957 – which is on shelves now… which means it’s time for me to hit the comic shop.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Robyn Hood, Charmed, Family Pets) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He lives in San Diego, where he drinks entirely too much coffee to get through a day of writing.