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Comic Review: Choker, Vol. 1
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By Lucid Crash

Choker, Vol. 1
Story by Ben McCool
Art by Ben Templesmith
Letters by Tom B. Long
Image Comics
Release Date: May 16, 2012
Cover Price: $16.99

In Choker, Johnny Jackson is a hard-boiled Private Investigator or Gumshoe and he has the cigarettes, trenchcoat, cramped messy office, surly demeanor, and the contempt for the police force that canned him to prove it. What the reader is supposed to assume is he now leads a life of obscurity blurred by booze (even if the first scene finds him spying on the mayor’s dalliances), but is about to get his one shot at public redemption when the cops call upon him to catch the drug dealer “Hunt Cassidy” he locked up years earlier.

Jackson is surely an antihero with a vulgar mouth and skeletons in the closet, but he is not without his charms. At his most human we see him caring for his kind and nerdy assistant Seaton Price. With a backstory that is highlighted by the Shotgun Police Force forcing him to take an experimental drug called “Man Plus” which is supposed to turn ordinary civil servants into robocops, Jackson evokes sympathy after being left with a serious side effect that comes to define him. A vise-like gripping hand that has a mind of its own earns him the unfortunate moniker “Choker,” and robs him of his badge and dignity after being deemed a danger to others.

The supporting cast of characters include Choker’s new partner on the force, Flynn “Dick Puncher” Walker, who seems to be the only lady who is not naked in this book or nearly so (the elderly landlady in a wheelchair notwithstanding) and is so “tough” she has her ex’s testicles dangling in her car. There is a group of Goths who apparently take Cassidy’s vampire DNA so they eat the jocks that made fun of them and therefore become powerful and then there is a woman named Tabitha and I am unsure why she is in the basement.

If the story seems a bit unclear, the artwork lends to that aura of confusion. Ben Templesmith at his worst tends to draw many stock characters in a similar fashion, so I was unsure who I was looking at and kept having to refer back to the narrative again. It should also be noted that the lettering by Tom B. Long (especially when the vampire cannibal hybrids are talking) is intentionally fuzzy, so it breaks up the linear flow of the panels at times. Templesmith, who I loved as the artist for 30 Days of Night, is also often at his best here as well. His use of bright fanciful colors offers a refreshing break with tradition for a dark noir comic. They highlight and electrify the murky streets of Shotgun City and really elevates what is otherwise a somewhat common dystopian urban jungle in many dark video game, film, and comics genres. His depiction of tech noir gadgets like the “Vacu-Corpse 3000” and his over the top gore are also inventive and amusing to look at, especially for fans of horror and science fiction.

When I read the Ben McCool‘s introduction to the Image Comics six-issue miniseries Choker: Volume 1, I was really excited for what may lay ahead. It was written with true reverence for the aforementioned crime noir and science fiction genres and while he named all the usual suspects — Raymond Chandler, Philip K. Dick, James Elroy et al. — as influences, this relatively new comic writer came across like a down to earth guy who was doing what he loves. While that level of sincerity appears to be inconsistent to me throughout this title and the genre elements seem studied, there are enough moments of colorful dialogue to give the writing in this book heart, and the artwork by Ben Templesmith is immersive enough to make this collection well worth checking out and keeping in mind for the future. With such a wide variety of futuristic urban blight to contend with, Shotgun City may have some wonderfully twisted dark backstreets left to explore.

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