by J. Michael Straczynski and C. P. Smith
Whenever Ben Templesmith is contributing to a comic book, readers are made quite aware of just how unique a design they are getting right from the cover of that issue and, while not for everyone, Templesmith’s style is loose, sometimes manic, but always wholly his own. It is with some hesitation then that readers will continue into this issue of Ten Grand, as the fifth issue only features cover work from Templesmith. While the interiors manage a similar tone, the style is certainly a departure from what has come before. This shift and some detraction in the writing lend to an issue that seems to be missing the mark.
Joe’s journey to find his contact in pursuance of his wife’s killer has led him to the land of in-between in this issue. The case involving Divine Will grows ever more intertwined with his own history, and Joe searches in a place that is recognized by many cultures and religions, each with their own name and depiction. Straczynski does well to approach this subject and it makes for an interesting opening exploration both visually and existentially. As Joe progresses through this world, the book beings to lose its luster.
C. P. Smith is attempting to channel the same tonality that was established by Templesmith in the issues that preceded this one. His style is very different, but at times it manages to achieve the same effect. This, however, is not successful throughout the issue. There are certainly some amazing visuals in issue five, and Smith renders some haunting imagery that is sure to be memorable. In some moments, one might compare experiencing this style to first seeing Frazier Irving’s unique art technique utilized on Batman and Robin during Grant Morrison’s run. Even though there is much to praise, there are a number of pages and panels that simply do not work as effectively. It creates an unevenness that distracts.
It is possible that the visual shift may elevate readers’ critical lens on the content overall, but Straczynzki’s writing is not as well crafted in this issue. A few bits of dialogue from Joe seem seriously out of character, coming across overly apologetic and empathetic to the souls that surround him. There are other moments that feel too long-winded and at times preachy. While the essence of what is being communicated in some scenes is very interesting, the way in which is it done tends to weaken the impact at some grander moments.
Templesmith’s departure certainly hurts the title. Hopefully Smith can manage to establish his own personality and direction on the series and find his footing. Straczynski’s story continues forward in an interesting direction with Joe fighting to hold on to any sense of himself the further he ventures into this new world. Audiences will have to hope that both writer and artist come together a bit more on future issues.