written by Brian Azzarello
illustrated by Victor Santos
One of the graphic novels launching the Vertigo Crime imprint is Filthy Rich, the latest from writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets, Joker), along with artist Victor Santos (Young Ronin).
Filthy Rich is noir, in the truest sense, and as such sees its central character, Richard “Junk” Junkin, constantly drawing the short straw in life. He is a former pro football player whose career ended abruptly with an injury and accusations of cutting points in conjunction with his addiction to gambling.
Junkin finds himself in a stereotypically dead-end job as a used-car salesman, and not much of one at that. Junkin is good for helping others close the deal, when customers get to meet the former star, but he doesn’t sell much on his own. He also finds himself the butt-end of jokes around the sales floor. The only thing he seems to be really good at is bedding customers or customer’s wives while on the job.
His sexual urges carry over to the boss’s sexy, spoiled-rich daughter, Victoria. The femme fatale is a celebutant of the 1950s who finds herself in the tabloid pages on a regular basis for her promiscuous nightclub exploits.
So, when the boss asks Junkin to be Victoria’s personal bodyguard as she trounces through the New York City club scene, it has to be either a godsend or a surefire way to drawing the short straw once again. Being a classic noir male character, Junkin is too blind to see which way the path is leading. He lets his pants, rather than his brain, guide the decision, and soon life gets much worse for Junkin than he could have ever imagined.
Filthy Rich works because both Azzarello and Santos understand the core components of noir. The story and dialogue are pulpy, by nature, and the author and artist work together to create just the right amount of sleazy sex and gritty violence committed for all the wrong reasons—primarily greed—with a stylistic black-and-white flair.
Azzarello doesn’t stray too far from the noir formula—in fact, some might call it noir-by-numbers—but he falls comfortably into that formula and works from within it to create intriguing characters and a story that serves as a great start to Vertigo’s “Crime” line. None of the characters are sympathetic. They’re all pretty stupid, in fact, but the women know how to use their assets to get what they want, and the poor guys just fall in line taking one crack after another at a life that doesn’t seem to have anything positive in store for them. Things have to get better at some point, right? That’s what they think, but in true noir fashion, those promising futures are often empty.
Santos’s art can be a bit cluttered in certain spots, especially near the beginning. With similarly greased hairdos and suits of the era, it can be hard to tell a group of guys apart when they’re standing around on the car lot. But as the story progresses, readers will become very familiar with the notable characters. The panel construction isn’t anything out of the ordinary but fits in well with the digest-sized hardcover. The important thing is the use of dark tones, and Santos does a great job with shadowing. There are more than a few iconic shots to be found in Filthy Rich.
Filthy Rich may not break new ground, but the work of Azzarello and Santos embodies the best parts of the genre in homage to crime fiction in comics form. Azzarello’s writing is smart, and Santos’ art gives it the perfect setting. Filthy Rich is a great way to kick start the Vertigo Crime imprint, hopefully helping, along with 100 Bullets, introduce a new generation of comic fans to crime comics done the right way.