Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Hot Lunch Special Vol. 1′ TPB, out April 10 from AfterShock Comics.

'Hot Lunch Special Vol. 1'

THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘HOT LUNCH SPECIAL VOL. 1’ TPB IS SPOILER-FREE.

by Brendan Hodgdon. “Families are always rising and falling in America” may not be an actual Nathaniel Hawthorne quote (no matter what The Departed says) but that doesn’t make it any less of a true statement. It’s especially true of immigrant families, whose rises are often more difficult and whose falls can have much worse consequences. This is the American experience at the heart of Hot Lunch Special, by Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornés, and Taylor Esposito. Due out next month from AfterShock Comics, the first collected volume of the series pays tribute to the compromises made to secure a place in The Land of the Free and the conflicts (both internal and external) that are bound to ensue as a result.

As a crime story, Hot Lunch Special is straightforward. It’s a tale of wounded pride and a cycle of violent reprisals, with authorities closing in from every direction. And Rahal doesn’t go too deep or incisive with the characters or their motivations/arcs; rather, he seems content to simply let them be as this story unfolds. This approach works pretty well in the end. But where Rahal’s script really excels is in how he layers this stripped-down tale with the specificity of his characters and their particular American experience.

Throughout the story, there’s a raging back-and-forth amongst the Khoury family members that feels authentic and real, the sort of close-knit family conflict and bitter loyalty that transcends generation, ethnicity and language. And its specificity is extended to the implicit dynamic of the immigrant experience that’s threaded through the story, as well. You see the Khourys under threat as the white criminal family they’re in bed with continues to demand more from them out of spite and a desire to maintain dominance, standing in opposition to the immigrant family’s well-being and growth.

Rahal is also thoughtful (not to mention clever) in how he builds up the family history right from the start. The Khourys aren’t first-generation Americans, but fourth- and fifth-generation. (Their great-grandfather fought for the U.S. in World War II.) They directly represent the sort of narrative that is often glossed over or ignored in our current immigration debate, facing desperate pressures to keep their heads above water and deal with the entitlement from others around them.

While these larger thematic concerns give the book a lot of its definition, the emotional core of the story comes from Dorothy Khoury, daughter of the current patriarch and a mother whose tragic loss kicks off the story proper. Despite being an innocent at the start of the book, unaware of her family’s continued dirty dealings, Dorothy is at least as adept in the ensuing criminal chaos as the rest of her family. Her rage and clear-hearted motivations drive the book, highlighting the familial bonds that are such an intrinsic part of such narratives—even as her father and other family members struggle to break free of “The American Dream” siren song long enough to do what’s right.

Considering the nature of the story being told, artist Jorge Fornés would seem an ideal choice to bring it to life. From beginning to end he confirms that with aplomb. If anything, it’s surprising that gritty, grounded crime stories haven’t been more of a feature in his career thus far; his style is perfectly suited for it. The way Fornés uses layouts and framing to establish a steady, deliberate pace (only to pause in places for quiet stillness) helps to sell the tone, and feeds into the implicit expectations of a story set out in the expansive, cold blankness of Minnesota. He depicts violence in ways that capture the brutal chaos of each moment, and he renders every vicious emotion in careful detail. Whether it’s the loud, blunt anger of the Khourys or the blank-faced seething of their opponents, Fornés nails it all.

With a story so lived-in and dependent on character dynamics and emotion, the letters can be particularly influential in how the end result will play with audiences. Esposito’s lettering amplifies the emotion in every scene; his layouts draw us into the Khourys’ plight, making us feel their pain, their desperation, and their defiance. Esposito is unafraid to go big with the boldness of his fonts or the use of colors to underscore the aggression bandied about by the family members, or to highlight the bursts of violence with carefully-framed SFX.

The way that this volume ends certainly suggests room for more stories, but in its current form, Hot Lunch Special is a quality potboiler whose ending highlights the cyclical struggle of trying to make it in America. It drives home the bitter reality of what it takes to rise and not fall in this country. Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornés and Taylor Esposito have delivered a comic of the moment, one that should be a calling card for all three creators for some time to come.

AfterShock Comics / $14.99

Written by Eliot Rahal.

Art by Jorge Fornés.

Letters by Taylor Esposito.

8 out of 10

‘Hot Lunch Special Vol. 1’ hits stores April 10.

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