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: ‘Tommy Gun Wizards’ #1-2, out August 28 & September 25, respectively, from Dark Horse Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘TOMMY GUN WIZARDS’ #1-2 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brendan Hodgdon. At the heart of every genre mash-up, there is always one implicit question: is there a point to this? Does this combination of elements that often stand alone add anything of substance to either? Or is it just a surface-level blend of aesthetic tropes that offers nothing new to the reader? Many mash-ups fail this test, and do little to transcend their x-meets-y origins. With Tommy Gun Wizards, Christian Ward, Sami Kivelä, Dee Cunniffe and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou have set out to answer this question head-on, and they’re giving readers some flashy pulp fun along the way.
The concept of Tommy Gun Wizards is a simple one: Eliot Ness and the Untouchables vs. Al Capone, but with magic. A mysterious black substance called Lick that unlocks magical abilities is the focus of Prohibition, and gangland Chicago is filled with the unnatural light of spells and conjurings alongside the chatter of gunfire. The various magical characters introduced over each chapter contribute some unpredictability to the proceedings, as well as some added visual panache thanks to Kivelä’s striking designs.
The Ness of this book is certainly more Torso than The Untouchables, that’s for sure; he’s a slippery one, clearly not the straight-laced boy scout of legend. The second issue in particular shows Ness as a more ambiguous figure than expected, and Ward smartly uses one of his original characters as the fulcrum for this uncertainty. As for Capone, he’s portrayed as exactly the sort of broad villain we usually imagine, albeit with the added flair of black magic and the sense that larger forces are using him for something greater.
While using Ness and Capone in these roles doesn’t add too much of value to the story, the larger Prohibition backdrop blends quite nicely with the fantasy elements of Ward’s script. Right from the jump, Ward juxtaposes the religious zeal behind the real Volstead Act with the use of magic, implicitly tying this 20th Century religious judgment to the Puritan witch hunts of the past. It gives the whole tale an added fervor, and makes me wonder what ultimate moral judgment on magic the series will offer by the end.
All of this is rendered in energetic style by Kivelä, who really shines throughout both issues while tackling a wide range of elements. When picturing pulpy crime fiction in comics, the first artist you’d likely imagine these days is Sean Phillips: heavy inks, detailed urban backdrops, characters that exude weariness and grit. But between books like this and Abbott, Kivelä is staking a new claim to this territory in a distinct way. The inks are lighter, more delicate, and the characters feel less pugnacious, but that suggestion of realness remains, even when blended with the supernatural. The world-weary weight of the art comes through, even in this more up-tempo kind of story.
This creates a fascinating contrast with colors provided by Ward himself and bolstered by Cunniffe’s flats, which imbue every panel with a sprawling array of colors, the warmth of lamp light and wood panelling is punctuated with vibrant bursts of magic. Meanwhile, Otsmane-Elhaou’s letters maintain a steady beat throughout the book, clean, classic text warping into misshapen, dramatic styles and colors as the magic of Lick twists the very language of Chicago to its own unnatural voice.
The most intriguing aspect of the book is certainly Ward’s backup tales, which he also illustrates. These added snippets hint at an epic fantasy background to the urban magic of the main narrative. Ward astutely plays the content of each backup against the events of the attached main story through visuals alone, allowing the reader to make the necessary connections without sucking the fun out of the story with overeager exposition. In these, Ward brings his particular sort of striking imagery to bear to great effect; it could clash greatly with Kivelä’s more grounded style, but thanks to the shared color pallette the whole thing fits together nicely.
And so we return to the initial question: is there a point to Tommy Gun Wizards? Does this mash-up cast a potent spell of historical commentary and revisionism, or is it just a huckster using glitz and flash to hide the phoniness of its act? Like the best magic acts, these first two issues leave you wondering if any of it was real. But that’s the thing about magic and mash-ups alike: real or not, they’re always a hell of a lot of fun, and Tommy Gun Wizards lives up to that standard in style.
Dark Horse Comics / $3.99 each
Written by Christian Ward.
Art by Sami Kivelä.
Colors by Christian Ward with Dee Cunniffe.
Letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.
8 out of 10
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Tommy Gun Wizards’ #1, including a variant cover by Declan Shalvey, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!