Here is a weird little book that I’d never heard of until it was given to me by a friend, Mr. John O’Brien. It was written by Matt Fraction, who is a well-known comic writer, NOW, but this is a very early work by him before he started doing scripts for Marvel Comics. I haven’t read much by Fraction, but if this is representative of his skill as an author, then I should probably look for more work by him. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at this graphic novel from the very start of his career!
Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer – Last of the Independents (2003)
If I had to categorize Last of the Independents in one sentence, I’d say it’s a “cowboys vs mafia” story, perhaps with a bit of a Quentin Tarantino vibe. (To be honest, I’m not a big fan of most mafia/gangster movies. They just don’t do much for me…) This story starts with an aging tough-guy, Cole, and his two accomplices (Justine and Billy) preparing to knock over a small-town bank. Billy, the driver, waits outside while Cole and Justine, who are booth pretty bad-ass, start the heist. They make their way through the bank, trying not to kill anyone, and head for the vault. Once inside the vault, they are surprised to find WAY too much money, far more than they expected, and the bank manager makes a comment that suggests Cole is in over his head. (The bank manager then loses a few teeth.) They make their getaway, understanding that something ain’t right, and rather quickly discover that the extra money was the property of a particularly unpleasant, Las Vegas based gangster, who had been using the small-town bank to launder some cash. It doesn’t take the Vegas boss long to figure out who took his money, and he sends some goons to get it back.
The story isn’t very long, but it’s well told. The tale is violent, as most gangster stories are, but the main characters are remarkably well developed for such a short tale. The art, by Kieron Dwyer, is also very solid, presented in an interesting two-color format, with dark brown ink for most of the line work and light grey for shading. Dwyer’s panels have cool, messy, thick lines for borders, increasing the “indie” feel of the book, and Dwyer uses a lot of dark, noir shading but still manages to keep a sketchy, loose feel overall. It’s easy to follow and read, and the two-color pallet helps heighten the mood.
I should mention, beyond the violence and some gory panels, there are also a number of offensive racial slurs (which aren’t particularly out of place in a gangster story, but I still don’t enjoy reading them), as well as a few pages of “human sexuality.” If you are a fan of mafia style stories, like Reservoir Dogs or Casino, then you’ve seen much nastier stuff than you’ll find in these pages, but it still bears mentioning.
What I like, in particular, about this book is the sly sense of humor. For a violent shoot-em-up, it has quite a few laughs, and Cole and his compadres are seriously hardcore. It’s an entertaining, quick read, and if you can find a copy, I’d say give it a look, if you’re into edgy, gun-fight laden, slightly humorous gangster tales. (A problem you might run into, though, is that the PRICE of this book tends to vary wildly, running anywhere from $8 bucks to more the $50 from that one big, online retailer!) It’s such a short story, I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s just say for those who like bad-ass characters and lots of guns, this might be worth a read.
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)