Review by Ian Keogh
New York homicide detectives Sam Burke and Max ‘Twitch’ Williams are the constantly frustrated police detectives introduced in the first issue of Spawn. They were never just relegated to comedy relief, but it was still a stretch to remove them from superhero horror to launch them in their own police procedural story. What cemented the quality was the characters’ creator Todd McFarlane pulling in the then little known Brian Michael Bendis to write. He had three solid crime dramas behind him, but was yet to transfer to Marvel and superheroes, and he came up with a fantastic hook for this opening story. Four thumbs are found at a crime scene. None of the victims are missing a thumb, and DNA tests reveal all four thumbs are from the same person. How could anyone not want to read further?
Angel Medina’s art is fantastic. He’s under two limitations, firstly ensuring visual consistency with the characters as drawn by McFarlane, and then having to incorporate the sheer verbiage of Bendis’ script, especially over the opening chapters. The dialogue is amusing and entertaining, but it doubles Medina’s work as he often has to resort to twenty panels over a spread to incorporate it all. There are times when this results in messy, crowded pages, but they’re the exception in a character based story that generally looks great, while still evoking the horror-based world from which Sam and Twitch originate.
There are indications of this being still a relatively novice Bendis. He strains to pull parts of the plot together convincingly, gets carried away with conversation without considering how it’ll look on the page, and the two mismatched and misunderstood loners against the world lacks conviction in places. Outweighing that is the fine development of the lead characters, a thrill ride of a plot, some cracking dialogue and a couple of very good twists. The eight chapters of ‘Udaku’ still stir the blood.
That’s followed by the single episode ‘One Really Bad Day’, which lives up to the title superbly. It’s a classic crime standby of the one dumb mistake escalating out of control, presented as seen through the eyes of Dean, the perpetrator of that mistake. Jamie Tolagson is disciplined in perpetuating the theme, and deserves some credit for the sheer amount of hands he has to draw. Rendering them convincingly is a test separating the talented artist from the pretender. There’s also a couple of great panels showing a haunted Dean in a mirror as the full realisation of what he’s done hits him. Sam and Twitch only turn up as Dean’s fate is all but sealed, but Bendis has weaved the magic, and the story stands well with their participation minimal.
The collection was previously available as Sam and Twitch Book One: Udaku. This is the better presentation. Todd McFarlane’s introduction to Udaku makes the case for black and white art more truly representing the noir feel. He has a point, but the assorted colourists produce pages muted enough to offset this. It also suffers from the content disappearing into the central gutter, as much of the material reads across spreads rather than from top to bottom of the page. Furthermore, Udaku omits ‘One Really Bad Day’, and you really should read that. A second collection wraps up Bendis’ work on the feature, and this entire content is also available in volume one of Sam and Twitch: The Complete Collection.