Review by Karl Verhoven
Brian Michael Bendis’ interesting premise is that we’re looking at a USA where the FBI never significantly dented organised crime in the 1930s, so the families of that era continue their activities, even more powerful in the present day. Valentine Gallo has just become a made man, and is told to deliver a package to Washington. The Washington mission doesn’t go as intended, and as if that wasn’t enough, Gallo faces another bombshell to close the first chapter.
The United States of Murder Inc is Bendis returning to the cinematic crime dramas with which he began his writing career, but no longer having to draw them himself. His Powers collaborator Michael Avon Oeming handles that, and supplies a world looking very similar to Powers, with starkly shaded art, over which Taki Soma applies colour overlays. Sometimes there are two to a page, but generally only the single colour washes over Oeming’s heavy black ink. It’s intended to create a mood, and does, reflecting both the darkness of the activities we see and the conditions under which Gallo and his ilk operate.
This Bendis is a better writer than the one who produced Jinx and Goldfish. He realises that clever pseudo-naturalistic dialogue may work well when heard in films but isn’t always ideally suited to comics, no matter how hard Bendis works to create a conversational rhythm. He largely gets that out of his system in the first chapter, although there’s the text and illustration indulgence of mob bosses skyping, but once the plot is explained, the dialogue is often absent, leaving Oeming to interpret events. These aren’t just Gallo and his hitwoman companion Jagger Rose attempting to figure out what happened and who’s responsible, but a couple of interesting counter plots. The interludes featured are Bendis’ playful updates on the alternate history, pivotal moments in gangster control that diverge this USA from ours.
Gallo and Rose both drop into the archetype category, Gallo having the swagger but not the nous. That’s to let Rose explain to him and us what’s the hell’s going on, able to interpret the more subtle signals of their career. They combine well and quickly, their lives on the line, and there’s surely not a hint of doubt that Bendis can drop fine gangster dialogue for them to play off. The swearing is copious, but evocative, as is the sound of a voice straining for lucidity: “I think you can understand this. I want to deal with this personally as a man, but this is suddenly a very dangerous and unpleasant situation”. Come on, you can hear Marlon Brando mumbling those lines.
Truth was intended as a series, yet for several years stood alone, the subplots never resolved. It leaves all the background detail redundant, as that was seemingly intended to be picked up in the sequel. It’s of no concern. Truth stands as a stylish piece of gangster chic that never quite takes the obvious path, offering bullets and barbs, violence and valediction. Like crime fiction? You’ll be well satisfied.
But wait! In 2019 Bendis and Oeming issued The United States vs Murder Inc.