Review by Frank Plowright
Joey Martin works as a proposition player at a Las Vegas casino. He’s paid a small sum to play at the poker tables. Anything he wins is his, but anything he loses has to be paid back. He’s good enough not to lose often, though. He’s biding his time building up a pot to finance his transition to bigger games, but one drunken late night bet brings inordinate complications into his life. He purchases 37 immortal souls. It transpires the celestial authorities take a very dim view of this, and Martin finds himself caught between a rock and a very soft place.
Writer Bill Willingham spent a year of real life doing Joey’s job, and has claimed elsewhere that much of the incidental detail is true. He sets up a clever plot that straddles a fine line in portraying Martin as likeable despite the shoddy manner in which he treats his girlfriend. Neither those above nor those below are keen that Joey keeps possession of his purchased souls, and each sends their representative to collect them, one large, male and brutal, the other alluring, female and brutal. Ploys used range from purchase to threat to seduction, but Martin’s experience as a poker player enables him to read tells, and when to hold out for more.
Willingham starts drawing this himself, but midway through the first chapter Paul Guinan takes over and completes the story. He has a somewhat static style, probably not helped by Ron Randall’s inking. It’s decently enough drawn, but everything seems posed.
There are moments here, but they don’t quite gel into a cohesive whole. The pacing is too leisurely to begin with, and then largely rushed into one great expository dump in the final chapter, where several good ideas are largely buried. There is, though, enough wit and charm to make this worth a glance.
This original paperback collection is long out of print, but Proposition Player is the lead-off story in Vertigo’s collection of Willingham’s non-Fables work Bad Doings & Big Ideas.