Review by Ian Keogh
Jason Ciaramella here adapts two of Joe Hill’s short stories to comics, the closing ‘Kodiak’ considerably shorter than the title story.
That concerns Mallory Grennan, serving with the US Army in Iraq before being sent home in disgrace over the events at Abu Ghraib prison. She didn’t appear in any leaked photographs, but knows what she did and is ashamed. Back home she keeps fit and has her training to fall back on when the local lowlife pushes things too far, but then a piece of paper with a single thumbprint is left in her post box, hand delivered, not mailed. However, for all her guilt and anger, when there’s the opportunity to do something right she only goes halfway. That’s a clever piece of personality building. As the story is narrated by Mallory, readers are naturally inclined to form a sympathetic bond with her, perhaps able to cut her some slack for her wrong-minded behaviour as it was during wartime.
Both life during wartime and the hollow guilt Mallory experiences on returning require artist Vic Malhotra to make a choice whether or not to dive in with the full bloody horror or to take a more distanced approach. He chooses distance, Mallory often seen full figure and sunken into the well developed backgrounds. These are everyday, the common sights designed to reinforce the ordinary, just as for the innocent in Iraq atrocity intruded into what was normal for them.
A smart piece of misdirection occurs halfway through, but Hill’s plot is almost a symmetrical one, with Mallory eventually placed in a situation very familiar to her, that of the innocent person being abused for information they don’t have. The role reversal is every bit as disturbing as intended, although the final page seems rather tacked on. Because Hill’s original text story is reproduced after the comic content, we can see that it is, but it’s the only mistake Ciaramella makes in what’s a fine mood piece.
‘Kodiak’ is far simpler. There’s no real twist, and because it’s so brief the suspense is barely generated before the solution is reached. Actually, given the elements involved, it’s pretty well telegraphed over the opening pages as a young man tells two urchins how he became scarred. The medieval setting adds some atmosphere, and Nat Jones certainly supplies a fearsome bear with his painted art, but this is a throwaway exercise, not the full Joe Hill experience. Still, the title story is far longer and far stronger, making Thumbprint worth your dollar.