HARD LOOKS; Adapted Stories
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 2003
This well-crafted collection of comics adaptations of stories by Vachss, creator of the popular Burke mystery series and a former federal investigator, is an unlikely artistic triumph. Vachss, who wrote an authorized novel based on Batman in 1995, is not shy about moralizing; he operates in an ethical gray area, where traditional lines between good and bad, cop and criminal, are constantly blurred and broken. While highlighting the law's ambiguities, Vachss also teases out lessons and consequences for his characters, usually in the form of unexpected endings. No matter how hard the characters try, they can't escape brutal victimization. An unbalanced hostage negotiator, having successfully freed a captive, shoots the unarmed kidnapper at the end of "Hostage," and in "Replay," an over-eager phone sex operator realizes the man whose pedophilic fantasies she's entertaining is her own father, and she was his first victim. A young gang member, bragging of his successful (and bloody) initiation rite, is killed by associates of his victims; and so on. Left alone, a few of these stark, graphic stories go a long way, but enhanced by artwork contributed by a group of superb cartoonists, they come alive in new and unexpected ways. The artists include David Lloyd, Bruce Jones and Warren Pleece, who share a shadowy pen and ink style particularly well suited to these pieces' mood and the subject matter. George Pratt's expressionistic work illuminates the despair at the heart of these stories, while Gary Gianni's accurate line work superbly depicts the urban landscape. Such a diverse group of art styles keeps the anthology from groaning under its own weight and provides different interpretations of Vachss's otherwise fairly similar stories.
Hard Looks: Adapted Stories
Reviewed by Steve Raiteri
Lawyer, crusader for child protection, and novelist Vachss (e.g., Only Child; Dead and Gone) has a longstanding connection to the comics world. He wrote the prose novel Batman: The Ultimate Evil (Warner Aspect, 1995), and his wonderful short book Another Chance To Get It Right (recently expanded and reissued by Dark Horse) is illustrated by comics artists. The short stories in this collection, including both illustrated prose works and stories adapted into comics form, are taken from a ten-issue comics series published by Dark Horse in the early 1990s (plus one new piece). These are grim, hard-hitting stories about crime and its price for both criminal and victim. The book's tone is not sensationalistic but unflinchingly realistic, and the consequences of child abuse are a major theme. Many of the stories have deftly orchestrated twist endings that can be shocking. The artwork by over a dozen different artists works in a variety of black-and-white styles. Mature themes, graphic violence, nudity, and profanity make this unsuitable for younger readers. The book can inspire both outrage at inhumanity and brutality and admiration for Vachss's searing writing. Strongly recommended for adult collections.
Hard Looks: Adapted Stories
Reviewed by Tom Russo
The short stories of jack-of-all-trades Andrew Vachss (the Burke detective novels) get the noir treatment as a black-and-white illustrated collection. The talents adapting Vachss' work are varied—from cult Texas writer Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap Collins-Leonard Pine novels) to British artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen)—but all seem capable of delivering jarring sensory uppercuts. These are sketches not just of society's seamy underbelly, but of the belly ring and navel lint to boot: a phone-sex operator stricken by recovered memories, a lawyer with a dark specialty in pedophilia cases, a homicidal hostage negotiator. Hard looks, indeed.
Reviewed by Sean Kelly
All right, this one is a reissue too, but it has new materials. If you aren't reading Andrew Vachss, you aren't reading one of the most absorbing voices in modern fiction. Vachss, a lawyer who represents children in abuse cases, brings his view of that world to the rest of us. Through his words, we meet serial killers, young gangsters, and monsters of all shapes and sizes. Yet, there is a humanity in there, an idea of right and wrong that is infallible. Vachss will shock and disgust you at times, but you will always learn something.
Hard Looks, Vol.1: "Cripple," "Drive By," "Statute of Limitations," "A Flash of White," "Born Bad," "Step on a Crack," "Dumping Ground," "Exit," "Anytime I Want," "Crime Partner," "Stone Magic," "Head Case," "Dead Game"
Hard Looks, 2nd Edition: "Placebo," "Hostage," "The Unwritten Law," "Family Resemblance," "Warlord," "Dead Game," "A Flash of White," "Stone Magic," "Born Bad," "Exit," "Cain," "Dumping Ground," "Lynch Law," "Drive By," "Anytime I Want," "White Alligator," "Treatment," "Joy Ride," "Replay," "Man To Man"
HARD LOOKS by Andrew Vachss
To daytime talk show literati, Andrew Vachss is a familiar face: the guy with the eye-patch on a zealous crusade for children's rights. From federal investigator to social worker to prison director to practising attorney, Vachss has fought for the creation of a federal registry for sex offenders, led a boycott of goods produced in Thailand to protest its child prostitution trade and dedicated his law career exclusively to representing youth.
But Vachss is also a novelist who writes about—you guessed it—"the beast" called child abuse. In Hard Looks, Vachss' previously-released short stories are adapted to the graphic novel—i.e. comic book—format.
Metropolis is a hell-hole and the bad guys aren't just bad—they're pedophiles, rapists and sex-killers. Sometimes there's a hero to save the day, sometimes the hero comes as brutal avenger, as in "Family Resemblance," where a relative of an abducted girl exacts payback on the killers with a sawed-off shot gun.
However, it's stories like "Flash of White," an exploration into the mind of a sex-obsessed stalker who monitors women via telescope that make for Hard Looks' most compelling moments. Vachss leaves the good-bad caricatures and heavy-handed obvious behind, and delivers complex psycho-dramas in the pathological city. Shade that city with some stark, dark illustration and you get a graphic world of hyper-violent, straight-faced adult action closer to Superman than American Splendor. It's just that the bad guys are sick and ugly and sometimes the hero is nowhere to be found.
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