5th October, 2009
Die Hard: Year One
"For BOOM! to cast a look back at McClane's early years as a rookie cop, rather than creating Die Hard 5 (or 6 or 7) is a bold choice. It works though, as it distils what audiences so loved about the first film."
When I first saw this series promoted I thought it was a rather strange choice for a new title from BOOM! Studios. However, they have proven themselves to be the master of gaining audiences with a diverse array of popular franchises. Die Hard: Year One can now stand proudly alongside the other licences in BOOM!'s bow, such as The Incredibles, Farscape, Toy Story, The Muppet Show and others.
Granted this could easily be a generic cop series. The character of John McClane, as faithfully portrayed in the four Die Hard films, isn't necessary here. An original creation could work just as well, but to paraphrase Michael Scott from TV's The Office, there's a big difference between the first Die Hard film and 2007's Die Hard 4.0.
The 1988 classic that introduced one of the best action films of all time was a far cry from the Arnie and Sly-dominated films in the years before it. New York cop John McClane was just a normal guy who wanted to spend the holidays with his family, until a gathering of Euro-terrorists ruined his plans and forced him to kill bad guys in an increasingly desperate fashion. He was no superhuman, just a poor guy in a vest with bleeding feet.
The two sequels in the 1990s still kept this underdog persona largely intact, but Die Hard 4.0 was a departure. All of a sudden, McClane was no longer squirming through vents, but was driving cars into helicopters and surfing on the wings of a fighter jet. Sure, it was still an entertaining film, but 19 years after the original it was obvious how far Hollywood's bloated tendencies, and audience expectations, had come.
So, kudos to BOOM! for bringing McClane back to his humble roots. The 'Year One' tag is a popular one in comics, thanks to Frank Miller's and David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One mini-series in 1987 that explored the origins of the Dark Knight, and was later referenced in Batman Begins. For BOOM! to cast a look back at McClane's early years as a rookie cop, rather than creating Die Hard 5 (or 6 or 7) is a bold choice. It works though, as it distils what audiences so loved about the first film.
This first issue (of four) evokes the reality of the original, rather than the Hollywood veneer of the last sequel and that's what makes it such a welcome breath of smoggy New York air. Writer Howard Chaykin is an unusual choice for this project, as his usual work veers more to satire and dark humour. He does a splendid job here though and firmly, and easily, establishes the reality of the premise. I can see this series will be like any Robert DeNiro film of the last 15 years - downtrodden cop in a big city facing the chaos around him with wits and a service revolver, but so far it has a certain style and rugged charm.
The art is simple, yet evocative. Similar to the broad, somewhat sketchy style of John Paul Leon, artist Stephen Thompson mires every page with the truth of living and working in one of the world's busiest cities. It's never bright, or stylised, just - real. The main character doesn't necessarily look like Bruce Willis, but if you want to see a younger version of the man himself, you can always check out his new film, Surrogates. Matthew Wilson's colours show harsh sunshine and crowded streets with relish, and the occasional use of Benday dots give the pages a nice nostalgia. It really looks like 1976, especially with the little touches like the fashions and the old school clock radio effect to show the passing of time.
This premiere ish begins on the morning of 4th July in 1976 and we immediately learn that McClane (who I don't believe we've ever seen in a cop uniform on screen) has presumably fought in the Vietnam War and is now a fresh cop on patrol. Chaykin captures the tone well and sets the grubby '70s New York scene firmly in place, with both McClane's captions and those of the unseen narrator, plus the vivid characters scattered throughout the tale, conjuring up a well-paced, never heavy experience. I'm sure the dubious cops, and various characters who briefly appear, such as the rich old guy and scared girl new to the city will all come together and something bad will happen, with McClane caught in the middle. So far, not a lot of McClane is shown, but that's OK, as the cogs of the story are obviously clicking in to place. This is a tale that is different enough in tone to not only everything else BOOM! puts out, but most of what is on the stands today, that it's a pleasure to read.
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