Old Haunts is a book that hits hard and fast, dark and brutal, a magnificent noir crime thriller of regrets, blood, and brilliance.
I reviewed issue #1 of this 5-issue series back in early 2020, calling it the best first issue I’d read all year, but then it fell off my reviewing list (hey, there’s only 24 hours in a day and a reading pile that only ever seems to grow). So, now that it’s out in a collected form I had the enormous pleasure of sitting down and devouring the entire thing, from that best of year first issue all the way through to the very last page.
And damn, it’s a good read; dark, atmospheric, explosive, and full of imagery that evokes all the darkness contained in the storyline, whether it’s in the stark glare of the neon-lit nights of L.A. or in the liminal spaces at the edge of town.
And these liminal spaces are the perfect places to tell this tale, of Alex, Donny, and Primo, three bad men in transition, on the cusp of retirement, but three bad men whose past full of blood and ghosts is not ready to let go of them quite yet.
Five chapters, less than 100 pages, but definitely an essential book, the best crime comic I’ve read in heaven knows how long.
“Three Made Men, standing at the brink of retirement, find their unbreakable bond put to the ultimate test when they are suddenly – and literally – assaulted by the ghosts of their past. Confronted by decades of buried secrets – resentments, affairs, double-crosses, and murders – the three friends have no choice but to unearth the deepest, darkest sin from their past and pray they don’t find an empty grave.”
That’s the PR for Old Haunts, and there’s just no need to summarise the story any more than that because in so many ways Old Haunts isn’t as much about the plot unfolding as it is about the mood and tone that bleeds from each and every page, there both in Rob Williams and Ollie Masters‘ words and in the art from Laurence Campbell and Lee Loughridge.
And by saying that it’s not about the plot, I’m not denigrating what Williams and Masters have put into this at all, it’s just that this is that classic example of having a story that’s bare-bones simple, of criminals looking to the final act of their lives and of those they’ve wronged over the years, whether that’s each other, the cops that hunted them down, other criminals, or the many ghosts of the dead that they’ve left in their brutal and bloody trail.
And I know Williams and Masters would also agree that this is a book that would be nowhere near as gloriously effective at delivering this noir masterpiece if it weren’t for the contributions of Campbell and Loughridge.
It’s all gloriously cinematic, as we move through the LA landscape, with the tight lines of Campbell’s art working for both the characterful cast populating this story, where there’s no mistaking the individuals, where the bold strokes are well used, and for the wider shots, whether in the dark of the city or the dark of the outskirts of town where the very bad things happen.
Although it’s a book that happens at night – these are, after all, characters who do their best/worst work in the darkness – there’s no lack of bright lights and incredibly bold colors, with Loughridge putting colors on the page that do so much more than simply filling in already existing linework. No, this is color work that enhances and expands the style, tone, mood, and meaning of every panel, colors flooding the page when they need to, dazzling us when they need to, subtly highlighting things in a minor palette key when they need to – it’s all just there right from the opening panel to the very end.
Just to give some illustration to what I mean, that perfect synergy between Campbell and Loughridge, some examples… and I could have shown you 20, 30, 40 others.
The first issue sets the tone just incredibly, with the neon-lit vistas of L.A. so high in the mix of things, almost as though the streetlights are marking the trails of blood through the city…
And once the tone of it all is set, Campbell and Loughridge simply don’t let up at all, shifting their line and colour styles as the moment needs it – it might be capturing the dark lighting of some dive bar, the near expressionistic backdrops drowning in bar lighting, whilst the character work in the foreground is similarly drenched in shadows…
Or it could be the stripped-back style of a flashback, the dark moments in the made men’s past shown with the colors bleached out, yet you can still feel the blinding glare of the headlights…
Or you have those the street scenes, mixing the light sources, but all burning so bright, blurring into the blacks of the foreground…
This is one of those moments where every creator contributes something fundamental to the finished work and, just as there was this pure synergy between artist and color artist, there’s just the same synergy here between everyone involved.
And what that synergy gives you is this perfectly done, absolutely enthralling, totally dark, extremely nasty little slice of story sitting in the black heart of the gangster story. That first issue was the best first issue of the year – the collection will definitely be up there amongst the best of 2021.
Old Haunts – written by Rob Williams & Ollie Masters, art by Laurence Campbell, colours by Lee Loughridge, letters by Sal Cipriano, published by AWA Upshots.
For more on Old Haunts, check out the ICE-Cast Live taking with Rob Williams and Ollie Masters and here’s the review of the first issue from way back when. You can also read the first two issues over at the AWA website, broken down panel-by-panel and optimised for screens.
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