- Series: Dark Horse Comics Collection
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Dark Horse (November 20, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1569718296
- ISBN-13: 978-1569718292
- Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,982,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hard Looks: Adapted Stories (Book market edition) Paperback – November 20, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From the Publisher
Andrew Vachss is the author of the Burke series of novels, the 14th of which, Only Child, will be released Fall 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf. His books have been translated into twenty languages and have won The Gran Prix de Litterature Policiere (France), The Falcon Award (Japan), The Deutschen Krimi Preis (Germany), and The Raymond Chandler Award (Italy). His work has appeared in Parade, Antaeus, Esquire, The New York Times, Playboy, and numerous other forums.
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I read a couple Vachss books twenty-some years ago and was never very impressed with him as a novelist. His short stories are better, and lend themselves extremely well to graphic adaptation. What I like best about Vachss is simply his commitment to the comics medium. Hard Looks is only one of several comics projects he’s undertaken. Why don’t more genre fiction writers follow his example? The stories in Hard Looks are gritty tales of urban crime. The images—provided by artists Geof Darrow, Gary Gianni, Dave Gibbons, and others—often have the dark and stark flavor of film noir. Yet for the most part, this is not the sort of glorified, romanticized violence one finds in Frank Miller’s Sin City. Vachss has worked as an attorney, a social worker, a prison director, and a child advocate, and incorporates experiences from these occupations into his stories. His tales are populated by teenage gangsters, dirty cops, shifty lawyers, child molesters, rapists, and serial killers. Occasionally he drifts farther afield. “Half Breed” ventures into fantasy and horror territory, “Warlord” is set in the world of 1950s street gangs, and “Lynch Law” is a racially charged tale set in the American South in 1959. The rest take place in a brutal criminal underbelly of contemporary America that’s all the more shocking because it’s based on reality.
Not every story is a masterpiece, but overall they are quite good. Among the best are “Drive-By,” in which a teenager tries to prove his worth to a gangster by attacking a rival gang; “Treatment,” which deals with the psychological rehabilitation of a sex offender; “Step on a Crack,” about two childhood friends who drift apart to opposite sides of the law; and “Hostage,” in which a police negotiator tries to coax a suicidal man off of a ledge. They’re all written in an unflinchingly realistic style and often end with a surprising twist.
The Hard Looks series ran for ten issues. This is not a complete compendium, but rather a “greatest hits” collection. Dark Horse recently published a second collection entitled Harder Looks, which appears to be available only in e-book format. What they should really do is publish a complete collection of all ten issues in one inexpensive, newsprint omnibus edition, similar to the Marvel Essentials series. Hard Looks was a great experiment in comic literature, and deserves to be resurrected and made available to a whole new audience. Until that happens, however, this volume will do just fine.
'Hard Looks' is really a compilation - 15 stories extracted from a Dark Horse comic-book series of the same name. Most of these stories actually appeared originally in two short story collections - 'Born Bad,' and 'Everybody Pays.' Six of the stories are strait text, the rest are adaptations of Vachss' stories to the graphic format. The largest percentage were adapted by Neal Barrett, Jr., but a broad spectrum of other authors are represented, from Joe R. Lansdale to Charles de Lint.
Each story, graphic or not, is as tough as one can make a recreation of Vachss' work. The stories are about people who are suddenly brought face to face with the reality that underlies their fantasies, whether it is a kid who dreams of being a big tough in the neighborhood or a woman working in a phone-for-thrills studio. The only goodness that happens is on those rare occasions when evil loses the struggle. In Vachss' world, that isn't often enough.
The illustration is pure pen and ink, by a variety of artists. While the general styling is gritty and noir, there is considerable variation. One of my few irritations with the book is that while the artists and adapters are given credit, they deserve a better introduction. Especially since only a small part of Vachss' readership is familiar with the modern comic as art. Like any experiment, some stories work better than do others, but over all, this is a very successful effort. Fans will enjoy the graphic insight into a dark work, and, hopefully, this will mark the introduction of one of the our most intense writers to an entirely new readership.