Review time! with Rat Catcher
Rat Catcher, Andy Diggle and Victor Ibañez’s new crime comic (with lettering help from Jared K. Fletcher), is published by Vertigo and costs $19.99. Just like all the other Vertigo crime comics! Funny how that works, innit?
This is a pretty good entrant in the Vertigo crime line, as Diggle tells us a story that has a bit of the same vibe as The Losers, with twists and turns and betrayals and all sorts of action. We begin with a burning house out in the middle of nowhere (or West Texas, which is pretty much the same thing), out of which staggers a man in a suit who’s bleeding from a bullet wound in his shoulder. He stumbles into the path of a car driven by a portly schmuck who tries to call the cops, but who doesn’t get a chance before our wounded mystery man knocks him out. Then we find out what’s going on, as Moses Burdon, an aging FBI guy, arrives on the scene as two cops watch the house burn. Burdon says it’s crime scene, which we kind of already knew, but slowly we learn what’s going on – a man in the employ of the biggest gangster in West Texas was going to testify against him, and the FBI was keeping him in a safe house before the U.S. Marshals could take over. We also learn that Burdon’s partner, William Lynch, believed that the gangster, Rawlins, had an assassin inside the FBI called the Rat Catcher, who would kill witnesses before they could testify and make them look like accidents so no one was the wiser. Burdon never believed in the Rat Catcher, but maybe Lynch was onto something. And then Lynch is brought into the hospital, unconscious and shot. The man who came out of the burning house begins to work his way toward Rawlins, telling the gangster’s low-level flunkies that he needs to talk to the gangster …
It’s all very gripping, and Diggle does a nice job telling it, cutting nicely back and forth to various characters as the stakes rise. I certainly don’t want to give too much away, because it’s fun figuring out what’s going on. Diggle drops a very major clue about the Rat Catcher’s identity very early on in the book, but we’re not exactly sure what it means until it becomes obvious who the Rat Catcher is. That’s only part of the story, of course – the Rat Catcher’s identity is revealed relatively early in the book, as we start to get suspicious about someone not even halfway through the book – because Diggle is telling a story about the two main characters – Burdon and Lynch – and what drives them to do certain things. As much as it’s an action/adventure story, it’s also a story about falling from grace and what people do to reclaim it. It’s certainly not the deepest comic, but Diggle does a nice job taking a stock situation and giving some depth to the characters involved, as well as pulling some nice twists on us. One twist doesn’t really work – if you read the preview of this book, the scene that was featured is more confusing than it should be, and it feels like Diggle is just trying to confuse us – but I don’t want to go into it too much. It was the only time when it felt like Diggle was deliberately misleading the reader, and while I understand why he did it, it was kind of annoying.
Ibañez is a good part of the book’s success, as well. He has a nice, thin line that makes the badlands of West Texas come alive – the landscape feels bleak because Ibañez doesn’t try to do too much with it. His character work is tremendous, too – everyone looks like real people, with all sorts of body types and reactions to events – Burdon reacts like a tired old man, while Marshal Switzer, with whom he investigates the crime, is gung-ho and pissed off that her witness was killed. There’s a lot of violence in the comic, of course, but Ibañez does a nice job making sure it’s visceral without being gory, giving it a greater impact. When something horrific happens, it almost catches us by surprise (even though we know bad things are happening all the time), because his work on the rest of the book is understated a bit. It’s a good fit for the story that Diggle is writing.
I’d like to write more about the story, but it really does work better if you don’t know what’s coming. Diggle keeps the pace quick and the tension high, so that we keep wondering what’s going to happen next and fearing for everyone’s safety, especially because no one is safe, as we learn as we read through the book. Even a flashback scene surprises us despite the fact that we know what’s coming, because Diggle does such a nice job with the pacing and tension. While this isn’t quite as good as the very best of the Vertigo crime books, it’s a pretty good thriller, and it’s certainly worth a look.