The setup of Hadrian’s Wall #1, which hits stores Sept. 14th, is one you’ve read before, containing all the elements of a classic detective noir-style story. There’s the down on his luck investigator addicted to painkillers, a murder that is supposed to be an open and close case, and an estranged wife who is oozing femme fatale vibes. This isn’t a a bad thing; in fact it works to the book’s advantage by playing on our expectations of how these sort of stories go. It has a clear Blade Runner influences and fans of neo-noir look at feel will fall in love here. It’s a future that is less shiny and now, instead going for a a look that’s just ahead of us. Some things never change, after all, and a murder is apparently one of them.
Hadrian’s Wall #1 doesn’t bog you down in exposition. Kyle Higgins and Alex Siegel move things fast and give you just enough information to keep the story running. We know the Cold War turned out differently in this alternate future and we know a hundred years have passed and the world is now on the brink of a new Cold War, this one between Earth and space colony known as Theta. That’s enough to get things going. Higgins and Siegel have a knack for sharp dialogue and interesting characters, and that’s on full display in Hadrian’s Wall. They use archetypes you know and then tweak everything just slightly. It works to great effect and will leave you hungry for the second issue.
The murder in question takes place on a ship called, wait for it, Hadrian’s Wall. It appears to have been an accident and our main character is called in for a “rubber stamp” job that should just require signing off on the incident so business can return to usual. Of course, that’d all be too simple and we quickly discover that the victim has a history with our investigator and one of the ship’s crew members happens to be his ex-wife. Oh, and the accident? Looking less and less like an accident The question is, why would they call him in if he has a connection to the victim? Why would he be assigned this seemingly simple task when the higher-ups would certainly know that his ex-wife is on board? Thereare a lot of questions asked in this first issue and it reels readers in, big time. You want answers, you have to keep reading.
The art is handled by Rod Reis, who Higgins and Siegel collaborated with on the fantastic series C.O.W.L. Reis excels at characters, often dropping backgrounds out entirely to let the focus ride on expressions and posture. The line work and colors are superb, as he never loses control of a panel or scene. It would be nice if there we got a few more background details, just to get a handle on what this future looks like exactly, but what Reis does give you works well enough and always leaves the book feeling grounded, even when it takes place on a spaceship. More than anything, he’s an expert storyteller, deftly unfolding this murder mystery with skill and precision.
Troy Peteri’s lettering is on point, too, which helps in a talking-head sort of story like this. The panels never feel overburdened by the text. All in all, Hadrian’s Wall#1 is a finely crafted introduction to a mystery and a world we’re ready to explore more of, and since it’s an eight issue mini-series, we’ll get some sort of resolution. This story probably wouldn’t work as well as an ongoing, so we’re excited to see where things head. Look, murder in space with a noir feel? What else do you need from a comic book, right? Especially when it’s done this damn well.
Images: Hadrian’s Wall/Image Comics
Benjamin Bailey writes for the Nerdist and can be found on Twitter talking about Godzilla, comic books, and hardcore music.