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REVIEW: Head Games – The Art of Noir

 
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head-games-cover

 
Overview
 

Story by: Craig McDonald
 
Art by: Kevin Singles
 
Publisher: First Second Books
 
Publisher:
 
FG RATING
 
 
 
 
 
3.5/ 5


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Raves


Faithful to the original novel; captures the vibe of 1950s noir

Rants


Too many working elements at times; inconsistent pacing


To sum it all up..

One high-profile skull for one big payday – that’s the mindset of Hector Lassiter in the graphic novel adaptation of crime novelist Craig McDonald’s Edgar-nominated piece Head Games. Head Games is divided into three parts. Part One, set in 1957, takes up the majority of the story. Hector, an adventurer-turned-writer, sets out on a journey alongside […]

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Posted August 20, 2017 by

 
FULL REVIEW
 
 

One high-profile skull for one big payday – that’s the mindset of Hector Lassiter in the graphic novel adaptation of crime novelist Craig McDonald’s Edgar-nominated piece Head Games.

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Head Games is divided into three parts. Part One, set in 1957, takes up the majority of the story. Hector, an adventurer-turned-writer, sets out on a journey alongside budding poet Bud Fiske in an effort to sell the skull of Pancho Villa, which is believed to be carrying a treasure map, to the highest bidder. Hector and Bud would soon be joined by Alicia Vicente, a mysterious vixen whom Hector was instantly smitten by. During the trip, the trio encounter mercenaries, fraternity members, crooked agents, and other assailants who would kill for the skull.

Part Two, serving as an interlude set in 1967, has an old and broken Hector looking back at how everything and everyone around him has changed for the past ten years. The shortest part of the entire story, it quickly ends with Hector’s demise at the hands of a member of Yale’s Skull and Bones society.

Part Three, set in 1970, focuses on a battle-hardened Bud exacting revenge on the Skull and Bones for robbing Hector’s grave and stealing his skull, with slight assistance from a young George W. Bush and the voice of Hector from beyond the grave. The never-ending cat-and-mouse game ends in a cliffhanger as Bud prepares to take out three of his assailants in a game of chicken.

If noir fiction is a genre from a bygone era, then Head Games takes readers on a trip through time minus the DeLorean and the TARDIS. Fans of noir may enjoy the tone of McDonald’s gritty writing and Kevin Singles’ 1950s pulp-inspired visuals. Singles maintained a minimalistic color palette a la Sin City, but opting for a predominantly grayscale tone mixed with a shade of yellow.

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McDonald threw in a few easter eggs of sorts to further reference the 1950s setting. In a few pages, With Bud in tow, Hector makes a stop at the set of Orson Welles’ film noir classic “Touch of Evil” at the latter’s request. On the set, Hector reconnects with an old flame–“the Kraut” Marlene Dietrich until he finds out that Orson was using their history as inspiration for his script. There were also multiple allusions to Hector’s frequent collaborations with Ernest Hemingway which were a nice touch. I found Prescott Bush (father of George H. W. and grandfather of George W.) showing interest in Pancho’s skull a bit funny. I’m not exactly sure why but it is what it is.

As far as characters go, most of the characters (including Hector) exhibit notable noir tropes that stick until the last time we see them. The only slight exception to the rule is Bud. Originally starting out as an observer of sorts in Hector’s world, Bud grows to be a younger version of Hector (save for one eye) by Part Three. The change didn’t feel as organic as I thought it should be but I do understand why Bud would suddenly go Jason Todd Lite on the Skull and Bones.

In terms of pacing, McDonald and Singles fluctuate between speeds. The story is never too short on action sequences, but some of the pages focusing on interaction between characters felt dragging at times. It almost felt like a chore to go past a few lines of dialogue. And speaking of action sequences, there are instances wherein I was already trying to figure out who was going after Hector and what their M.O. was. It felt to me like some characters were just in the story as filler. Oftentimes, it’s not a good sign for me. Thankfully, the visuals balance out the writing as they should.

Overall, if you need a 1950s noir fix with a little nod to historical figures, Head Games may be something you can look into. It’s not the perfect noir novel-turned-graphic novel by any means but it can hold its own, as long as it can somehow stand out in a good way.

 

Photos courtesy of CraigMcDonaldBooks.com


Emjay Lapus

 
Emjay wears multiple hats -- communications specialist, aspiring Power Ranger, wrestling fan, sneakerhead, comic book reader, member of the Grizz Nation, part-time musician/full-time music lover, Grove Street OG, occasional photo/video editor (mostly memes), and protector of Earthrealm.


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