Art by: Dominike “Domo” Stanton
Colors by: Paul Little
Letters by: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Boom Studios
I came into Big Con Job #1 cold: Amanda Conner’s lively cover art shows a bunch of aging space-opera stars at a convention table. Their larger than life TV personas are depicted on banners that stretch high behind their real life counterparts; looming over the actual people behind the clearly much younger characters. The images overwhelm and diminish them. It’s a great piece of art because on first glance it has a self-aware, lighthearted look to it. After reading the issue, however, that cover takes on a much darker tone.
Palmiotti and Brady have created a group of characters instantly familiar to fans of comic books, science fiction and fantasy in general: aging TV stars wearily working the convention circuit to earn their daily bread. There’s the buxom, Princess Leia-like love interest to the pulpy, Captain Kirk-ish Buck Blaster in the aptly-named series ‘Treck Wars’. The pair look out into a sparse audience that has turned on them: asking accusatory, confrontational questions and demanding answers from the actors (Blaze Storm and Danny Dean) who obviously had very little input on their character’s development.
There’s nothing lighthearted about the look Big Con Job’s writing team provide into the hardscrabble lives of the increasingly obsolete actors. They can’t pay their rent and are getting evicted; they’re getting stiffed on promised appearance fees and drooled over by the invasive fans they must cater to. In one particularly gut-wrenching scene, Poach Brewster, the man behind the show’s Spock-esque scientist, breaks up with his younger partner. She’s a beautiful actress on the rise, and he knows his melancholia is holding her back. As he clutches her pillow to his face the next morning, I actually turned my face away from the panels. I keenly felt the anguish of these characters. I’m sure the recent loss of Leonard Nimoy added poignancy to Brewster’s story; thank goodness Nimoy had a rich artistic life post Star Trek.
Some intensely heartbreaking scenes are still to come. A warning: if you struggle with depression, or are just having a rough day, you might want to read this issue when the clouds disappear. But you should read it. I was shocked by the unexpected depth, not just of the plot but also of Dominike Stanton’s art. It seemed to subtlety change from page to page, morphing so the characters and settings matched the tone of the story. In the convention scenes, where the actors put on their best imitations of happiness and nostalgia, the art becomes rounder, and more stylized. When Dean and Brewster try to drink away their pain, the images seem to stretch slightly, giving them a more strung-out look.
It all lays the groundwork for a strange heist scheme, which name-checks the San Diego Comic Convention just before the book ends. Most heist narratives waste little time in defining the “why” of the robbery or con-job; it’s enough to know that money is at stake, or perhaps a loosely-sketched blackmail scenario. Not so in Big Con Job. The why is painful, understandable and relatable. Comic readers may not be washed up actors well-past their 15 minutes of fame, but they have loved the characters portrayed by those people. Have traveled with them in their hearts and minds to distant lands and planets; but will they follow them past the adventure scenes and epic battles through the dismal struggles of the real-world people behind the fame? To see what likely-illegal schemes that desperation and tragedy can push a person to consider? For my part, I’m ready to watch this group break bad: I can’t look away.