“Near Death” continues its single issue story focus, with a reformed hitman saving the life of a cop trying to expose corruption in her own department, to the detriment of her safety. It also continues all the same strengths and serious drawbacks of the series so far.
The series, itself, has the look and feel of a prime time detective series in the mold of series creator Jay Faerber’s two biggest influences, Steven J. Cannell and Robert Parker. It adds just the slightest little mystical twist on top, used only to propel the character in his new mission to save people, not kill them. After that, it’s a new case each month, complete in one issue. He swoops in, saves someone’s life, and uses a theoretically hopefully smart trick to defeat the bad guys.
This month, Markham is saving the life of a police officer whose partner he once killed when he lived that different life. That quickly sets up a lot of tension in the issue and in the scenes between the two. But with her life on the line and his desire to help, they manage to get along long enough to ensure her safety and to sweep up the bad guys. It's not completely one-sided, either. You can see the pain in Markham's face when the topic comes up. He has a debt he knows he needs to repay, but he'd prefer to do it this way rather than through jail time or worse.
The problem is that the ending for this issue, like the previous one, is too obvious. It’s further compounded this month by the character whose life is being saved not thinking of it first. When characters have to act dumb to surprise the reader, it immediately lessens the surprise. While adding a second issue to the story might have been too much, the story would have been well-served from an extra twist or two on a few more pages, perhaps to help explain why Markham’s grand plan had a flaw that the police officer had anticipated. I look forward to the story where the person Markham is protecting turns out to be smarter than he is and can point out the flaws and perhaps frustrate him a bit.
Simone Guglielmini’s art gets better by the issue. While I had some issues with it last month, this one comes out clean. I had no storytelling qualms here, and the art, itself, is technically sound and beautiful, in the Michael Lark style.
The cover by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman can only be described as an homage to Tim Bradstreet. Though the handcuffs look a little too large, the whole image of a cuffed man behind bars in shades of browns smacks of a Bradstreet “Punisher” cover.
“Near Death” has a great premise to hang a series on. The art is getting stronger as things progress, but the endings need to be more challenging before the series can take off.