I've been enjoying "Ten Grand," the new series written by J. Michael Straczynski that combines crime noir with supernatural horror. When the announcement that Ben Templesmith (the original artist) was being replaced by C.P. Smith with "Ten Grand" #5, though, I was a little concerned. Templesmith's nightmarish vision of the world of "Ten Grand" was certainly part of the series' appeal, and I found myself a little concerned about what the new issue would look like. With the book's schedule now back on track, the first issue drawn by Smith has shown up. As it turns out, it wasn't Smith's art that I should have been concerned with.
Don't get me wrong, it's very different than Templesmith's, and if that was the main draw of "Ten Grand," I can understand if you might feel a little hesitant. Where Templesmith's art was full of loose lines and incredibly vibrant and hot colors, Smith's is much smoother and tighter, with a cool look to the pages. Smith's art comes across as almost animation-influenced, with those near-perfectly shaped heads and uniform sizes on the fingers. It's a nice look, though, and while the sudden shift from Templesmith to Smith might look a little jarring, I felt like Smith did his best to mitigate any potential damage. There are pages where the color choices are quite similar to what Templesmith had done on the title, and main character Joe still resembles himself.
More importantly, once you stop comparing Smith's work to Templesmith's, there's no denying that Smith's an excellent artist. The concerned look on Joe's face as he enters the underworld looks great on the very first page, and little moments like him glancing off to the right as he walks along are expressive and revealing. His depiction of the Lost is excellent, too; their photo-negative looks work in part because it's not just Smith flipping the colors to their opposites. Their blurry, indistinct forms look wonderfully creepy here, especially when compared to the normally crisp and perfectly formed people that Smith draws throughout the comic. It's little touches like that which will quickly sell you on Smith's art. When the River Styx suddenly transforms into Hokusai's "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" -- well, that's when I became a fan.
Unfortunately, Straczynski's story feels like the pacing has suddenly and with no warning, ground to a crawl. I understand that this is a transitional issue, one that exists to move Joe out of the first act and into the second. But aside from some little factoids about the afterlife here and there (the discussion about how the river works, for example), there's nothing to sink your proverbial teeth into. It's slow, and it doesn't hold one's attention nearly as well as the previous issues did.
"Ten Grand" #5 definitely weathered the shift in artist, and to that I give the comic great props. Hopefully now that it's behind us, the book will pick up the pace with Joe firmly in the afterlife. If story and art can get back into sync again, it'll be the "Ten Grand" that I've come to love.