Do you ever read a book or group of books and fall hard in love with them, but aren’t sure if you can quite put into words why? That’s what I’m feeling after reading the three Pistolwhip books by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall. I picked all three up during one of Top Shelf’s fantastic sales after discovering Kindt’s work by way of the excellent Super Spy. I knew nothing about them but figured I’d give them a shot. I actually read Mephisto And The Empty Box not too long ago, but had to give it another read after diving so deep into Pistolwhip and Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace.
Pistolwhip stars a bellhop-turned-PI of the same name who gets embroiled in a complicated and complex whodunit that starts with a shooting and then goes on to explain how each character involved got there and where they went afterwards. Each chapter of the book is told from the same perspective of a different character who was in the room, which nearly all of them interacting with secondary or tertiary characters from the other story. What winds up happening is that you really feel like you’re steeped in this world set in a big city in the 30s or 40s.
I had to flip back through this book to remind myself what happened, but I don’t mean that as a check in the negative column. On the contrary, this book does so much in its 120 pages that I felt like I was put on the tracks and rocketed forward in this roller coaster of a mystery-thriller. As such, I grabbed on to whatever I could, but kept moving forward to find out what was going on. It’s similar to something like The Usual Suspects or Reservoir Dogs — two of my favorite movies — in that sense. And, like those movies, I want to return to Pistolwhip again and again to see what else I can absorb.
The only downside to that style of storytelling (or more accurately, my reading of it, because I choose the speed of a comic) added to the loose, cartoony style of the artwork, is that I was definitely confused in the beginning of the story about who I was following and when. I got it eventually, but that’s not something you have to deal with in a film, usually.
Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace (Top Shelf)
By Matt Kindt & Jason Hall
The follow-up book Pistolwhip: The Yellow Menace crafts a similarly complex story, but does it in a different way with a whole different thrust. This time around, someone’s committing crimes under the name of the Yellow Menace, the villain on a very popular radio program a a la The Shadow. At the same time the show’s hero Jack Peril has also decided to become a real person and is trying to take down his nemesis. The story becomes a double sided mystery, on one hand Pistolwhip is trying to figure out who the Yellow Menace is and also who Jack Peril really is.
What really impressed me most about Yellow Menace is not only that it keeps the same high quality as the previous volume, but also weaves a similar tale with a completely different end result. I also want to mention Mephisto once again. That is a completely self-contained tale that can be read on its own and also does not need to be read to enjoy either of these books. However, the box does appear at one point in one of the books, so there’s a definitely connection. Even though I’d read that smaller volume not too long before, I still immediately dug it out and gave it another read so I could absorb the full Pistolwhip world. I recommend doing exactly that if you’re going to read these books: catch ’em all Pokemon style, then read them as quickly as you can. You’ll need to go back and catch up a bit, but you’ll also really take in all the small interconnected details (at least that’s how I work).
I also want to take a paragraph and talk a bit about something I tend to overlook and that’s book design. As you can see from the image, the front cover of the first volume is actually a great high-res image of an old timey radio. Parts and schematics can be found inside. Heck, even the back cover looks like an old radio complete with stickers, stamps and notes that aren’t just thoughtful re-creations. The second volume goes a different direction but still offers a really great set of covers that I spent a good deal of time checking out.