Pleasure to See You Again: The Assignment TPB (REVIEW)
Story & Screenplay: Walter Hill & Denis Hamill
Adapted by: Matz
Release Date: 14 March 2017
This is going to be one of the more difficult comic reviews I have written. Partly because it is the first after transitioning from single issues to trades. The first week after getting off the train is always a bit jarring. Getting back on is even more so. But it is mainly because I am not sure that I can pinpoint the exact reasons why I feel the way that I do about this comic. It is, perhaps, one of the most complex relationships with a book that I have ever had, and I am not quite certain as I set out on this post that I know exactly how to unpack it.
The Assignment is the story of professional hitman Frank Kitchen. It's a crime noire story published under the Hard Case imprint by Titan Comics. I've had a hard time trying to understand if it was sold as single-issues and then collected in this trade. If it was, it appears that it was a limited run of three issues. The trade is 128 pages of reading, with another 9 of credits, legalese, and reprints of the original covers. A movie by the same name was released back in February starring Sigourney Weaver as the doctor and Michelle Rodriguez as Kitchen. Both the movie and the comic follow the path of the protagonist following his murder of a fashion designer in New York who owed money to drug dealers for cocaine. Relocating to San Francisco thereafter, Kitchen is eventually abducted by the designer's sister who is seeking revenge. Unfortunately for Frank, the doctor is also a sociopath who has been operating on homeless abductees in a macabre series of experimental gender-change surgeries. She decides to use Kitchen as her latest volunteer. Kitchen awakens with most of his most personal effects out of place, and a few new ones. As any good hitman would do, he sets out to seek revenge. And we have our story.
There is...something...about this story that I have just not been able to nail down. But let me first say that I burned through this trade in about 2.5 days. It arrived on a Sunday and I was done with it by Tuesday, averaging 40 pages a day. That's faster than my norm because I almost never sit down exclusively to read comics. It is something that I do in bed before going to sleep, or while I am standing up waiting for something to cook in the microwave. This was simply a trade that I literally had to force myself to put down. I would actually keep myself from turning the page and would just slip my bookmark into the space behind the last page that I read; otherwise I knew I would never stop if I saw what was on the next page.
One of the things is that Matz does an excellent job of writing extremely clean prose. Not one word in this comic is wasted. Every line serves to either further define a character, or actually progress the story forward. Nothing is a throw-away. I had a high level of concern that the writing was going to take things too far in terms of being highly descriptive of the things Kitchen was experiencing in his transition. I was expecting a hyper-textualized description of the experience strewn with a ton of medical jargon and anatomical verbiage. That would have had two negative effects. It would have caused me to be uncomfortably squeemish about the physical aspects, while masking the emotional, and it would have bogged down the pacing of the story. It is expert craft to have not taken that route. Instead what we get is a smoothly conveyed, contiguous reel of story-telling that feels like it was always meant to be a trade.
Jef's artwork is simply amazing. He is one of those rare artists that has that ability to do backdrops and scenery that are super detailed, as well as exquisite portraits, well-choreographed melee, gunplay; the guy even does cars well. It's remarkable that he just handles every facet of comic book art-work that good. There are a few instances of some weird visages of people in close-ups (some jaws in weird positions, and a bit too much texture in some of the faces), but the number is in the single-digits across 120+ pages. And yes, there is some nudity in this comic, as one might expect given the subject matter. It's all tastefully done. Those panels are actually some of Jef's best in term of colors as he uses blended gradients representing a wide spectrum in lighting as scenes transition from sunset into night.
All said, this is a pretty amazing set of pages in comic book form. It's perhaps the most significant and important trade released so far this year. The only thing that knocked a bit of the shine off was the ending. Kitchen sets out on a new crusade that, admittedly, makes sense given the scenario, but didn't feel like the story had really worked itself up to and earned. The story kind of more naturally lends itself to a "rides off into the sunset" and "Frank Kitchen will return" kind of ending rather than him becoming some sort of altruistic avenger. And unfortunately, as it is with movies, an ending that skews a bit wide can sometimes have a big impact on my final takeaway from the work. I did not dislike the ending per se, it was just a bit jarring. As an overall epic, I really loved this, and I am really happy that I read it as this is far and outside from my normal capes and tights fare. Walter Hill's script and Matz' adaptation is an amazingly well-paced and enticing bit of prose, as I could argue that not a lot really happens in the first 80 pages. But I was as enthralled as I might have been in another comic full of flying fists and bad guys being punched through walls. I am still not quite sure how they did it. But I certainly hope this is not the last comic book work that we ever see from this particular creative team.