Jay Faerber’s Point of Impact, though not destined to become a great comic in the canon of graphic storytelling, is a perfect short story told in four issues, which is exactly what he tries to do. Sometimes one is in the mood for a large, sprawling epic, and other times, one just wants to read a poem or short story. You don’t need any background information about superheroes, supervillains, or mutants. All you need to do is start reading, and once you see the first dead body, you’re hooked, particularly if you are a fan of Law and Order, Harry Bosch novels, or other police procedurals: The spirit of Dragnet and the 87th Precinct lives on.
Jay Faerber came on my radar when I read the first issue of Near Death, an excellent noir story about an assassin-for-hire who changes his ways for the better after a near-death experience. Unfortunately, this title — one of my favorites of 2012 — was cancelled. It was as good as noir comics by Bendis, Brubaker, or Rucka, and if it had had their more high-profile names on it (though Faerber is far from being an unknown), it would have had more readers and never been cancelled. I thought it good enough to teach in my college classes (which is also the reason I haven’t written a review of it yet — I didn’t want my students last semester to read their professor’s thoughts on a book before they formed their own). I mention Near Death here because Faerber continues two aspects of that series in Point of Impact: 1) He continues writing noir comics, though he goes from writing an examination of the guilty criminal mind to writing a police procedural, and 2) He continues his excellent series of essays, “Under the Influence,” in which he discusses various noir books and television shows that have influenced his own noir writing (These essays are available in individual issues, even digitally, but not in the Near Death trade collections).
Point of Impact starts out simply: We are looking through the windshield of a car parked in front of a city apartment building as a man is letting a woman off after a date. Their romantic parting is interrupted by the sudden crash of a body on a roof. Then the story is off and running, and the momentum never lets up throughout the four issues, with three perfect cliff-hangers that leave us wanting that next issue immediately. Even though it hasn’t been collected in a trade yet, the series just finished, so you don’t have to wait a month between issues the way I did. However, you will either need to wait for the trade (assuming a trade is published — not all comics are collected as trades), track down individual issues at your local comic book store or Ebay, or, as I did, buy all four issues on Comixology (for $1.99 an issue). I would buy the individual issues instead of waiting for a trade collection that in all likelihood will not carry the essays.
The story is compelling, and though the art is good, it’s nothing fantastic. However, it doesn’t need to be: This story doesn’t need extra drama. It’s told in black-and-white, appropriate for the noir material, and the artwork doesn’t distract from the action. We are told the story from multiple points of view, building the drama from different perspectives. Best yet, Faerber frequently surprises the reader—just when we think we understand motive, character, or a plot-point, our own perspective shifts, and we realize that Faerber, like the best mystery writers, leaves us guessing until the end.
Being surprised at the end is fun for me; however, if you are an Agatha Christie fan and evaluate mysteries based on whether the writer “played fair” with the reader by giving enough clues to figure out the story on his own, then you might be disappointed: I honestly don’t know. I don’t read and evaluate mysteries that way, and I wasn’t looking to see if Faerber gave enough “clues.” I personally don’t try to figure out the “whodunit” as I read. Rather, I like going for the ride and seeing where the narrative takes me. I’m a fan of the hard-boiled school — as is Faerber, based on what he says in his essays — in which the detective wise-cracks and cracks heads on his way down the mean streets to find the answers to his mystery, but the journey on those mean streets is almost always more important in this type of writing than is the solution to the mystery: The quest and the knight and the knight’s worthiness, in the end, overshadow the importance of the grail itself, or perhaps, in these stories, the grail is not the solution, but the representation of the knight’s journey itself.
For me, this story is about all those things: There are different knights with varying levels of worthiness on their quest to find the murder of a woman: First, and perhaps primarily, is the husband, a reporter who seeks answers for a living. What will he find, how much does he want to know, and will he cross any lines in seeking these answers, thus still being worthy of the answers he finds? There are two detectives, male and female, with varying motives: One seems more objective than the other since he doesn’t know the victim: The female detective is acquainted with the woman. Should she step aside and let someone else take the case? Can she be objective? Should she be objective? And even if she stays on the case, should she be primary? What about the male detective? Is he as objective as he first seems compared to his partner? As she mentions, he has a history of drinking on the job, and she uses this information as a little blackmail to get him to let her stay on the case and be primary. Does his drinking weaken him as a knight worthy of solving this case? There’s a third man, another knight, trying to solve the case for equally compelling and personal reasons, but I can’t tell you who he is or what his motives are without giving a spoiler.
Though it may not be placed in the canon of comics next to Watchmen, it doesn’t try to tell such a grand story, and honestly, that’s a relief. Sometimes it’s nice to actually start reading a comic that has a clear beginning and a clear end, particularly since the comic book industry is largely designed to sell us interlocking stories that go on for years and years, spilling over into crossovers and mini-series in an endless cascade of superheroes. I think this story really stands out — even in black-and-white — against the colorful world of superheroes. It’s a nice change of pace, and I can’t wait to see what Faerber does next. I hope he keeps writing noir comics. So, take a break from that long fantasy novel or issue 236 of your favorite long-running superhero comic and read Point of Impact. And while you are at it, order the two five-star trades of Near Death before those go out of print, as canceled comic book titles often do. And keep an eye out for Faerber — he’s only going to get better.