Comics are sometimes accused of being unreal and just for boys. Evening up the score is Button Man: The Hitman’s Daughter, where a young girl gets involved in the gritty realism of her dad’s world of contract killing for fun and profit.
John Wagner is legendary for his creation of 2000AD legends Judge Dredd and Johnny Alpha: Strontium Dog, amongst others. In Button Man he created a contemporary icon, ‘Harry X’, where the action was all ‘real’ with no sci-fi or freaky fantasy. Arthur Ranson gave the stories photographic-style realism.
Harry X is a hard man with a conscience. He was brought into ‘The Game’ by the rich and powerful, who amuse themselves by pitting their ‘Button Men’ against each other, watching on hidden cameras, and occasionally betting on the outcome. To win, a Button Man has to obtain the ‘marker’, a finger from the left hand of his opponent. But Harry fought against the game and got himself into plenty of trouble for it.
Button Man: The Hitman’s Daughter moves the story on, and creates a strong leading female role. 2000AD had previously bucked the trend in creating strong female characters in a ‘boys’ comic, as it did with vampire mutant bounty hunter, Durham Red, and the ground-breaking Ballad Of Halo Jones. Here, Harry X is drawn into the life of Adele Cotter, daughter of hitman Ronnie, who was shot by several Button Men after threatening to go to the papers with his story. She is in the hideout house when her father is shot, and vows to get revenge.
But all is not what it seems, and friend and foe can interchange and confuse loyalties. And the ‘Voices’, who use the Button Men for their entertainment, have contacts in high places and can manipulate situations against anyone that threatens them.
As with the previous Button Man stories, the narratives are superbly executed. Scenes of Adele interrogating one of her father’s killers with extreme prejudice run in parallel with her grandmother making her a cup of tea when she comes home later. Her efforts to make herself fighting fit are set against the images of her unhappy childhood. Also brilliantly juxtaposed are parts of text and background weaving seamlessly into the comic action. Newspaper articles about police investigations, and computer-held documents written by investigators, appear in bursts to pace the story and add background, without getting laboured.
It’s also an impressive aspect of the story that I can remember its episodes being compelling reading as they appeared week by week in their original 2000AD format, but they work equally well here, in the continuous stream of this graphic novel.
The introduction of Frazer Irving as artist on the strip is an interesting development. Arthur Ranson’s superb and meticulous photographic accuracy of detail in the first three series is given a great new twist by Irving’s more artistic stylings. The action sequences are particularly impressive with bursts of gunflash colour and shadowy movement.
As with Ranson, the ticklish attention to background details is stunning and juxtaposes action shapes of running and jumping to great effect. There are some excellent understated moments, such as when Harry is talking to his Voice boss in a public park. He effortlessly catches a child’s ball and returns it to him (his mother chiding him to “Say thank you”) without missing a beat of his conversation. Long sequences of setup for gun fight action are smoothly executed so that a genuine feeling of suspense is created on the printed page.
All in all, the book is a tour de force, breathing cinematic life into the comics genre, whilst simultaneously creating a focused excitement that film would struggle to recreate. The rights to the Button Man film are owned by DreamWorks, but according to stories on the web, its production has stalled.
No doubt the good sales of this latest in the Button Man series of graphic novels will give the filmmakers another opportunity to get themselves together. They couldn’t have a much better or clearer starting point for the creation of a classic.
Button Man: The Hitman’s Daughter is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.