The Die Hard trilogy stands as one of the greatest set of actions films ever made (in my world, Die Hard 4 didn’t exist). The films combined wild action with a healthy dose of comedy relief from then unknown Bruce Willis and have successfully stood the test of time. When I discovered that John McClane’s previous adventures as a New York City cop were to be the centerpiece for the series Die Hard: Year One (riding the coattails of Batman?), I was intrigued. With my previous experience with Die Hard, I was expecting to see John’s penchant for being the right guy at the wrong place. Instead, the comic is incredibly more subdued and, as a result, boring.
The second volume of Die Hard: Year One finds John McClane on his first assignment in New York, 1977 – a time, apparently, when all cops had long hair, wore brown leather jackets and boots. John (looking very much like Clint Eastwood) and his partner are tasked with investigating a series of robberies that have affected a string of illicit massage parlors. Running concurrently to this investigation is a woman who employs a group of thugs in order to help her come up with a large amount of cash by robbing a bank. It isn’t long before the two events come together as New York City suffers a massive blackout.
As a massive Die Hard fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. You won’t find the familiar Die Hard tropes here, such as larger than life villains, smart dialog and thrilling set pieces, and instead treated to a tame police procedural. In fact, if it weren’t for the title, the character’s name and likeness of Bruce Willis, this could easily pass for a standard cop drama. Both stories in the graphic novel, the massage parlor and bank heist, really have nothing to do with each other but the comic finds a way to connect these events. The massage parlor story never truly resolves itself because of confusion over who was responsible. Early on in the book, they reveal a no-name character who is shown assaulting parlor women for money. However, the conclusion of the arc involves John taking down a completely different individual, with no mention of the first perp made by the detectives or author. So…who was the guy we saw beat on a woman? Was he in disguise? Was the perp John caught the same guy or someone else? There were no hooks in the story to imply that the case is still open, so what am I supposed to make of all this? Did the author simply forget? It’s all very confusing.
While talking about confusion, the story shifts the spotlight on both narratives erratically. In most cases, you’ll read a page that shows John’s point of view, then two pages involving the bank heist, than one page for John, one for the robbers and so on. The narrative jumps are fast and furious and make for a frustrating reading experience. I really wished the author could have just picked one story arc and stick with it or, at the very least, write them better.
Die Hard: Year One, vol. 2 attempts to exist in the same universe as the films and the result is a failure. The story isn’t exciting, it’s heavily narrated and lacks everything that made the movies so much fun. Instead, it’s just some third rate police drama with the name Die Hard slapped on the title and Bruce Willis drawn in just to jazz things up and boost sales. Molly Gennaro, John McClane’s future wife, is shoehorned into the story so hard my feet hurt. The artwork is heavily inspired by the Dirty Harry films of the 1970s, right down to John’s Callahan-style haircut and while serviceable, the art is nothing special. The comic isn’t nearly as violent as the films and while there are brief moments of gunplay, there is no on screen violence.
If you like Die Hard, skip this book and treat yourself to a special evening watching the first three movies.