It’s hard to resist a cover that boasts the conflation of terms, “music thriller.” I can’t help but see Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Cats meets Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds when I see the term. Alas, Gunning for Hits, vol. 1, by Jeff Rougvie, this self-acclaimed “music thriller” boasts no such comedic value. It is a crime comic about a David Bowie-esque pop star trailing the meteor of his success in the 1980s NYC music industry.
The narrator and primary character is Martin Mills, a highly successful A&R guy (Artists and Repertoire, aka, the talent scouts of the music industry) who’s got a knack for finding hit artists and getting his way. The comic opens with Martin negotiating a virtually unprecedented $6 million deal with the unheard of band, Stunted Growth. Martin finds that he and the lead singer, Billy, share a passion for artist Brian Slade, who was a rock icon in the 70s (a la David Bowie). Martin lands the deal with the band, promising that Stunted Growth will open for Brian Slade on his next tour. Conveniently, Brian stops by Stunted Growth’s first show in NYC, and he meets Billy after the set. They hit it off, but things quickly devolve with drugs and manic all-night jam sessions, as such things in the music industry are wont to do. Martin must eventually reel Billy back in while ensuring that Brian’s next album brings him back on the charts. Suspense mounts as the reader waits to see which artist will snap first and what Martin might do to play the cards in his favor.
Gunning for Hits isn’t without intrigue, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a thriller. We see bits of Martin’s backstory and find that he was involved in a conflict with Iranians and that he worked as a hit man for a time. However, the only real conflict Martin faces in the comic is near the end, when both artists become unhinged. Martin decides he should probably kill one of them, because killing an artist pretty much guarantees their success. But because the suspense hadn’t been consistently building throughout the story, it was a dud firework for me. Clearly writer Jeff Rougvie, who is himself an A&R guy who worked with David Bowie during his career, is very passionate about his comic, as he created a website for it, a Spotify playlist, and even a Twitter account for the main character. I just didn’t see that passion transfer into a truly engaging storyline.
Illustrator Moritat mostly follows the style of a crime/noir comic, with mostly dark tones, muted palettes, and lots of characters in suits. The art dips in and out of an almost-anime style minimalization or removal of facial features, sometimes with the intent of communicating emotion, but other times for no apparent reason. I expected a “music thriller” with a character loosely modeled on David Bowie to be much more garish and glamorous, but both Brian Slade and the music scenes blended into the storyline.
With the exception of a strange interlude where Martin is asked to give Billy sexual favors as part of the contract, the comic is fairly tame for one rated Mature. There are depictions, though minimal, of drug and alcohol abuse, but there is no nudity or swearing. Teens and adults who like comics about bands might enjoy this comic, but I personally haven’t read enough comics about bands to determine where this rates on the spectrum. I was tangentially reminded of The Fifth Beatle as a comic that gives some of the back story behind the music industry, but the comparison pretty much ends there. If readers are looking for true crime or thriller comics, this would be low on my list of recommendations. If only this “music thriller” had turned out to be a combination of Cats and The Birds…
Gunning for Hits, vol. 1
By Jeff Rougvie
Art by Moritat
Publisher Age Rating: M