Many know John Wick by his reputation as a lethal and efficient assassin; but before he became the legendary spook he was just a young man seeking revenge for a childhood wrong. The Three Bills have no idea the kind of trouble they’re in, and John has no idea the world he’s about to fall into. This is the story of how John Wick began his path towards becoming one of the underworld’s most feared and respected killers.
This comic is in many ways a delight for fans of the John Wick franchise, because the art and writing nailed the general mood of the films. However, it’s a prequel comic, which can be a little disappointing. Part of the appeal of John Wick is his mystery, so to know more about his childhood and how he came to be a member of the Continental is to take some of the appeal away. There are still some moments of mystery, such as most scenes with Charon, so at least the story of Wick’s life hasn’t been completely exposed in the pages of this comic.
It is disappointing that the comic used the trope of an unstable woman as villain who’s really just an agent of chaos—who of course had a terrible childhood and that’s why she’s like this. I will say that John Wick, Vol. 1 doesn’t use this as badly as it could have, and gives her some sense of reason or justice, but it is still uncomfortable. It is also disappointing that the comic chose El Paso and Baja, California as settings, then shows people wearing cowboy hats and other stereotypes of Southwestern culture. I get that it’s an iconic visual, but it looks a little silly to have this character who looks like a prospector in a gun fight against a character who could be an extra from Hitman.
On the other hand, the comic does a fantastic job of portraying how memories can be something we never escape, but also something faulty; we see Wick’s understanding of one of his memories of his early in the comic, and as events unfold he revisits the memory and sees the fuller picture he’d missed or forgotten before. He also repeats things from memories or responds to memories/flashbacks several times in the comic, which might be more effective in a movie format, but still has a cool effect in the comic.
Visually, John Wick, Vol. 1 captures the essence of the movies perfectly. The moody lighting, often in unusual colors like fuchsia and bright blue, gets echoed in the panels where Wick is texting and the people in the conversation have fuchsia or blue speech bubbles and in the sound effects of guns firing between two groups. What’s especially fantastic is how the art captures Wick’s movements and facial expressions so perfectly, right down to the way he tilts his head or looks both tired and disappointed in his enemies.
So while the comic is well-done, it feels ultimately like an attempt to expand the universe without having to make another movie, which is a little disappointing. I would only recommend it to people who are so deep into the John Wick franchise, they want any content they can get from it. Otherwise, because it does assume some knowledge of Wick and his world, I can’t easily recommend it to a general audience unfamiliar with the films. For those readers, I would suggest Christopher Sebela’s Crowded, which is currently nominated for an Eisner and is a great addition to the action/shoot-em-up genre.
John Wick, Vol. 1
By Greg Pak
Art by Giovanni Valletta & Matt Gaudio
Publisher Age Rating: Teen+
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Related to…: Movie to Comic