The first thing that sets Newburn apart from other crime-genre graphic novels is that it is set in present day, this year (as of this writing.) The other thing that sets it apart is the protagonist is a retired police officer who now works as a private investigator exclusively for the mob. That premise had plenty to hook me in and while some of the story parts are not wholly original, it still makes for a compelling story.
Easton Newburn is a fit, capable, dapper man of the world. His appearance, actions and words all build this picture of a man completely in control of himself and his environment. The story opens with him investigating a murder/robbery and the detective in charge gives him access to the crime scene. The “new guy” officer character there asks why he is allowed in and the premise is laid out for us. “He used to be police. He’s private these days. A few of us give him access to scenes and info on the down low, and in return, he gives us perps and info.” From there the narrative is laid out in time blocks broken up by journal entries from Emily. She meets Newburn at this crime scene and he does not turn her over to the mob for her role in the murder of a crime boss’s nephew. He sees a lot of promise in her and asks her to work with him. Through her eyes, we learn all about New York’s different crime families and the tentative arrangements that let everyone have a piece of the city. Newburn is the center of the scale, helping keep balance and being the neutral party that keeps things civil when they cannot turn to police for help investigating crimes against them.
Throughout this story, we see Newburn find his way out of several seemingly impossible situations and snares set just for him. He has to be smarter than the police, the mob and city hall. There are parts of this story that feel a little vague and underwhelming, but those, for me, were mostly related to it being a crime story. It was the ambiguous “New York Mob Families” and some of the language surrounding what are fairly standard tropes that didn’t exactly hold water. That said, the characters were all distinct enough to hold their parts of the story and the ending especially really made a turn that should keep readers coming back for the next installment.
The art will have a familiar feel to those who enjoy crime comics as it is illustrated by Jacob Phillips, who has done coloring work for his father Sean Phillips and Ed Brubaker on some of their biggest titles of the last five years, like Reckless. The coloring approach Jacob uses (and Sean’s influence which can be felt here) lend this a recognizable tone that immediately brought me in. Chip Zdarsky’s pacing is also a strength here, as does a good job keeping you turning pages without rushing any of the creeping discomfort that is constantly building. There were enough different angles to the story that it didn’t feel monotonous and the scope of this world grew throughout until the ending when the last few pages really erupt. Newburn is neither James Bond nor is he simply a beat-cop turned P.I. He is smart and very much a pragmatist who is a product of his environment and the time he lives in. Newburn may not be revelatory, but it is certainly entertaining and distinct.
Image Comics gives this a Mature rating and as a genre comic I see why. There is violence, language and adult themes. That said, this isn’t doing anything intentionally shocking, it’s simply a slow burn, mafia story. Any older teen or adult reader won’t see anything in here that isn’t found elsewhere in crime drama. This title is listed as ongoing, so libraries purchasing it should be aware that there should be future volumes coming out.
Newburn, Volume 1 Vol. 01
By Chip Zdarsky
Art by Jacob Phillips
Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)