Written by Chip Zdarsky & Nadia Shammas
Art by Jacob Phillips & Ziyed Yusuf Ayoub
I love a good crime book and Newburn #1 is a good crime book. It takes the very simple setup of a dirty cop and turns it on its head. For Newburn would be a dirty cop if he were a cop. As it is he is an ex-cop working for the various New York crime families. He’s the one who investigates when things happen that, let’s be honest, crime families couldn’t go to the cops for. Neutral he has no loyalty except to the people who pay him.
All this means we have a central character who, if he were a cop in most books, would be the bad guy, but he isn’t. He’s a private investigator type but he’s still respected by the local police. He is an ex-cop after all. There’s some sharing of information which benefits both Newburn and the cops. He does his job and the cops do theirs. Arrests get made and messes get cleaned up and everyone is happy.
So an intriguing setup and a plot that at first seems very simple, the murder of an estranged member of a crime family. However, by the end we are acutely aware that Newburn is better than the police at putting stuff together. He also treads in a dangerous world. Despite the drama of the sentence I just wrote, Newburn is a man currently very much in control.
Refreshingly there aren’t really many clichés in any of this. It feels different. We’ve seen the PI trope before, we’ve seen the ex-cop trope before. We’ve seen murder and crime before. We’ve never seen them quite like this before. There are some clichés; the cop who’s helpful to the protagonist and her confused by the book partner, but even so it’s not too bogged down in them.
Jacob Phillips’s art is very recognisable. Having spent a lot of time colouring his father’s books with Ed Brubaker he has, in the last couple of years, struck out as an artist on his own. He does have quite a distinctive style familiar with anyone who read That Texas Blood. The style fits the story being told here. It’s not quite noir in style but definitely fits in the general air of a crime book.
There’s some interesting choices in the panel layout as well. I did notice that a lot of scenes seem to end with a panel of Newburn’s face. I found that an interesting choice. It works well and gives an almost televisual feel. The use of fewer, but larger panels, there’s sometimes only five on a page, also really helps with this.
The colouring is almost watercolour in nature. Colours are vibrant but not overly bright. There’s some good instancies of each location having different colours which do reflect the general tone. Such as the red of the gambling den, the purple of the apartment and the blues of the streets. All pretty atmospheric.
Newburn #1 is an intriguing first issue with plenty of twists to keep the interest. It’s a neat little inverted take on some classic crime tropes. With some moral grey areas I look forward to seeing what Newburn investigates next and going a bit deeper into his world.