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‘Last of the Independents:’ Advance Graphic Novel Review

A small-town bank heist turns into a big-time problem. Cole Caudle is aging out of the game and planned on riding off into the sunset with one last score, but he accidentally stole from the wrong people. Reprinted for the first time in over a decade, Last of the Independents is Matt Fraction and Kieron Dwyer’s action-packed homage to ’70s tough guys.

In an homage to 1973 film Charlie Varrick, Caudle and his crew knock off a bank filled with laundered mob money. Now, the mob wants their money back. Caudle, his tough-as-nails girlfriend Justine, and their loyal wheelman Billy retreat to their amusement park hideout in the middle of the desert. Soon, they’re cornered and outnumbered with little chance of escape, but they’re not going down without a fight.

Last of the Independents is Fraction and Dwyer’s loving tribute to a bygone sub-genre of film and television. Caudle is cut from the same cloth as the over-the-hill tough guys from classics like The Taking Pelham One Two Three, Point Blank, Rio Bravo, and the aforementioned Charlie Varrick. The book has all the hallmarks of the modern western, which immediately appealed to me. There’s the man out of time, the young versus the old, and two disparate worlds clashing over money but sharing the same language of violence. Add onto all that the rush of a small-stakes heist, and the torrid grit of a desert noir.

Despite the creative team’s adoration for the source material, Fraction’s unique voice and Dwyer’s dynamic visuals make Last of the Independents more than mere facsimile. Even though the book came early in his career, Fraction fans will find the writer’s forms and flourishes familiar. Specifically, his more-with-less, razor-sharp dialogue that suits bravado as well as it does humor, and his acuity for unexpected conflicts with compelling conclusions. Caudle and his crew endear themselves to the reader in a matter of panels, and the stakes are raised with every page turn.

Dwyer presents the story in landscape, evoking a widescreen movie. The whole book is rendered on sepia-tone-stained parchment paper to match the story’s desert setting and heighten the desperation of the narrative. It’s harsh and arid with thick black lines that ripple like highway mirages. The pages are dominated by black, but Dwyer’s deft line work and highlights bring real life to the characters and the cinematic set pieces.

The new reprint also includes an enthusiastic forward from comedian and author Patton Oswalt, as well as afterwards from both creators. Fraction takes the opportunity to reflect and give insight into not only this book but the trajectory of his career. And Dwyer includes some fascinating details about the process of illustrating this book on a short timeline.

Creative Team: Matt Fraction (writer), Kieron Dwyer (artist)
Publisher: Image Comics
Click here to purchase.

Gabe Cheng, Fanbase Press Contributor



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