Bonnie and Clyde are perhaps the most well-known crime duo in American history. Robbing and killing all across the midwest during the Great Depression, their crimes were only shadowed by the fierce love they had for one another. Their spree came to a violent end when they were gunned down by the police searching for them. It is this kind of tale, with tragic star-crossed lovers cutting a swath across America, that Frank J. Barbiere and Victor Santos mine with their new Image series Violent Love.
What struck me most while reading the debut issue were the similarities this book has to Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s hit comic Sex Criminals. The main narrative of this issue of Violent Love follows the “secret origin” of the criminal Daisy Jane, but also details her overarching story of being in love with fellow criminal Rock Bradley and the crimes they committed together. The opening issue of Sex Criminals saw the “secret origin” of Suzie and also provided details of her love for her beau Jon and the crime(s) they would eventually commit together.
Seems a bit similar, no?
Obviously, it might be almost too similar for some readers. Sex Criminals is funny and subversive to the tropes of this kind of story can give readers. For some, a more straightforward “criminals in love” book may not pique their interest. Yet the structure of the story presented in Violent Love is tight and manages to differentiate itself in tone and style far enough from the witty humor of Fraction and Zdarsky’s book to feel like a fun narrative companion piece at best.
What also makes this book a compelling read right from the get-go is the way the story is framed. The opening pages take place in Texas in 1987 and follows a young girl by the name of Penny as she is dropped off to stay with Mister Lou, a former police officer and key figure in the narrative of Daisy and Rock’s lives. Lou tells Penny the broad strokes of their story – they fell in love, burned fast and loud in their crimes, and died together after refusing to be arrested – before agreeing to share the details with an eager Penny.
Knowing how the story ends removes an element of suspense to how things will wrap up, but also adds a level of tragedy to the story that takes place in 1969 with Daisy. Readers become entranced with her tale and find themselves caring for her journey, all the while knowing how her tale ends. It’s a compelling trope that Barbiere uses skillfully.
But the elements in the present also add a level of mystery to the story of the past. How was Lou “saved” by Daisy and Rock, as he alludes to in the early pages? Why do readers not see Penny’s mother in the car with her? What is Penny and her mother’s connection to Lou? Maybe it’s just my affinity for shows with a heavy mystery element to them – such as Lost and Westworld – but it feels like there may be more to the present story than initially shown here.
Santos manages to really shine on the art duties here. His previous works, such as his Polar Trilogy, are a strong indication of the kind of master work he brings to Violent Love. He utilizes just enough details to give readers a sense not only of the world around the characters, but of the emotions being felt in certain scenes. From utilizing bright, sunny colors when Jane is still trying to be just another college girl all the way to heavily monochromatic scenes of torture, punctuated by deep reds and purples, Santos and the art team bring a real sense of mood to these pages alongside simply rendering the action of Barbiere’s script.
His work really sings in the small details added to his works. In one scene, where Jane flees from her father, he renders her with tears streaming down her face as she drives away. It looks somewhat cartoonish and lacking realism initially, yet the emotion in that panel is palpable. These two creators working together will hopefully yield great things in coming issues.
The thing I want addressed most, however, is for the creators to flesh out the world and other characters in upcoming issues sooner rather than later. Barbiere and Santos do a fantastic job of building up Daisy as a character, revealing her personality, backstory, and motivations over the course of this double-sized issue, and hopefully the other half of this crime duo – who doesn’t make an appearance here – gets the same kind of treatment not to far down the line. It will be interesting to see if Jane remains the focus of the series or if the narrative will split off from her to show Rocky’s story.
The idea of “criminals in love” has, indeed, been done several times in the past, most recently in the comic book world in the popular Sex Criminals. Yet Violent Love manages to differentiate itself through strong characterizations and an engrossing first issue that kicks off this rollicking crime-romance.