When a made man is saddled with both a conscience and a lunatic “partner”, even the hardest, and longest serving, of wise guys can suddenly find himself Unmade. Read on for our review of this indie comic now available online!
Unmade is a new one shot from Reasonably Priced Comics by writer Brandon Barrows and artist Johnnie Christmas (with colors by Josh Jensen). It’s a story about Al Vacarro, a longtime member of the Castellas crime family. As he’s been part of the family for decades (since the age of seventeen), he’s shaken down dozens of shop owners for payment on loans. He’s been showing the ropes to the younger, and MUCH less level-headed, Benny. Al’s been having some doubts about Benny’s approach to the job. Benny’s got a short fuse, see. On top of that Al’s concerned that the job is getting to Benny’s head and making him dangerous and stupid. When Al goes easy on a little old man who owns one of the shops that owes the crime boss money, this sets off a dangerous game of dominoes that may just come back and hit Al where it hurts most – his heart.
Right on the surface, it’s hard not to see a vibe in Unmade that resembles Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal series. This is more about Al as a character than it is about tough guys who do tough stuff. In just a single one shot issue, Barrows crafts a well-rounded character with Al. You quickly get the idea that he’s been in this business for a very long time. He’s hardened, he does a good job of calling in debts with people who borrowed from the “Don”, and he’s a regular at a strip club where he has a mistress, of sorts.
But don’t let that immediately point to Al being a bad guy. Instead, it helps paint the life he lives. On the surface, he’s a thug who cheats on his wife, avoids his daughter’s questions about what he does for a living, and generally leads a life of crime. However, despite all that, he actually comes across as a decent guy. Times have changed and so has Al. The arrival of the young and dumb Benny has caused Al to see things in a different light. Realizing Benny would likely be nihilistic enough to allow for his own downfall and everyone around him, Al wants to find a way out. This all comes to a head when Benny believes Al went easy on someone who owed money and decides to take the matter up with the big boss.
In the end, did Al want out because he’s seen how his life hurts his family, or was he concerned that Benny was going to ultimately get him killed? Was his intentions good, or was he only looking out for himself? These were the questions I was left with and Barrows does a good job allowing that ambiguity to linger. The end gives some clues, but you could also say you want to buy a new car, but that doesn’t mean you want to be forced into that purchase because of a wreck. Either way, Unmade is a well crafted character study.
As for the art, I definitely appreciate what Christmas brought. Again, it has a quality that you see from Sean Phillips when you read Criminal. The roughness helps us see that this is much more realistic and gritty. It helps set the tone Barrows gives with the plot and characters. There are some very nicely drawn panels with great layout, but despite the beauty in those frames, there’s a nice “ugly” quality to it. No one is particularly great looking, or anywhere near perfect in any way. All that helps place the reader in the proper mindset for the story and helps a great deal.
In the end, I’d say Barrows and Christmas deliver a pretty good story. You have some ambiguity to the main character, the art has that right quality to keep it grounded in the more realistic atmosphere, and you find yourself rooting for Al even if he’s really not entirely a great guy. If I had one negative to say, it would be how I wish this could have been a graphic novel. At the end of the story I was still wanting more. I wanted to know if Al had once been like Benny or if his reputation came through how he carried himself. I’m not disappointed with how it ends, but after only about 24 pages or so, I was so ready for more that it did act a little against the story itself. However, for its price, I doubt you can do much better.
Final Grade: B+
Unmade can be purchased at the following sites (just click the link and it will take you directly to the book):
Physical copies can be purchased at Brandon Barrows’ website