DC Comics — Judd Winick (w); Farel Dalrymple (a)
In late 19th-century San Francisco, a random act of violence leaves two young, inner-city Jewish boys (Jacob and Isadore Weiss) fatherless and distraught. Faced with an uncaring world, the two youths brutally murder their father’s killer and then join the Jewish mafia.
Wait a minute. They what now?
Let’s start over.
When Benjamin Weiss, a San Francisco moneylender with a reputation for being “tough, but fair,” is stabbed to death in the street by an unruly patron of one of the businesses under his protection, he sends his sons back into the streets with an edict from his deathbed for blood. Their emotionless and brutal slaying of Dooley, the man who murdered their father, brings them to the attention of Boss Josef Cohen, a wealthy landowner who quietly runs illicit activities on the side. Taken under Cohen’s wing and adopted into his criminal family, the Weiss brothers do well for themselves, earning reputations as top-shelf buttonmen.
Jumping ahead twelve years, the story joins Jacob and Isadore at a party Cohen is holding in honor of his son’s bar mitzvah. After taking a verbal beating from Cohen over a botched shakedown (botched because of Isadore’s penchant towards strong-arm work), they run into Myron, a small-time hood in Cohen’s gang. Myron claims to need to buy a second gun from Jacob, for a job that the boss has personally handed down to him: the broad-daylight assassination of Oswald Fink, a rival gangster. Initially unbelieving that Cohen would entrust such a risky task to an unreliable worker, Jacob makes the connection when he sees the underworld figure coming on to Myron’s young, attractive wife, Rachel.
And Jacob would be in a position to know just how desirable she is. After all, he’s having an affair with her. Basking in the afterglow of one of their secret meetings, Rachel hits Jacob with the one-two punch that a) she is pregnant and unsure of the father’s identity and b) earlier that day, another member of the Cohen gang, after which Myron seemed inordinately sure of himself.
Now sure of his hunch, Jacob hurriedly dresses and races into the street, only to arrive too late. A crime saga of Biblical proportions (ha) begins to unfold as Jacob simply says to his brother, “King fucking David.”
If you were to say that Caper sounds like a Will Eisner story as told by Brian De Palma, I’d be inclined to agree with you, with the key difference being the while Caper is about illicit and violent activities (just as De Palma’s recently reissued crime flick, Scarface), the Weiss boys never really revel in their crime and bloodshed the way Tony Montana seems to… well, not both of them, at least. It’s a clichéd phrase, but for Jacob and Isadore, it’s simply business.
Farel Dalrymple, whose work I’m barely familiar with from my passing acquaintance with Pop Gun War, turns in a pretty damned solid performance. It’s scratchy and gritty artwork, reminiscent of Guy Davis’ (which I dig), but it’s appropriate: the time period and locale he’s working in (early 20th Century, inner city) makes for a scratchy and gritty setting. He depicts Winick’s periodically violent script with enthusiasm, but has no problem carrying the quiet, more character-driven moments that are sprinkled liberally about. All in all, very nice stuff.
In the end, it’s a great start for a promising maxi-series. I’m hoping that Winick tells several stories over the course of the twelve issue run, rather than one extended epic, but either way, I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed. Caper is just a solid book from beginning to end, making a sometimes-tired genre fresh simply by changing the typical locale (usually New York, but sometimes Chicago) and stereotypical ethnicity of the main characters (rare is the crime story that doesn’t feature Italians, though periodically my folks, the Irish, are thrown in as well).
This past week was a remarkably light on as far as quality titles are concerned, but I suspect that even if that weren’t the case, Caper would still have been my book of the week.