The first Better Call Saul comic book I’ve had the chance to read is an online comic, available freely from AMC, titled “Client Development”. It tells a story from the Breaking Bad days, covering scenes we’ve seen before, but from a different perspective. It does do a great job of capturing the “voice” of Mike and Saul, and giving us a look into them in their glory years, namely, the years after Jimmy became Saul, but before they got mixed up with Walter White, who led them all to ruin.
“Client Development” is set during events in the early part of Breaking Bad season 2. In fact, it makes direct references to events in the episodes “Peekaboo” and “Better Call Saul”, and points this out in the text. The action here takes place partially during the episode “Better Call Saul”, and partially just after, before the following episode, “4 Days Out”. As a reminder, back in those days, Walter is trying to sell his meth through Jesse and his buddies, particularly Badger and Skinny Pete. (They would go on to be the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the series, understating all of Breaking Bad wonderfully in the series finale, by finally realizing, “There was something shady about it. Y’know, like… morally?”) Badger has gotten busted, leaving everyone in the chain of command vulnerable. This is when Jesse and Walt decide to hire Saul Goodman, who arranges an elaborate ruse.
Walter, posing as Badger’s Uncle, convinces Saul that the real criminal kingpin is someone called “Heisenberg”, and Badger would give up this person to the DEA in exchange for a greatly reduced sentence. They arrange a setup whereby Badger would give up one of Saul’s regular clients to the DEA, someone who has been in prison so often they call him “Jimmy in-n-out”. Badger is supposed to sit next to Jimmy in a public place, and the DEA will take him. Only, Badger screws this up and sits next to the wrong man. As it transpires, and unknown to Saul, Walter is of course watching this whole procedure, and when things go wrong, he and Jesse intervene, with Walt distracting the DEA long enough for Jesse to warn Badger. (This whole sequence, by the way, is re-created here in comics form, with the addition of Mike’s perspective.)
That whole scheme really serves as a launching pad for Mike and Saul’s behind the scenes suspicions. Mike saw exactly what went down in the public square (even though Saul warned him not to go there), and he didn’t like what he saw. (For one thing, this Walt character seems way too chummy with the DEA.)
As I mentioned right from the start, one thing this comic does very well is capturing the unique fast-talking yet stoner-inflected speech of Saul Goodman. A great example of this is the scene in which Mike and Saul go to visit Badger and press him for more information about his colleagues. Saul’s turns of phrase, which he uses to ingratiate himself to Badger, are wonderful, with great lines like, “Let’s get the band back together!” and “We’re all on Team Badger here!” Mike’s terse, no-nonsense attitude is also captured well, as when Saul explains that he is his “stenographer”, and when Badger asks why he doesn’t have one of those “Elf typewriters,” Mike snarls, “I’ve got a good memory.” Badger of course resists their entreaties, repeatedly crying, “I’m no rat!”, to which Saul assures him, “Rat, Badger, White-footed Ferret – you can be any kind of critter you want.”
Reluctantly, Badger leads Mike to Jesse’s house (this is back when Jesse was with Jane), and Mike follows Jesse’s famous red Toyota to where the famous RV/Meth Lab, “The Crystal Ship” is being stored.
Mike then follows Walter’s car to this high school at which he teaches, and within the hour has Walt’s name, address and a photo. Mike’s report back to Saul is terse, as one would expect. “The kid’s a junkie. The old, though… he’s harder to get a handle on.” Saul asks the question of the day, “Client Development? Or the other thing?”
When Saul strides into Walter’s high school in the comic’s last page, it’s clear that he’s chosen to develop these characters as clients, rather than having Mike “take them out”. But it was a close-run thing, much closer than Walter White ever suspected.
In terms of visual style, the artwork, mostly by Steve Ellis, is wonderful in the way it incorporates the colour palette of Albuquerque (heavy on the browns and light greens, with that pale blue sky), as well as the oddly geometrical layout of the city. The cars are lovingly rendered and even the faces have a “straight line” motif that emphasizes the perspective and the threats being posed by the characters. Mike’s snarl and Saul’s conspiratorial gestures stand out, and instantly recall the series.
But this comic, coming as it does now, early in the run of Better Call Saul the series, is an interesting way to remind us, the audience, that Saul builds himself into a formidable villain by the time of Breaking Bad. In the series we’re all watching now, Jimmy/Saul is a bright but bumbling lawyer, and Mike is a snarling ex-cop parking lot attendant. A few years later, Saul is a lawyer to the criminal all-stars with a whole vetting process and Mike is a professional hit man/investigator. They’ve both come a long way.