Button Man: The Killing Game (1995) by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson
This is a slightly oversized album collecting a story serialised in 2000AD.
Heh. Kitchen Sink had grown four vice presidents by this time? They’d been sold to an investing group, Ocean, so I guess the more VPs the better.
And this is also an unusual thing for a Kitchen Sink book: We get both an introduction from the ex-editor, as well as a four page introduction by the artist. (It’s a pretty interesting introduction, so I’m not complaining — it’s just the sign of the times.)
The printing on this book is quite unusual. It’s printed on very shiny paper, but that’s not the unusual bit. The unusual bit is that there doesn’t seem to be anything that’s properly black. (Except the lettering.) Instead we get some really, really dark areas where you’d normally have black, but it’s not quite black. Is this offset-printed, perhaps?
The thing that makes the book is the storytelling and the artwork by Ranson. It’s got a really nice flow — he likes to draw objects and people in a slightly oblique way, but it’s always clear what’s going on anyway.
This was printed in seven page portions, but without regard for where the seven page breaks landed, but I’m not sure that’s that unusual for 2000AD? I mean, I haven’t read it extensively, but I seem to recall that stories would just be serialised there in a non-chapter way. So I’m wondering why they didn’t just take out the chapter labels here. I mean, they’d have to do something to fill in the spaces, but…
I wondered whether Ranson was getting at something by never drawing the protagonist’s face in full — he’s always looking away, or in shadow, or we’re getting just his forehead or whatever. But nope.
It’s slightly grisly, but mostly off-screen.
As for the plot… It’s Modesty Blaise plot #4, and one they’d done many variations on over the year: Rich assholes want to watch people hunt each other, so they kidnap/pay/brainwash/whatever people into doing that. But in Modesty Blaise it makes sense, because they have cameras and stuff to film the excitement. Here, they mostly set up “matches” between two killers, and then a couple days later, one of them call back to say who’s won. (With some evidence of the kill.)
It makes absolutely no sense. Why would you pay thousands of pounds for something like that?
Above is the one time where the rich assholes get to watch. Via binoculars. Such excite.
But it’s not a bad book, really. It’s about as exciting as any Modesty Blaise adventure… except there is absolutely zero sex, and it’s a total sausage fest: Not a single female character.
Obsessive about detail and always happy to experiment, Ranson’s intricate line work, gorgeous inks and meticulous layouts perfectly suit the strip’s gritty, realistic tone, as well as Wagner’s propensity for cinematic action sequences. Wagner and Ranson’s collaboration on BUTTON MAN marks one of those rare synergies of writer, artist and material, and as such makes it the high point of both men’s not inconsiderable careers.
As far as I can tell this is the single 2000 AD story that does not have a single science fiction or fantasy element to it, being the sort of down and dirty thriller that would fill the paperback racks in the 1970s, brought to you by the likes of Donald E. Westlake (more on that later).
This is the one hundred and seventy-seventh post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.