Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Scene of The Crime (#1-4) PART TWO

"Fuck you!" - Jack Herriman

Continuing on with the collected edition of the comic Scene Of The Crime, written by Ed Brubaker and pencilled by Michael Lark with inks on issues #2-4 by Sean Philips, let's get up to speed with the story.  It's San Francisco 1998, a P.I. called Jack Herriman was asked by a cop friend of his to located the sister of his mistress Alex, a young woman called Maggie.  The only lead he had on her was she'd been seen at a hippy commune called Lunarhouse run by a man called Mitchell Luna who she had apparently been sleeping with.  He follows the trail to a motel and finds her, but the next day she is murdered and ten thousand dollars is discovered in her motel room.  Figuring maybe she was blackmailing someone Jack returns to Lunarhouse only to find the house empty and the cult having retreated to it's base in the countryside.  His uncle Knut who has raised him since his cop father was killed when he was twelve is a famous crime photographer and discovers something interesting in his archives.  Maggie, her sister Alex and their mother survived a fire at a commune in the early 80's which killed their father and now Jack thinks the missing-presumed-dead leader of that cult, Virgil Peterson is back as Mitchell Luna which would give Maggie a good blackmail motive.  He now plans to try and infiltrate the cults compound in the company of fellow P.I. Steve Ellington, a real old school Dashiel Hammett style detective. And now the conclusion.
Jack contemplates the scene of Maggie's death.
Jack goes home to grab some sleep before infiltrating the Lunarhouse commune. His talk with Alex has confirmed a few suspicions and asked more questions,  he doesn't believe he'll get anything useful from Luna.  He speaks with Uncle Knut's girlfriend Molly about seeing Alex and that she had "so much hate for the guy."

He wonders why Virgil Peterson would burn down the commune.  Molly suggest he find another survivor to ask.  He spends hours cross checking the police reports with the local phonebooks and find some addresses close by.  He drives out to see a "Stormy Sagebrush" and her daughter.  He arrives to find just the daughter Sandy there.  She agrees to let him in and talk but she keeps the curtains closed and one side of her head covered.

He tells her someone killed Maggie and Sandy calls her a "spoiled little bitch."  Jack asks her about her memories of the fire.  She says she doesn't remember much, just that it started in the kids dorm and spread quickly to the rest of the house.

"Kid's dorm?" queries Jack.  Sandy says they slept seperately from the adults so the could be "unfetterred or some crap." The adults watched them in shifts but mainly they were left to their own devices.  Her mum says the fire came at a "real convenient" time.  There was  "a lot of bad shit going down."
One of the commune fire's victims.
The police were looking into goings on there, and she starts to get defensive with Jack.  Jack asks her where Virgil was during the fire.  She doesn't know.  He shows her a photo of Luna and asks if it is Virgil, but she says it is not him.  Jack says Maggie and Alex seemed to think so.  She abruptly shows him the horribly burned side of her face and says she couldn't forget the face of the person who did this to her.

He heads back home, Sandy's "tortured face" weighing heavily on him.  Steve is waiting for him when he gets back.  Knut offers to come too, but Jack says things could get ugly and he has his "expendable back up".  Steve responds jokingly, "hey that hurts man."  And they drive to the compound.

Once they arrive they start scoping the place out.  One of the thuggish enforcers for Luna is on the gate.  Steve says if they wait an hour of so, he'll be so fucked up from what he is smoking he'll let the right in.  Jack isn't sure about just going in through the front door, but Steve says he's not climbing over razorwire.

Steve: "We just have to find Luna and corner him for a few minutes.  There we're outta here."

Jack wonders what they'll do if he doesn't cooperate.  Steve says that won't be a problem.  Later the drive up to the gate, but they misidentify the Pullwater on the gate, and when he gets aggressive, Steve knocks him out with the butt of his gun.
Jack and Steve go "undercover".
They venture inside the compund and see a lot of the hippies dancing around a fire.  They split up and Jack goes to check on the main house.  There is an argument going on inside between Mitchell and Jason Pullwater who tells him not to "wuss out" now.

Then a recovered Justin Pullwater knocks Jack out with the butt of a shotgun.  He is taken inside and as he starts to regain conciousness he hears a conversation between Mitchell and the Pullwaters.  Mitchell wonders what they'll do with him. Jason accuses him of "cryin' over some chick" and that there is no way Jack walks out of there now.

Then another man rushes in and tells them their marijuana crop is on fire.  Jason and Mitchell run out leaving Justin with Jack who has come to fully.  They have a brief fight and Jack knocks Justin out and Steve arrives and tells them it's time to get out of there.  He is the one whole lit the crop on fire and as they drive away the police show up as well called there by Steve.
Jack handles a fight.
After going to the hopsital to get his nose seen to Jack goes and finds his ex-girlfriend Gwen.  They parted on bad terms, when he shows up she says someone granted her wish and smashed his face in.  She asks what he wants, he says he just wants to talk.  He wants to explain why he dumped her.

She says does he know what it's like to have someone "turn off their feelings" for them and cut them out of their life completely.  He says he never stopped caring about her.  He haltingly tells her he made a choice after something "bad" happened.  He could feel the secret burning him up inside so he had to get away from that world with dope and her in it or he'd end up dead and maybe her as well. She asks what he did and he says he can't tell her, just that he had to get away.  They both admit the needed each other and she calls him an "asshole."

He leaves feeling a bit better, then Suzanne, Alex and Maggie's mother accosts him outside his home.  She says he had no right to go upsetting her daughter.

Jack: "Lady, let's not even go there.  All right?  Your family was fucked up long before I got anywhere near them".

They go inside and he shows her the picture of her and her daughters after the fire.  He tells her he knows Maggie death is connected with it and the death of her father.  Suzanne says she made a mistake bringing them there.  Jack wants to know what was going on that had the police interested.
Jack presses the truth out of Suzanne.
Suzanne says Virgil preached free love, and as the sixties had passed her by she fell under his spell.  They were dropping out and doing their own thing but the place quickly became just about drug and sex.  The situation with the kids was ugly as well.  Virgil encouraged them to experiment sexually with each other.  Then he began demanding blow jobs from the girls.  Soon he was having sex with them and the other men joined in "breaking more taboos".

Jack says did anyone not say this "was not okay".  She says one of the girls got pregnant and some of the families pulled out and went to the police or threatened to.  Jack asks if that is why Virgil set the place on fire?

Suzanne: "What?  Virgil didn't start the fire... no, Maggie did.  Maggie always started fires."

Later he awakes from sleeping with more questions.  Why was Maggie blackmailing Luna?  If he wasn't responsible for the deaths caused by the fire what did he have to be afraid of?  The statute of limitations on child molestation would have run out by now.  She could have stolen the money, but why then call Lunarhouse and leave her number?

He calls his police source Whitey and asks for the police reports on the commune before the fire.  He also calls Steve to asks if there has been any action from the tracker he placed on the Pullwater's truck, but Steve isn't in.  He's waiting around in his office when Paul, Alex Jordan's lover comes by.
Paul Raymonds appears.
He asks if Jack had anything to do with the fire at the Lunarhouse compound.  Jack pleads the Fifth.  Mitchell wasn't arrested but they had a couple of outstanding warrants on Justin Pullwater and brought him in.  He's currently in the jail infirmary.  He asks if he is connected to Maggie's murder and Jack says maybe.  Paul then asks if he wants to go question Justin and they head to the infimary.

Jason says he wants to make a complaint against Jack for injuring him.  Paul starts choking Justin saying they are not here for his benefit they are here for answers.  Jack shows him a picture of Maggie.  Justin says she hung out mainly with Luna and when one of the other men made a play for her "Luna blew his fuckin' lid". So after that she was left alone.

Jack wants to know why she was given ten thousand dollars.  Justin doesn't know, Mitchell told them to drop it but his brother Jason was pissed about it.  Jack then asks why they upped and left on the morning of Maggie's murder.  He doesn't know that either, just that their were a couple of phonecalls that night and Mitchell and Jason left.  When they came back they had to take off fast.
Jack and Paul interrogate Jason.
Paul seems satisfied when they leave that either Justin or Mitchell killed Maggie. Jack says he still has questions and he "hates loose ends."  He hangs around his office waiting for Steve and Whitey to get in touch.  Whitey sends him the police report but just as Jack starts looking at it, he gets a call from Paul.  "Alexandra Jordan had tried to kill herself."

Next day, Steve calls and tells Jack the Pullwater's truck has come into the city.  He had found it and was currently tailing it.  It's now parked outside a strip club five minutes away so Knut and Jack head out.  Jack goes inside Steve's car and they keep watching.  Soon Jason stumbles out and starts driving again. They arrive back at the house where Steve first found the car and goes inside.

Jack and Steve cautiously approach the building and Jason bursts out with blood on him and pushes them away, getting into his car he takes off at speed and it looks like he'll hit Knut who has also been following so Steve shoots him in the head bringing the car to a halt in time.
Jack finds Luna's corpse.
They go into the house to see what spooked Jason and find Mitchell's stabbed to death and still warm corpse in the kitchen.  Maggie's missing gun is on the table.  They don't understand why there is a small gun here, when there is a shotgun behind the door.

They stay and tell everything to the cops.  Jack thinks this has wrapped up too easily and the wrong people are going to be blamed for Maggie's death.

Jack: "A murderer was going to get away and clean and I still didn't know who or why."

Back home, Jack tells Molly things don't add up.  Mitchell must have trusted the person to let him in says Molly.  The police think Jason stabbed him, but why didn't he shoot him wonders Jack.  And what about the gun?  Molly suggest maybe it was planted after he was dead.  Suddenly Jack has a brainwave.  He checks the police reports of the goings on a Lunarhouse before it burned, makes a quick call then heads out, "finally making sense in all this senselessness." He barges into Alex's hospital room and tells them he's figured it all out.

Jack: "Luna wasn't Virgil Peterson, he was their father Geoff Jordan."

Suzanne says no, Geoff died in the fire.  But Jack says he went through the police reports and Geoff was one of a group of men under investigation for child molestation, he was "raping his own daughters".  And Suzanne misidentified the corpse so he could get away with it.  "He was my husband" she says pathetically.
Suzanne is full of excuses.
He'd been totally under Virgil's spell, but wanted a second chance.  So Suzanne tried to give them all a second chance.  Well it didn't work says Jack.  Jack asks Alex if the plan was that Maggie kill Geoff/Luna.  Alex says they weren't even sure Luna was Geoff at first. Maggie was going to spend time with him and call her when she was sure.

She didn't call so when Jack phoned her to say he'd found her Alex used caller ID to locate her. He phoned the clark at the motel who confirmed a woman was there asking for directions in the middle of the night. Alex said she just wanted to talk to Maggie, she watched Maggie and Jack until he left then went to her room to confront her.
Alex shoots Maggie.
Maggie was on the phone to Geoff at the time saying she didn't want the money anymore that he had given her as "child support".  She told Alex she didn't want revenge anymore either. Then she confessed to having slept with her father again by choice and this made Alex so angry she picked up Maggie's gun and shot her with it.  Then she called Geoff and told him what she had done.

Alex: "And what he had done to both of us.. with his late night visits... crawling into my bed, offering me to his friends."

She tells Paul she is so sorry and they hug.  Jack asks Suzanne how long she had known Alex killed Maggie.  She says it was in Alex's suicide note which she has burned.  "And how did you find your husband today?" Jack asks.  She says he called her so she went and stabbed him to death and left Maggie's gun to implicate him in her death.  He deserved to get the blame, he destroyed her family.

Suzanne: "I should have killed him a long time ago."

Jack leaves the hospital in anger, Paul follows him.  He says the case is now closed with "Luna" and Jason getting the blame for the deaths.  Jack says all he can see is two women getting away with murder.  Paul didn't know the details of what had happened until now.

Paul: "You really think it would serve any kind of justice to put her away?  No - I'll help her, but I won't turn her in.  And neither will you."

Paul marches back into the hospital and Jack thinks he's right.  "And we both know why."
Paul warns Jack not to take this further.
Later Gwen finds Jack in a bar.  They go and sit and talk.  He tells her ever since he started running around doing drugs and drink Paul had been there for him.  Got him out of jail, got charges dropped, kept his record clean.  He resented him for it.  He has promised him he'd never tell the secret between them that had broken him and Gwen apart but "y'know what?  Fuck it.  Fuck secrets."

Two weeks before he left her he was hanging around outside his dealer's place.  He overheard an older junkie gangbanger called Roach being teased for killing the wrong cop.  Jack questioned his dealer about it and discovered Roach had was responsible for the bomb that had blown up his father.

Jack stole a gun from one of his dealer's crew and started stalking Roach.  When he went somewhere secluded, Jack confronted him.  When Jack pointed the gun at him he laughed, and when Jack told him why he was threatening he laughed some more.  So Jack shot him.

Jack: "And then I saw his eyes.  And everything changed inside me."

Roach was lying on the floor bleeding out, scared and crying and apologising for what he did.  He begged forgiveness with his last breath, "no hardened killer, just another scared fuck up like me".  Roach died in his arms and Jack called Paul.
Young Jack shoots Roach.
He came and cleaned the place up, got rid of the evidence and "covered my ass".  He took him back to Knut and Molly and they helped get him clean.  Watching Roach die had broken Jack.  It would have been easy just to shoot up and forget.  But "it was time for me to grow up." So he kept his mouth shut and let Paul cover it up "and I learned to live with it."

Despite it all, Paul saved his life.  Gwen says he could have told her this back then.  Jack says he just froze, he didn't mean to hurt her, he was just lost.  She wonders why he is drowning his sorrows in a bar now.

Jack: "I guess knowing life is unfair and being happy about it aren't the same thing.  I mean it's not like a I'm a completely different person..."

He then asks her how she knew he was here.  Steve directed her to this place and she smiles and says, "So, do you wanna tell me about your day?"
Gwen offers Jack a second chance.
The story ends with Jack confirming that Geoff/Luna was blamed for shooting Maggie and Jason for stabbing him.  He hangs a photo of Maggie's body at the crime scene that Knut took and thinks:

Jack: "Maggie wanted something simple, just a little piece of the goodnight she had never gotten as a child.  What she found was a complicated mess of emotions and anger... a whole family torn apart by tragedy.  It wasn't a unique tragedy by any means, but it was a tragedy."

And that brings the story to a close.  A very satisfying if dark conclusion with no pat easy answers.  The nice thing about Jack Herriman is he not a hard boiled detective, he cares about the people he meets during his job and he has plenty of flaws that helps him identify with the vulnerabilities of people he deals with.  I said at the end of the previous post that it is a real pity this never went to series as Brubaker effortlessly establishes an in-depth backstory for Jack and a nice cast of characters that would have been fertile loam for future stories.  Reading the extras that come with the book which includes a look back by Brubaker it seems the story was well received at the time but the project lost it's intertia and other things presented themselves to both writer and artist. So apart from the included short Christmas story where grinchy old Jack learns the value of family at Christmas due to the plight of a homeless orphan, that was it for his story.  Which definitely left me wanting more, dammit! The collection also includes Brubaker's original pitch for the miniseries and it's fascinating seeing how things get refined and changed in their journey from initial outline to finished article.  If you love crime comics you'll definitely enjoy Scene Of The Crime, despite what Brubaker thinks, the writing holds up fine and the art is fantastic.  It's easy to see why Lark was snapped up to do stuff like Gotham Central and Daredevil.  So enjoy it for what it is, and try not to think of what could have been and if you're at all interested in the canon of Ed Brubaker and/or Micahael Lark, you need to have this in your collection.

7 comments:

  1. I really like the artwork in this. It's clean and realistic without being underdrawn. Nice cold palette suits the mood of the story, but doesn't tip over into being downright miserable. Artwork in a detective story should reflect the fact that even though the world can seem awful at times it is, at the bottom, worth fighting for. If it wasn't, there'd be no reason for detection to happen.

    Justin looks like Bill Bailey.

    And after this comic ended, Gwen and Jack lived happily ever after :-)

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  2. It is nice artwork, and I'll be posting a more recent Michael Lark drawn comic later in the month, though it's sci-fi this time. I think you're right about there needing to be a bit of warmth to detective fiction. It's one of the reasons why, though I appreciate the artistry, I've never been able to get to grips with Frank Miller's Sin City stuff. It's just too down-beat and cynical and joyless.

    I too like to think that if the comic had continued we'd have seen Jack and Gwen get together again, at least they were left on an upbeat note.

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  3. cool twists. I'm useless at figuring out stuff in crime shows so it always comes as a surprise to me. shame this series didn't carry on, but at least they ended up doing gotham central together.

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  4. Yes, and I'll be covering Michael Lark's team-up with the other Gotham Central creator Greg Rucka later this month :)

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  5. G, I'm useless at figuring stuff out in crime shows but one of my friends isn't, so they're always like, "Yeah, I knew it was them all along," and it infuriates me.

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  6. It's cheating if you say so after the fact. For it to be super-infuriating you need some extra knowledge in medium specific tropes to really quickly predict stuff in advance. This is what I use my media studies degree for, HAH!

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