A few months back, when Boom! Studios announced their plans for a Die Hard comic book, I did a post about the perils of licensed comics. This week, the first issue of Die Hard: Year One was released, and it only seems fair that I follow up on my initial blatherings to see how they did. Die Hard is not only one of my all-time favourite movies (my girlfriend Hillary and I make a point of watching it every Christmas, and usually one other time throughout the year as well), but probably one of my favourite film franchises as well—the only entry in the series I don’t like is the second one (I'm even in the minority of folks who think Live Free or Die Hard was actually pretty awesome). The adventures of John McClane are very near and dear to me, and I was pretty wary of seeing the character mishandled in a new medium. Fortunately, after some consideration and a second reading, I find I enjoyed Die Hard: Year One #1 quite a bit, and I think subsequent issues will smooth away any trepidations I had about the debut issue.
It’s July 4th, 1976, and rookie beat cop John McClane is patrolling the streets of Manhattan in preparation for the Bicentennial celebration. As McClane tries to maintain order among the various tourists and pickpockets, some sort of scheme is brewing across the city. We aren’t given too much of the big picture yet, but it seems to involve a couple of crooked cops, a pretty young coed named Rosie who’s new to the Big Apple, a rich jerk and his shrewish wife, a creepy guy named Ira, and a hilariously mulleted and butt-cutted jogger. It’s a slow build, to be sure—mostly, we get quick introductory vignettes, and a few conversations to indicate that it’s all connected somehow. A pickpocket scam involving a female flasher and her male accomplice seems to mirror the larger plot, as the aforementioned Rosie is apparently being paid to wear some kind of revealing outfit as a distraction from...whatever the caper turns out to be, I guess.
The pacing of this first issue may seem positively glacial compared to most comics these days, but keep in mind that a comic adaptation of the first Die Hard film probably wouldn’t have much happening in a first issue either. I imagine Hans Gruber and his team would be just pulling into the Nakatomi Tower’s parking garage around the 24-page mark. I enjoyed the slow setup, though. The shuttling back-and-forth between the various parties was well handled, and I’m interested in seeing what the larger plot turns out to be. Presumably, some sort of daring robbery made to look like a terrorist attack is usually how these things go, right? Comics veteran Howard Chaykin (who, like McClane, would have been a rookie himself around the time this series takes place) handles the scripting duties here, with maybe a few too many narrative captions—most of the characters’ backstories and personalities are explained by an omniscient narrator, which you don’t get a lot of nowadays. Still, it sort of weirdly adds to the period setting—after all, this is how comics were written at the point the story takes place. There is some fairly off-putting misogyny on display here—one of the corrupt cops blithely slaps his wife around, while rich cad Walden Ford threatens his wife with a shocking comeuppance if she brings up the word ‘divorce” around him again—but, this isn’t a huge surprise, since a) it takes place in what might charitably be called “a simpler time”, and b) it’s written by Howard Chaykin, who is kind of notorious for writing about that sort of thing. Stephen Thompson’s art brings a lot to the whole package as well; it’s a bit reminiscent of Michael Gaydos or John Paul Leon (who, along with Dave Johnson and Jock, provided one of the three variant covers) in its practiced roughness. He does a great job with the period setting’s vehicles and hairstyles, and his Bruce Willis likeness isn’t too shabby either. He takes the actor’s look and makes it his own, rather than just tracing stills from his movies and drawing a cop uniform on him.
Maybe I’m being too forgiving, because I love the franchise so much. Or it could be that I was bracing myself for an outright disaster. It could even be that my love of 1970s New York as a setting is colouring my judgment (on my day off last week, I watched Across 110th Street and Saturday Night Fever back to back, by way of example). Maybe it’s just that slick Dave Johnson cover. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed Die Hard: Year One a lot more than most of the superhero comics I read last week. Let’s hope the second issue is better than the second movie!