Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort
By B. Clay Moore, Steven Griffin, and Nick Derington
The original pitch for the Hawaiian Dick series (included with the copious bonus material in this second volume) describes the series as “the X-Files meets the Rockford Files in a film noir version of 1950s Hawaii.” It’s an ambitious four-way crossover of styles, but Moore and Griffin succeed in solidly evoking at least three—Rockford, noir, and 50’s Hawaii—of the four elements. The fourth, mystery of the X-Files element—with Hawaiian ancestral spirits standing in for Mulder’s beloved aliens—is the least well developed of Dick’s four strands, at least in this second collection.
The noir and Rockford Files elements permeate the plot, which sprints along at a giddy rate, as the Dick in question, an ex-cop named Byrd, is hired by Italian mob boss Red Piano to investigate suspected sabotage at a hotel being built on Honolulu. Piano’s prime suspect is Irish mob boss Danny Quinn—who’s building a competing hotel nearby and having sabotage problems of his own. If you’ve ever read any Chandler or Hammett, you’ll guess that next Quinn kidnaps Byrd to question him about Piano, who Quinn suspects of sabotaging his hotel. Complications are supplied by Byrd’s beautiful assistant Kahami, the kidnapping of Byrd’s cop friend Mo Kalami, and Byrd’s budding friendship with humorously named Quinn heavy and ex-Golden Gloves boxer Stew Mulligan. Bullets, threats, illegal gambling, drinking, and cherry-red convertibles all figure in the whirlwind that follows. Moore clearly knows his detective stories; he hits all the traditional rigmarole of a good potboiler, winking at the clichés without descending into cheesiness.
That covers noir and Rockford Files…what about the X-Files? As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the mobsters have not only each other for enemies, but also supernatural adversaries—irate ancestral spirits. This sounds like a great ignition source for an already incendiary mix, and plot-wise the spirits do ratchet up the action a notch or two. The problem is, Moore never delivers any back story on the spirits; they exist as part deus ex machina, part cool atmospheric effect—two roles at which they do succeed admirably. Still, for ghosts to play such a key role in the story, readers might justifiably expect a bit of actual story dedicated to them; all we get is a handful panels of locals telling Kahami the ghosts are “unhappy bout all the haole running around with their ugly suits and loud voices.” You might expect a few images of bulldozers knocking down trees for cabanas, or despoiled temples, or some such. But no. Moore never attempts to explain the spirits or give them any sort of character. If you’re looking for something that makes these spirits uniquely Hawaiian or gives them a cool local angle that fits in with the book’s otherwise detailed attention to genre and period and place, you’re out of luck. Still, it’s a small complaint with an otherwise impressive and tightly written story.
Such niggling complaints are more than made up for by Steve Griffin’s bold lines and incredible coloring, which provide the bulk of the Hawaiian element in Dick. From Byrd’s Aloha shirts to the Tiki bars to the jungles at night, the book looks great, and the pacing dovetails well with Moore’s story. Griffin’s finished inks have a very penciled and rough look that gives Dick a look all its own, one well suited to the noir storyline. It’s a deliberate technique; the bonus section shows earlier layouts that actually look more like traditionally finished panels than the finished product.
Griffin’s pencils are cool, but it’s his colors that really put the book over the top, visually. His amazing palette and impressionistic style really capture the tones of period Hawaiian life, with all its pastel hotel rooms, gorgeous sunsets, and blistering poolside light. In the bonus section there are several pages of his panels minus the inks, word balloons, and letters, and many are fully realized little watercolor sketches that are impressive in their own right. It’s not surprising Griffin has been nominated for three Best Colorist Eisner Awards.
Apparently Griffin’s role in the series is changing; with the announcement that the series is going monthly, he’s no longer going to be the main artist on the Dick, though Moore has said he’ll still have a lot of design input. The main artist on the book, however, will be Scott Chantler, who has done several acclaimed graphic novels at Oni Press. One of them, Scandalous, is also set in the 50s, though in this case it’s not Honolulu, but Hollywood.
Speaking of Hollywood, Hawaiian Dick may be one of the next books to enter that comic-book vale of tears and crap. A director, Frank Coraci (of Click and Waterboy fame) is already attached. And, sadly, there are rumors that “actor” Johnny Knoxville is to play Byrd. Not as tragic as Nick Cage in Ghost Rider, but not a sure thing, either—to put it kindly.
How Byrd deals with a new schedule and a new artist and the pressures of Tinsel Town remain to be seen, but, for now, Hawaiian Dick: the Last Resort is well worth 15 bucks of your comic budget for the month.