The White Suits, a tale of Russian crime lords identified by their eponymous clothing, got its start in April 2011 in the pages of Dark Horse Presents. This week writer Frank J. Barbiere (Five Ghosts, Blackout) teams up with artist Toby Cypress (Predator: Homeworld, Batman/Nightwing: Bloodborn) for the first of a four-issue limited series. The story begins using some fairly comfortable noir tropes: “Man with No Name” has a violent past but can’t remember much outside of fleeting images. Organized crime deals go wrong, scary squad of killers opens truckloads of whoop-ass while wearing stylish and singularly identifiable outfits, and several story threads are introduced but we readers have no idea how they all connect together yet.
But of course all the story threads are going to connect, memories will be remembered, the unstoppable killers will be stopped, whoever is identified as the “good guy” will emerge semi-victorious but at what cost? In a first issue, it is naturally hard to guess where it is all going (even though I have my guesses). Barbiere certainly amps up the fragmentary nature of his storytelling; after the initial deluge of images (“A memory is like a scab” is a GREAT simile and first line) readers are tossed into a string of events which is mildly hard to track and in search of a narrator. Barbiere rides the line of compel/confuse very closely and while, at times, I wondered why I should be interested in the event I was reading, my curiosity had been piqued and I wanted to see how it all played out. This being the first of four issues, Barbiere spends a luxurious amount of time on mood, tone, and setting as opposed to solid character exposition and I’m just fine with that. Initially, these characters are flat stereotypes with rather little potential depth on display and time will tell if Barbiere is interested in the characters as much as the fighting.
The black-and-white-with-red visual style of Toby Cypress makes clear connections to Sin City but Cypress’ lines are a bit looser with sloppier (in a good way) energy and motion. There are some good juxtapositions of panels which provide needed story beats and the action sequences are chaotic but never unorganized and unclear. Visually many of the C-list characters and victims are drawn from a stereotype perspective which treads dangerously close to racist in some moments (the African-American gang in particular has pronounced gorilla-like arms and chimp-like fingers in a few panels).
As it stands, I’m not sure if I’ll keep reading it. Noir stories aren’t my usual tastes and it can be very difficult to tell if a first issue setup is going to be able to pay off on its potential. Clearly the creative team has enormous potential and understands the basic tenets of noir storytelling but the jury is still out on if the story gets past the basics and into something deeper and/or more stylish. For those more naturally drawn to noir, this will give you a quick fix. I’m not yet convinced that the story will sustain for four issues, though.