Any reader familiar with noir will recognize Newburn the moment he steps onto the page. Dressed in an unadorned fitted suit and wearing an expression that says has no time to waste on bullshit, he is the hard-nosed detective who has been the center of so many stories about his profession since Dashiell Hammett began writing. That isn't to say Newburn is derivative. Rather, it builds upon the familiar facets of genre storytelling to reshape them into something new. When the final page of Newburn #1 arrives, readers of all stripes may recognize the eponymous leading man, but they will also be fascinated to learn how this new variation of his song might play out.
Easton Newburn arrives to investigate a murder and robbery tied to organized crime in New York City at the start of Newburn #1. The police are already present, but they allow the detective (a former officer himself) to perform his own investigation on behalf of the crime syndicates tied up in these events. He's the man who solves mysteries for the mob - regardless of background.
The introductory plot of Newburn #1 is designed to showcase why Newburn is the man in this very precarious role. It's not a case that will shake his cage, instead it gives readers the sense that few problems could rattle this man defined by his competence. There are multiple families, the dead nephew of a boss, and ten pounds of cocaine involved, but Newburn cuts through all of the politics to find a solution.
It's a thrill to watch the detective work throughout the comic. Zdarsky opts to avoid any narration and instead allows each twist in the mystery to be revealed as it is discovered. However, he smartly lays out the elements so even when a resolution is provided by the end of this issue, readers never risk feeling cheated. Everything they needed to puzzle out a secret was present.
There is a narrative device inserted between some scenes - single pages of dialogue labeled as "Emily's Diary" and dated. It's not clear how Emily or this diary might fit into the story ahead until the final page, but when this element, too, becomes clear it's with a gasp and a laugh.
The depiction of each mystery found in this debut wouldn't be possible without Jacob Phillips' outstanding sense of storytelling. That Texas Blood has already shown Phillips to possess a masterful sense of mood, especially in the mode of violent noir. Newburn pivots from rural to urban settings, but the worn characters, atmospheric settings, and crackling panel transitions all translate well to New York City after dark. The one brief moment of violence delivered in Newburn #1 is understated and so perfectly captures the efficiency of a fighter who knows what they're doing. It's clear from the presentation alone that this is an unforgiving world and even someone as capable as Newburn needs to watch his back.
Talking about Newburn on its day of release demands that reviewers consider whether they want to reveal the central twist of this first issue and, on that account, I'll decline. Newburn #1 delivers a complete mystery with satisfying levels of complexity (and foundations for future tensions) and a compelling, if familiar leading man. The twist at its end is what sets the series ahead apart from the very competent delivery of this genre vehicle. It introduces a new layer to this story, one that promises to complicate everything that works so well in these pages.
Whether readers are looking for a great detective story or something more, odds are they'll have discovered just what they wanted by the time they reach the final page of Newburn #1.
Published by Image Comics
On November 3, 2021
Written by Chip Zdarsky
Art by Jacob Phillips
Colors by Jacob Phillips
Letters by Jacob Phillips
Cover by Jacob Phillips