What would you do if it was going to be impossible to commit a crime? Not just hard or tough but flatout impossible? What if your own government took the steps to basically brainwash you, making it impossible for you to get high, to knock over a liquor stand, to overthrow your elected leaders or even to take $10 out of your mother’s purse? In The Last Days of American Crime, Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s story of a morally lost America trying to impose its own sense of righteousness on its population is contrasted against the story of Graham Bricke, a small time thief trying to pull one last big score. With the United States of America’s own government poised to throw the lever and take away your own ability to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing, Remender asks us what would you do while you still had the choice?
For Graham and his new partners Kevin and Shelby, the answer is to basically knock over a bank. Remender sets up this big, complicated scenario where in tandem with the American Peace Initiative (the fancy term for the national brainwashing,) the government is also eliminating physical money and moving to a nationally sanctioned credit system. The whole bit about having to steal and hack a credit-making box rather than actual money is a bit over-plotted. All you need to know is that Graham has one last chance to finally get the pay-day he’s always been looking for. When the API goes into effect, he’ll either be the same loser he’s always been or will have finally succeeded and beat the system.
Tocchini tells Remender’s story through color. His lines appear quick, sketchy and minimalistic but they are just there to contain Tocchini’s colors, which I’m assuming he’s doing digitally. The colors that Tocchini chooses provide an unusual haze to the story, as if we’re viewing this story unfolding in front of us on a hot day where the heat may be playing visual tricks on us. Colors blend together as Tocchini establishes different color palettes for different scenes. He gives each scene its own distinct, visual tone through the colors he uses. Hot reds, cool bluish-greens and explosive yellows makes this a seductive book, where you can easily get lost in the range of colors that Tocchini gives Remender’s story.
The story tries to be as alluring as the artwork, giving us all the violence and sex we could want from it. With the idea that Americans will not be able to commit crimes once the API switch is thrown, Remender shows us the virtual crime orgy that the people go on, trying to get off and get rich in whatever way they can while they still can. Looking at the opening scenes of this story, set in a heroin shooting gallery and in a seedy bar where Graham first “encounters” Shelby, there’s a strange freedom that exists right before the complete loss of choice. There’s a fascinating story waiting to be explored in there. Unfortunately, Remender focuses more on the heist than the morals behind it.
There are many stories at work during The Last Days of American Crime, maybe too many, as Remender tries to give each character their own arc but yet isn’t able to really dig into them beyond some cliches and sketchy character attributes. These aren’t characters that inhabit Tocchini’s seductive bodies but walking and talking plot points. Cast in a slightly different role, Shelby would be the hooker with the heart of gold but here she’s the hacker. Or, to borrow from another famous seductress, she’s not bad; she’s just drawn that way. Kevin is the one cool customer, a professional thief with plans to escape to Mexico with Shelby. It’s clear from the beginning that Shelby or Kevin are damaged goods that are just as likely to screw Graham over as they are to help him pull off this one last job.
Graham’s story alone could fill a whole book. A small time criminal who has done his share of time in jail, Graham somehow now works security in one of a bank, one that’s key to the new credit system. He lives in an old camper trailer with his vintage slot machines and mother who suffers from alzheimers. She constantly calls him ”Rory” but Remender hints that there’s a deeper reason to that other thna his mother just does not remember. Who is Rory never gets answered and remains a mystery Remender introduces but never explores. Too many little mysteries get dropped into the plot but never really developed. Do we need every question answered? Probably not but it would be nice to know that the writer isn’t just dangling plot points in front of us, leading us on to dead ends.
The Last Days of American Crime tries to be a thinking man’s action story and it comes really close to succeeding. While Remender gets bogged down in his clever little character moments, he and Tocchini create a visually exciting story. The book begins by asking some intriguing questions about crime and morality and then forgets them to tell a story about the heist and all of the sex and drugs leading up to the heist. Much like the American population in The Last Days of American Crime, Remender seems less interested in pursuing the morality of his story while he takes delight in being able just to tell a story about a bank robbery.