Author: John Wagner | Illustrator: Arthur Ranson | Page Count: 88
“Twenty thousand pounds – is that a fair price for a man’s life?”
This first Button Man story appeared in the pages of 2000 AD in 1992. If I go into even the briefest synopsis it could rob the story of its power, so I’ll be writing a review that tells you almost nothing about the thing I’m reviewing. It’s the equivalent of a politician’s answer to a direct question.
From beginning to end it’s an intelligently written, beautifully illustrated bleak British Noir. Making a reader sympathise with a killer is no easy task; John Wagner drips just enough info to allow us to decide if we want to do just that.
It revolves around Harry Exton, a former mercenary. We don’t learn much about Harry’s past but his actions hint at one that’s filled with violence. Whatever it was, it’s given him an edge: he’s good with a gun and can kill without remorse. That trait makes him a desirable commodity for certain people. It seems the pastoral English countryside has a darker side.
I adore Arthur Ranson’s art style. It’s unlike traditional comic work. It’s as if he’s taken an actual photograph and recreated it using only the parts that are necessary. He distils the image into something dramatically striking through his use of a limited and muted colour palette. Think of a 1970’s British Cop Show, and imagine it put through a Photoshop filter.
Most of the story takes place at night meaning Ranson’s palette is dark, and his locations shadowy, like a Noir should be.
There’s been talk of a film adaptation for years. It’s perfect for a film. It even has its own transitions that would work onscreen. It would take a real idiot to screw it up. The problem with making a film now is a number of similar stories have been brought to screen since its publication, so it’ll no longer seem fresh.
I'm also worried that if it happens in the current climate they’ll likely want to turn it into Bourne or Bond to capitalise on the action junkie audience, and that’ll diminish it. Maybe it's best if it never gets made.
4 telephone voices out of 5