If you’ve read many of my reviews, you might have noticed that I have a particular fondness for multi-media stories and thematic pieces of art – so it’s no wonder really that I would enjoy Ghostface Killah’s new comic book Twelve Reasons to Die, a collaboration with Adrian Younge designed as an accompaniment to his newest album of the same name. With both the album and the comic executive produced by RZA and produced by Adrian Younge, GFK manages to pull together pieces of crime fiction, horror, soul and the supernatural to create the story of a vengeful spirit taking down the twelve mob bosses of Italy. The first ever release from Black Mask Studios, created by the man who has been described as a “compulsive storyteller”, Twelve Reasons to Die is an ambitious project, only for mature readers who are not easily offended. You have been warned.
The first issue actually contains four stories which are woven together, with the largest portion of the book dedicated to the story of how the 12 Delucas formed out of a mutual interest in increasing the quality of crime in Italy. In a series of Polaroid-style flash-backs, Mussolini’s influence on the crime families of Italy is spread out before us in scenes of violence, rape and war, but out of this come the twelve men who act with honour. The irregularity of the panels takes us smoothly through the evolution of the crime syndicates, with each mob boss driven by different motivating factors. Bodies dripping with blood are subtly placed in the trunk of cars as civilians walk by, no one paying any attention to the horror and with a seeming smile on everyone’s face. A ten-panel double page spread spells out the highs and lows of power that crime brings, and how easy it is to abuse that power; it’s obvious that things are far too easy for these men who are not as honourable as they think.
In a night club, a mysterious woman reports to an unknown companion that the twelve members have arrived and it’s obvious that the men are about to be in some trouble. In walks this new gangster – who bears a striking resemblance to GFK himself – and with only the words “Evening fellas” promptly destroys the 12 Delucas in some incredibly brutal ways. The narration reveals that they never had a chance, that they were only soldiers but Anthony Starks was a weapon. Fans of Ghostface Killah will most likely know that he has previously adopted the monikers Tony Starks and Ironman (with vital spelling differences), therefore it’s perhaps unsurprising that he appears as his comic book alter-ego.
The other stories, which are flashbacks and connected to the story in various ways, deal with terrifying sheep, a haunted record collection and an incident of death by bees. This first issue is a really interesting mixed bag and feels like a huge teaser for the rest of the run, setting up some interesting plot devices in this supernatural giallo work. Written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon, the idea to bring in a rotating team of some twenty artists (from the little-known to the well-loved) is an inspired idea which echoes the collaborative ethos of Wu-Tang Clan and ensures that the comic is not defined by just one artist’s style. Dave Murdoch’s transition splash page which shows the vengeful entity Ghostface Killah is a beautiful piece of work and while it took me a moment to adjust to the rapid shifting of artistic style it should be really effective over the series. The colouring from Jean-Paul Csuka varies from blood-drenched reds, to pastel auction-houses, to soul-inspired pink and blue pop-art – the abrupt changes add to the frenzy of this comic, and a shout-out has to go to the smooth lettering of Frank Barbiere.
The album Twelve Reasons to Die is available on CD, vinyl and cassette as well as digital, and subscriptions for the comic book can be found in the Black Mask store. The movie-style advertisements show the influence of European B-movies and 70s psychedelic soul on the story.