Near Death (Volume One) is a brilliant crime fiction story about an assassin named Markham who decides he must reform. At the beginning of the story, Markham, shot and dying, drives to his only friend’s place of work (which is also where she lives) late at night. Sutton, a veterinarian, seems to be used to sewing up Markham, but this time, she has got to save his life, because he briefly dies on her operating table. But what is amazing is not that she saves him; rather, it is his seeming experience of hell that drives Markham and the events in this story forward. When Markham momentarily dies, he goes to a type of hell and sees and talks with people he has killed in his past. Awaking from this hell, Markham decides he needs to change his ways and help people instead of killing them to prevent him from going to hell permanently.
Near Death, then, is a story of redemption. Or at least it would be if Markham could feel good about what he is doing, but he seems to lack normal feelings. Sutton asks him how he feels after saving a woman’s life, and he says, “honestly, I didn’t feel anything.” Is Markham a psychopath? Or has he just become emotionally damaged from years of squashing his emotions as a hired killer? The book offers interesting commentary on the ethical aspects of one’s behaviors. Is Markham a good, ethical man for saving a woman’s life? Is he truly finding redemption? Or do his selfish reasons for helping others negate any redemption he might hope to find? Faerber clearly wants us to ask these questions.
I think as the story progresses, though we never see Markham change into a shining knight of sorts, we do see him change for the better. We see him start thinking more carefully about his actions and what the repercussions are of his decisions. Each of the five issues collected in this book tells a different story about people Markham is attempting to help, and the episodes are not simplistic, I don’t think. I believe that Faerber has created interesting, complex situations to test Markham’s newfound sense of ethics. And we do see him evolve as a moral being. As the story progresses, Markham finds clever ways to deal with the problems he is faced with, and we see emerge his ability to feel and care about others, particularly Sutton, for whom he shows empathy, especially through his nonverbal communication when she is injured and in the hospital due to his own actions.
The art is equally impressive. Guglielmini does an excellent job of giving us the deep shadows we expect from a noir comic, as Markham’s face is often shown shaded, with his peering out at us in each panel, often one of his eyes obscured by darkness. The action is displayed with intensity, and even the quiet moments are just as interesting and full of tension. Faerber and the team of artists working on this book are experts at creating a compelling comic that I highly recommend for fans of noir.