by Andy Wolverton
Let’s hope this won’t happen for a long, long time, but someone should really start petitioning science to preserve and study Fred Van Lente’s brain. Not only does the guy have amazing ideas, but he also has the ability and boldness to turn them into finished products that are stunning. Just take a look at his previous work on Action Philosophers, The Comic Book History of Comics, Archer and Armstrong… Heck, he even wrote a play (with Crystal Skillman) about Jack Kirby! So when Van Lente tackles a comic about organized crime and superheroes with elements of noir, comedy, and a boundless amount of energy, he’s got the skills to pull it off, turning what could’ve been another routine mobster noir tale into something refreshingly unique.
The premise of The Complete Silencers (originally published in single issues by Moonstone in 2003-2004) is pretty straightforward: law enforcement has worked alongside superheroes for decades, so why can’t organized crime? The Provenzano family runs the New York City underworld, but enlisting the help of a few superheroes sure couldn’t hurt: people like Stiletto, who can project a psychokinetic blade that cuts through any substance; Hairtrigger, a man with incredibly fast reflexes and the ability to see three seconds into the future; and Cardinal, the leader of the Silencers and whose touch delivers a 100,000-volt charge. These are just a few of the Silencers team, and since part of the fun is in discovering the characters, I won’t elaborate on the rest of the members.
The main story in this volume deals with the Silencers’ attempt to discover the source of a new street drug called Black Kiss. Cardinal suspects Black Kiss could be the work of the Syndicate, a rival mob organization who would love to level the playing field by taking out a Silencer or two. The first chapter alone features enough fights, shootouts, explosions, betrayals, confessions, and mysteries for any half-dozen comic books. Yet this is far from a mindless action comic. Van Lente combines unique characters of depth and intrigue with a story that works like a rich tapestry, weaving in and out of the past, giving readers the right amount of information at the right time.
In the midst of the mayhem (and there’s plenty of it), Van Lente frequently adds just the right amount of humor, sometimes by taking a swipe or two at superhero books. During one fight scene, a hapless cop cries for backup: “I need guys who can shoot lasers out of their eyes!” When the superhero backups — called “The Tights” — arrive, Cardinal recognizes their strength, but also their hopeless naivety: “You clowns wouldn’t know true evil if it climbed into your long underwear and bit you. True evil happens in places you’ve never seen, much less been to.”
If Van Lente is able to throw a kitchen sink’s worth of story elements into the mix, artist Steve Ellis (High Moon) matches him at every step. Ellis’s noir illustrations are gritty and dark, his horror scenes grotesque, and the superhero action as good as you’ll find anywhere. Regardless of the mood called for, Ellis conveys an almost boundless sense of energy and drive. I’m not quite sure how Van Lente and Ellis pull off this relentless barrage of smart storytelling and unrelenting action, but they do.
In fact, the only disappointment with The Complete Silencers is the feeling that it’s incomplete. I hope that the very existence of this collection means there’s more story to be told, and soon. In the meantime, enjoy the ride. And hang on….
(The Complete Silencers also includes an 8-page prose story, profiles on the main characters and creators, covers, sketches, and unpublished black-and-white art with commentary by Van Lente.)
Get The Complete Silencers as well as other books by Van Lente and Ellis: