Jackpot #1

Ray Fawkes and Marco Failla's "Jackpot" #1 reads like a sting, but it turns out to be so much more. It follows a dream team of con men and women with complementary skills and roles, each with their own nicknames like "The Cold Reader" or "The Poker Face." The mark, Eduardo Moreno, is suitably despicable for his bad temper, vulgarity, cartel-owning and his cheating at cards. The setting is a ship, and the moving pieces feature a rigged card game and a hidden safe.

It all seems too familiar. Even Moreno's theatrical rage and cursing has little effect; he's a shadow of Doyle Lonnegan. The setup sequence feels too long and chatty, although the silver-colored cinematic captions are a fun touch. The characters are flat, and -- despite their different skill sets -- the dialogue is more or less interchangeable, with the exception of Forrest Rhodes, a.k.a. The Heater. Fawkes gives him the best lines, including an out-of-left-field Hokusai reference and his self-congratulatory "nice shot."

Failla's artwork is in sync with Fawkes' sharp pacing. The reveal shots of a card and a handful of bullets land smoothly due to his perspective choices. There are a lot of characters and moving parts, but his page and panel compositions are clear enough that the reader doesn't get lost. However, Failla's facial expressions and body language are weaker. The panel with Dominique's open-mouthed expression of petulance is exaggerated and unconvincing. Also, the very pointy breasts on the women and Moreno's overweight figure feel like lazy character concepts and drawing. Stefani Rennee's palette leans too heavily on blue tones, but she preserves Failla's background details, like the surface of the bearer bonds or the molding on Moreno's ornate desk.

Once again, Forrest Rhodes wins because he gets the funniest facial expressions in the bubble gum panels; it makes me hope Mr. Rhodes will stick around in future issues. By the end of the issue, Dominique -- the savant of the group -- might be the Special One, but funny Forrest is the breakout character.

Just as the exposition starts to drag from the chattiness and lack of surprises, Fawkes drops in an unexpected twist, right around the midpoint of the story. Failla's decision keep the panel small and understated in this moment is clever. He maximizes the surprise factor and preserves the feeling that the reader is seeing things from Felicia's point of view, because she only has a second to glimpse what's in the safe before she runs. The timing is spot on, and the team's reunion provides a satisfying lull before another surprise on the last page.

The cliffhanger has a satisfying punch because Fawkes effectively widens the frame and shifts the genre of the story he's telling in one page. It's a move that's been done before, and the idea of an involuntary audition is also nothing new, but Fawkes and Failla do it well. "Jackpot" #1 was a Sting, and now it's a Conspiracy, complete with sinister surveillance and a war room. Fawkes is aware of all the genre tropes, and he straddles the line between earnest and ironic carefully. His trick on the reader was well-played, but it can only be played once. Further frame and genre shifts wouldn't have the same impact and would feel even more contrived. He needs to have other surprises of a different nature up his sleeve for future issues, or the plot will lose steam. For now, though, "Jackpot" #1 has created a strong hook.

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