"Palmiotti and Brady's The Big Con Job" #1 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Matt Brady and Dominike Stanton has a clever, catchy title. "Con" has a double meaning, referring to both confidence trick and convention, and that sums up the premise of the series. The debut issue introduces the players but doesn't reveal the long game yet.
"The Big Con Job" #1 occurs in the month between two different conventions with a darkly funny Q&A session in the first scene that portrays hostile questions from ostensible fans. The parody is wickedly spot-on. The second scene, set in a rainy, depressing parking lot, is more representative of the overall mood, though. "The Big Con Job" is surprisingly dark and the first issue touches upon the fickleness of fame, poverty, aging, depression and the breakup of a marriage. There is a significant tragedy within the first half of the comic. These serious issues are handled with due weight, and they inspire a kind of pity-fueled investment in the characters. Paul Little's dark, muted palette reinforces the gloomy tone.
Palmiotti and Brady have a good balance between plot setup and character development, but the greatest amount of character development is lavished on Danny Dean, who once played Buck Blaster, a Han Solo type of role. Danny's first appearance in this issue is also his last. His fate leaves an impression, but it's not clear what function this event has for the overarching plot. Danny's story shows the indignities and humiliation of money and health problems, but his death doesn't add up to a motivation for the other characters, who all have similar money problems but different personalities and life details. It seems unnecessary to even show Danny's story, since money is motive enough for Poach and the others without reaching for twisted justifications like avenging the memory of a friend. The result is that the best-fleshed out character in the first issue won't see action in future issues. It's an odd plot decision.
The actual heist isn't even mentioned until the final panel, so the rest of "The Big Con Job" #1 focuses on the tribulations of Poach Brewster, Danny's friend and the main character. Palmiotti and Brady's dialogue is well-paced and fine for most of "The Big Con Job," but the breakup conversation between Poach and his young wife Dee is badly written. The psychology and verbal rhythms are all wrong. An amiable breakup between two people in this situation is possible but, with the way it is written, the dialogue violates the reader's suspension of disbelief. Dee swings between selfish and caring from panel to panel, and Palmiotti and Brady overreach by trying too hard to convey Poach's gentlemanly magnanimity. The breakup speeches are full of wince-inducing sentimentality and cliches. Poach's dialogue is more understated and powerful in the wrenching morning-after scene.
Stanton's art conveys strong emotion well, but his camera angles are jumpy. In an effort to keep the action exciting, he often switches from eye-level to high-angle overhead shots or low-angle under shots, but sometimes this disrupts the flow of action or dialogue. His character designs for the men are distinctive and show realistic aging, especially in hairlines, but the women don't get the same treatment. Dee, Blaze Storm and the waitress in the pizza place all have the same hair and cleavage.
"The Big Con Job" #1 is an uneasy mix of contemporary social realism and crime caper. All the characters besides Poach are flat and the heist hasn't begun yet. At this point, it's hard to say whether Palmiotti, Brady and Stanton can make it all come together. The humor and pathos are strong, so hopefully the laughs can be played up while still keeping the reader invested in Poach's life. The second issue, when the heist structure emerges and players take their places, will likely make or break the story.