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RECKLESS by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips




I grew up on science fiction. Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton were my jam. That was back when I was a kid, and a library card was the most powerful currency I could put my hands on.


At thirteen, I started working at my dad’s service station for fifty cents an hour. I think minimum wage was a buck an hour, but this was nepotism at its finest and I had no overhead. (Changing out tires with nothing but two tire tools and a rubber hammer was hard work, though, and that summer my dad sold a LOT of tires. Four at a time.)


Still, I worked on weekends so my dad got Sundays off, and I worked Friday evenings and Saturdays when the station was the busiest. In that time, I averaged twenty-two hours a week and banked eleven dollars a week. By the time I got to high school, I’d saved up almost two thousand dollars. When you grow up without money, you learn to hang onto it.


New paperbacks on the spinner racks were sixty cents apiece then, and I remember the first Andre Norton paperback I saw for seventy-five cents that almost took my breath away.


Books were getting expensive!


Thankfully, there was Pearl’s. We were living in Seminole, Oklahoma, at the time. I didn’t have a good experience there. Four long years of middle school and high school (they didn’t really have a junior high school) worn on me and left marks that I still remember today.


I don’t know what Pearl’s was exactly. It wasn’t a bookstore, but it had comics and books. It also had furniture and clothing, and the place was something of a catchall. My mom went there for secondhand clothing for us kids, and maybe just to poke around. It was just across the street from the TG&Y.


My mom didn’t go to Pearl’s much, but when we were in the neighborhood, I could usually cadge a visit over there—if I promised to be quick. Pearl’s didn’t have a lot of books, but it had all the genres I wanted: science fiction and Westerns. And the books were only ten cents apiece. A lot better deal than I could get off a spinner rack.


When we visited my grandmother, she usually gave me a few bucks and I would walk a few blocks down to Conda’s Swap Shop. Conda’s featured tons of used paperbacks, hubcaps hanging on the walls, car parts, windows, and a bunch of other stuff that I didn’t care about.


All I wanted was the books. I’d discovered Doc Savage while in Seminole, as well as the Avenger, all reprints from the old pulp days, so I was constantly on the lookout for them. Because of spinner rack price gouging.


I grew up on science fiction. Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton were my jam. That was back when I was a kid, and a library card was the most powerful currency I could put my hands on.


At thirteen, I started working at my dad’s service station for fifty cents an hour. I think minimum wage was a buck an hour, but this was nepotism at its finest and I had no overhead. (Changing out tires with nothing but two tire tools and a rubber hammer was hard work, though, and that summer my dad sold a LOT of tires. Four at a time.)


Still, I worked on weekends so my dad got Sundays off, and I worked Friday evenings and Saturdays when the station was the busiest. In that time, I averaged twenty-two hours a week and banked eleven dollars a week. By the time I got to high school, I’d saved up almost two thousand dollars. When you grow up without money, you learn to hang onto it.


New paperbacks on the spinner racks were sixty cents apiece then, and I remember the first Andre Norton paperback I saw for seventy-five cents that almost took my breath away.


Books were getting expensive!


Thankfully, there was Pearl’s. We were living in Seminole, Oklahoma, at the time. I didn’t have a good experience there. Four long years of middle school and high school (they didn’t really have a junior high school) worn on me and left marks that I still remember today.


I don’t know what Pearl’s was exactly. It wasn’t a bookstore, but it had comics and books. It also had furniture and clothing, and the place was something of a catchall. My mom went there for secondhand clothing for us kids, and maybe just to poke around. It was just across the street from the TG&Y.


My mom didn’t go to Pearl’s much, but when we were in the neighborhood, I could usually cadge a visit over there—if I promised to be quick. Pearl’s didn’t have a lot of books, but it had all the genres I wanted: science fiction and Westerns. And the books were only ten cents apiece. A lot better deal than I could get off a spinner rack.


When we visited my grandmother, she usually gave me a few bucks and I would walk a few blocks down to Conda’s Swap Shop. Conda’s featured tons of used paperbacks, hubcaps hanging on the walls, car parts, windows, and a bunch of other stuff that I didn’t care about.


All I wanted was the books. I’d discovered Doc Savage while in Seminole, as well as the Avenger, all reprints from the old pulp days, so I was constantly on the lookout for them. Because of spinner rack price gouging.





During my searches for Doc Savage, Conan the Barbarian (the Lancer editions), and any science fiction I could lay my hands on (I searched for the James Blish Star Trek books), I was drawn to lurid covers featuring sexy women and hard-faced men with guns who looked ready to use them.


That pull drew me into worlds filled with private eyes, spies, thieves, and all manner of violence that my teenage self hadn’t known he wanted. I quickly noticed the best of those books were published by Gold Medal Books. That was the first time I’d ever been aware of publishing imprints. Well, maybe I noticed Whitman books because of the 1968 Star Trek novel Mission to Horatius. It was my first Star Trek book, and I was in love with the show—though I didn’t get to watch it all the time for various reasons.





I loved everything Gold Medal did. I discovered John D. MacDonald (who I go back and reread to this day), Dan J. Marlowe, Richard S. Prather (couldn’t quite get into those, and Shell Scott just looked too weird for me), and dozens of others.





Gold Medal broadened my reading horizons overnight, and I really felt like the books were a good match for who I was becoming as a person and as a writer. I reread those books and lament how it’s hard to find writing like that, and a world like that where I can just sink into the story.


All this long buildup is to let you know how important those books were to me. I discovered Travis McGee, Joe Gall, Earl Drake, Parker (Richard Stark/Donald Westlake), the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain, the Executioner, the Destroyer, and others because of my introduction to that kind of storytelling. Gold Medal Book were my gateway drug into exciting fiction.


Those books formed so much of what I know about story and have translated into my own career.


I’ve always loved Ed Brubaker’s comics, especially his Criminal books. Then I found the first Reckless book.


As I flipped through the pages and sank into the story, I was once more in Conda’s Swap Shop and the breeze from the open windows blew over me. I “remembered” this book. Of course, Brubaker’s tale is new, but it’s nuanced with the Gold Medal Books flavor.


In his introduction, Brubaker talks about the books that he grew up on, the ones his father read all the time, the ones that spoke to him in the same way they spoke to me. He’s ten years younger than me and was born on the wrong side of the Mississippi River, but I’ve got a feeling our hearts beat in the same rhythms when it comes to many stories.


They definitely do when it comes to Ethan Reckless. The first book is set in the 1980s. The world then is much different than it is today. The moral compass spun wildly in those days (much as it probably does today, even though it feels differently).


And yet, that 1980s world Reckless lives in has direct tie to the latter half of the 1960s that I knew so well and was chronicled in so many of the books I read. Maybe I didn’t physically travel much, but the various series and authors took me around the world, and I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise have known.


Reckless is a comic, but it’s not like any other comic you’ve read lately. For one, it wasn’t a monthly series strung out over six issues. It was published as a graphic novel from the start, a complete-in-one adventure with a terrific world built for readers to embrace. We learn a lot about Ethan Reckless in this one, but there are an awful lot of secrets we don’t know either. In fact, there are many things that Ethan Reckless doesn’t know about himself. His journey of self-discovery becomes that of the readers, and it is a tense, white-knuckled ride.


I want to know more about Ethan Reckless, before we meet him here, and I want to know more about where he’s going after this book ends. His story is wide-open at both ends.





The story is set up really well, almost like a snake that’s eating itself. But picture this as well: a long line of fuse is laid and lit, but instead of burning to the bombastic conclusion we’re waiting for, everywhere that line of fuse touches itself ignites more fire till it’s a big conflagration and you don’t know which one will lead to the spark that detonates the end.


I know this is a lengthy, rambling review, but hopefully for those of you who are old hands with fiction as I am, I can point you to a new iteration of those old books we loved and sometimes still chase down in used bookstores. As a bonus, Sean Phillips is the best noir-inspired artist I have ever seen. He teamed up with Brubaker in Criminal and they’ve created a body of work that is a joy to behold.





For those of you who are new to this kind of storytelling, I greet you and welcome you to the hundreds of books you might want to pick up and lose yourself in for a few hours here and there. The Gold Medal Books are short, tight reads filled with action and adventure, with betrayal and duplicity, and with men and women hanging on by their fingernails, all of them simply wanting to survive somewhat intact.


Reckless won’t just be a good read. It will be a welcome addition to your library that you’ll return to again and again. And there are currently four more graphic novels out there waiting to be read.

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