In the pages of Violent Love, we are quickly introduced to two of the newest additions to the pantheon of criminal lovers: Daisy Jane and Rock Bradley. As our narrator, Lou, the U.S. Marshal who got caught up in chasing them, can attest, they are some of “the most notorious crooks to ever come ‘round these parts”. We’re not quite there yet, however. Instead, this trade that collects the first five issues of the series, written by Frank J. Barbiere and with art by Victor Santos, tells the story of how they met.
Writers: Frank J. Barbiere
Artist: Victor Santos
Publisher: Image Comics
Set in the early 1970s, Barbiere and Santos first delve into Daisy’s history. After tragedy strikes, she is set on the road of violence, crime, and revenge that leads her to cross paths with Rock, another tortured soul. As things escalate, they get pulled closer and closer as they find kindred spirits within each other amid a life of death and destruction.
It’s a classic, gritty, pulpy love story and Barbiere and Santos execute it well. Barbiere nails the writing end, striking the right balance between the theatrical high drama of noir, while not making it feel so stuck in the genre that the dialogue rings false. Santos, meanwhile, brings his A game as well. He makes some strong, bold choices with the colors and texturing of the book that really set a great and appropriate tone and make the series really visually interesting. His use of splash pages and montages help to move the story along, and even at his most restrained, he rarely relies on standard panel layouts, which keeps the energy high throughout the story. Santos does an excellent job of making us feel how seat of the pants crazy the world of this story truly is.
Despite how fun and retro Violent Love is, it’s also very familiar. While that ’70s pulp movie familiarity does have a lot of nostalgic charm, this entire review I’ve been struggling to resist making the Bonnie and Clyde comparison. It’s not because the two stories have anything to do with one another, but because Violent Love doesn’t quite set itself apart from previous cultural shorthands such as its cinematic predecessor.
Barbiere and Santos take their time to flesh out Daisy, her past, and the thirst for revenge that drives her. But this is story of her relationship with Rock, right? While that is certainly explored, their dynamic is very one sided, his character filled in with vague gestures towards what he saw in ‘Nam.
So then, the Bonnie and Clyde tropes of “Criminal Lovers” get leaned on to fill in the rest of the plot. This is not inherently a bad thing, tropes are the building blocks of all stories, but it did get me nodding along as the story unfolded, “knowing what they’re trying to do there.” It all felt somewhat safe, to the point where at the end of the five issues I felt like there ought to have been… more in the book. It felt like we should be somehow farther down Daisy’s path towards revenge at this point because we the reader understand where this is all going, so now we’re waiting for the creators to catch up.
But then, of course, this is just their origin story and I’m being impatient. There is a longer story being told than just these five issues and I look forward to where Barbiere and Santos go moving forward. But there have been too many stories of love and revenge to be able to rest on familiar trappings too comfortably, so I hope the next chapters in this story take some exciting chances, because it was really fun to read and look at this comic.