Let’s get this out of the way: Jeff Rougvie, the author of the new Image series Gunning for Hits, was a music producer. Specifically, he was a music producer for David Bowie. Rougvie, and Image, want you to know this. The first three covers for the book directly reference David Bowie imagery or album covers: this issue features Bowie in his “Thin White Duke” persona, the next is a Station to Station call back, so on and so forth. Gunning for Hits is not (at least yet) about David Bowie.
So, what is it about? Image’s preview reads:
“Set in the shady New York City music scene of the mid-80s, GUNNING FOR HITS stars Martin Mills, a record company talent scout with an inscrutable past. Follow Martin as he attempts to sign a rock band that’ll conquer the world in this music business crime thriller written by music producer JEFF ROUGVIE (David Bowie, Big Star) with art by MORITAT (The Spirit, Harley Quinn, Hellblazer). Plus: each issue will include a background feature and a Spotify playlist.”
Sure, Bowie may feature at some point, and a reference to Brian Slade, a musician who was a kind of stand-in for Bowie in the film Velvet Goldmine is made, but Bowie this is not. Instead, we’re presented with a kind of faithful, well written, but confusing in media res vignette between our actual main character Martin Mills, and the young band he seeks to sign: Stunted Growth. The slang, snappy back and forth, and content of the dialogue (which the issue is primarily focused around) all ring true, and I wouldn’t rule out Rougvie writing from honest to God experience here — it’s good stuff! Especially, when several pretty exciting, although slightly too telegraphed, twists take place.
Moritat (The Spirit, Elephantmen), the artist attached to the series keeps great pace in these early bits, too. In an issue that’s entire function is to make dialogue interesting, you have to have an artist capable of making people interesting. Mortitat is certainly that. Expressions are equal parts earnest, flippant, manipulative and more even if the backgrounds are relatively plain and boring.
Things take a turn, however, when both the narrative and art de-rail into the central segment of the book: a kind of tongue-in-cheek, part fiction, part fact infographic where Martin Mills (now obviously a stand-in for the author) explains the plot of the book to us! The idea isn’t terrible, to be sure. Martin has a hell of an upper hand on these kids who think they’ve just signed the rock and roll deal of the century and it’s interesting to hear him explain how he’s actually the winner, but man is it boring. Far too long, far too factual, far too much of the real world in a narrative that is trying to skew things to be more fiction, and far too little effort on the artistic side: it’s a drag. This is where the Bowie information would’ve worked, since everyone as gone out of their way to leverage it anyways, and it’s where it features the least. Baffling, frustrating decisions abound and while we do return to the central plot after this point, even with a cool cliffhanger intact, the book doesn’t recover.
That’s the main takeaway here, unfortunately. That this book can’t get away from the cult of personality built up around it — both in a kind of cash-in sticking to Bowie, and in a fact versus fiction attachment to the author himself, it fails to capture an energy that feels authentic enough to pursue beyond. Fun, but functionless.