Magic and 1920s prohibition. It’s a combination of two cool things that becomes so much cooler. The mystical and wondrous possibilities of magic injected into the grimy, crime-ridden world of 1920s prohibition. It’s really just two genres or locales smashed together, but it’s utterly brilliant. And that’s the best way to describe Tommy Gun Wizards: pure brilliance. With a creative team of Christian Ward, Sami Kivelä, Dee Cunniffe, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Tommy Gun Wizards #1 isn’t just a brilliant proof of concept, but brilliantly written, drawn, colored, and lettered as well.
Christian Ward has been a comic book artist for a while now, and it’s easy to see here. This is clearly a book written by an artist for the artist, because visual elements are just as essential to the storytelling as anything written on the page. Kivelä’s line work is meticulous and detailed where it needs to be, while leaving plenty of room for the more amorphous, magical elements. This creative team is working in perfect harmony to convince you that gangsters in the 1920s were really casting magical spells and hurling fireballs at each other, and while it sounds far-fetched, it’s completely believable while you’re reading it. The stakes are given such a clear ethos in the opening pages, that by the time the magic comes out, you’ve already been transported into that era. Ward, Kivelä, Cunniffe, and Otsmane-Elhaou have all been underrated members of the comic book industry for a while now, but Tommy Gun Wizards could be the work that propels each of them into the stratosphere, because it’s easily each of their best work. The story at its core, centering around Eliot Ness and his efforts to stop Al Capone from selling and distributing magic, is about deception and desire. Everyone wants something whether they’re good or evil, and they may be willing to compromise parts of who they are or keep secrets in order to get it. It’s the push and pull of desire and action that drives the story forward, and Ward, Kivelä, and Cunniffe depicting those elements through the character work and magical elements that makes this story a success. The gangsters are stained, underhanded, and almost demonic while Eliot Ness and his law men are almost too squeaky clean, with light glistening off each of their faces.
Ward and the rest of the creative team appear to work together perfectly, as his artistic knowledge clearly elevates the writing, layouts, colors, and letters, with each element being given careful consideration on every page. Ward is careful to start with the grounded setting of 1920s Chicago before introducing the more fantastical magic elements, but it’s the layouts that sets Tommy Gun Wizards apart. Defined gutters, page borders, or formal layouts don’t really exist here. It’s all very experimental in that each page is structured in a different and unique way. Some panels overlap which gives them a sense of urgency, others bleed into the sides of the pages. Sometimes there are no panel gutters, other times they are expanded, capitalizing on the use of white space. The only constant is that the layouts are always escalating and always moving the reader forward. This is the alternate universe of prohibition where magic exists, simple as that. The first arc will be a four-issue conflict between Capone and Ness which will presumably build to an all-out gang war with the fate of magic on the line. As Ness is tested by the cunning gangsters that oppose him, how far will he go in order to win, and will he lose sight of the original mission in the process? You may laugh and ask how a concept like this could possibly be taken seriously, but you’ll quickly see that magical gangsters are no laughing matter. Magic is delivered and used through a drug like compound call “lick.” Before prohibition, many used it for small, menial task or easy shortcuts, but using too much can quickly become dangerous. Speakeasies still exist but don’t appear as integral to the era in this issue. One element that many people forget was a big part of the prohibition era was religion, and it’s clearly a part of Tommy Gun Wizards as well. Magic is a sin that corrupts the morals of humanity. It’s has degraded the American dream, and we must return to the church and faith in God in order to make things right and eradicate the scourge that is magic. That is what many people including Ness and his cronies believe.
Despite the fact that the magical elements crescendo throughout the issue, the world of gangsters and organized crime, shaped by desire and deception, never leaves. Secrets, lies, shadiness, sacrifices, righteousness, order, and freedom are all tested here. It’s very clear that the creative team still has a lot to say about all of these motifs, but this is a phenomenal first issue centered around the very idea of magic itself. It’s elaborated more in the backup story, but magic is traditionally defined as manipulating these mysterious and otherworldly forces that we can’t comprehend, but it doesn’t feel quite right in the world of Tommy Gun Wizards. There are too many knowns here. The magic is harnessed in the form of the drug rather than an abstract. There are figures that are a lot more powerful and threatening in the ways they’ve learned to use this magic than others. In the backup story, we’re presented with the idea that, what if one society’s magic is another’s history or technology? This isn’t as much an amorphous, unknown force as it is a tool they haven’t learned to use yet. Even as you’re engrossed in the magical yet dirty world of prohibition, you’re also trying the solve the enigma that is this form of magic.
If you’re familiar with The Untouchables, either the movie or the book, you can clearly see the influence it has on Tommy Gun Wizards. Ward is creating his very own world for the first time in his career, and this is most indicative to his rawest form of storytelling. It’s a love of that era thrown together with his clear strengths of drawing fantastical elements and mixed together into an entirely new concept. Ness’s anger and Capone’s cunning ruthlessness have been plucked straight from The Untouchables. As we move forward into future issues, it will be interesting to see what other influences or historical elements will be drawn upon. For now, the story remains fairly straightforward. It’s a fun read that hints at some of the elements of desire and deception at play without diving in too deep. For now it’s just a great time to read about a really cool concept brought to life by a stellar creative team.
If you’re trying to get someone into the comic book medium, this is a fantastic first issue. It’s an easy first time read because it’s built on a simple, awesome, and straightforward concept. The tagline is just “1920s prohibition with magic. Gangsters meets wizards.” It’s as simple as that, and it’d be a challenge to come up with a better hook. Anyone who has heard of Al Capone could pick up this book and fall in love with it because of how cool it is. The explosive action, radiant magic, and meaningful character work. Kivelä’s line work is detailed, passionate, and emotional. Ward and Cunniffe demostrate the sheer amount of work that goes into coloring. Pay attention to how this book is colored because it’s a collaborative and intensive process. Cunniffe essentially provides much more detailed and intensive flatting work than you’d normally see, and it should be valued immensely. This is difficult, laborious work that requires a keen eye and a lot of patience even before Ward comes in and layers his magical effects, neon colors, and watercolor textures. Then you also have Otsmane-Elhaou’s masterfull placements, lettering, and SFX. There’s plenty to highlight here, whether it be the SFX that blend seamlessly with the art and almost protrude from the page, the excellent font used to describe the setting and characters, or the brilliant variation of font sizes that can appear within the same balloon.
Tommy Gun Wizards is a fantastic book you can jump right into. Everyone gets excited about the world of gangsters and prohibition, and bringing magic into that world should only get readers more excited. Ward, Kivelä, Cunniffe, and Otsmane-Elhaou deliver explosive and kinetic work on every page. It’s Ward’s entire art repertoire applied to writing and storytelling. He and the rest of the team have set the foundation for an entire world of stories that all start here. This is the origin of a new universe that will hopefully stick around for a long time. This is the concept and story you and your friends may have thought of one time but never fully realized. This is what you’ve always wanted but may have never even thought of. What are you waiting for? Pick up Tommy Gun Wizards already.