Gilbert Hernandez has created himself a wonderful opportunity with the Fritz B-Movie Collection, which started with Chance in Hell and carries on with this, The Troublemakers. The premise of the series is that each book is a film, starring (to a greater or lesser extent) Rosalba “Fritz” Matinez, an actress character from his epic Love and Rockets series Palomar and half-sister of Luba. This hook is almost incidental however – what it’s really doing is giving Hernandez the opportunity to flex his creative, story-telling muscles.
The Troublemakers is something of a titular understatement. These guys aren’t trouble, they’re a disaster waiting to happen. Wes is a failed rock singer, looking to find enough money to buy his own club. He sees an opportunity in his associate Dewey, who has managed to walk away from a failed criminal business-deal-turned-bloodbath with a suitcase containing $200,000. To help him charm the money out of Dewey, Wes picks up Nala, an exotic dancer, escapologist and part-time grifter. Last into the group comes Vincene, a young woman with her own eye on the main chance. Like an agent of chaos she sweeps through the group, manipulating their allegiances with whispers and lies, undermining their every move and seeding doubt and mistrust.
What happens next is an extended character study, as Hernandez weaves the characters around each other. Their strengths and weaknesses force their hands as they circle around the money. As if it needed anything to further stir things up there’s an amulet too – a native American charm on a necklace, that seems to bring luck to whichever of the characters is holding it.
It’s an exquisite story. With the characters locked in a tussle of greed and deceit, Hernandez makes his writing craft look effortless. The script is low-key and natural, the characters three-dimensional and interesting.
While the illustration is kept simple, this works well in the context. This is and should be all about the characters, and Hernandez keeps our focus tight.
It works better than Chance in Hell because, despite a dramatic climax, it isn’t quite so bleak and despairing. We’re left with feelings for the characters despite their terrible behaviour towards one another. This pulls you into the story and helps it pull off its own sleight of hand, drawing you deeply into this dark world of small-time crookery.