“Jack Harlem would rather take his chances as a human than become a machine. But this is Zap City and sooner or later everybody has to plug in.” That blurb quote from the back cover of Trench Coat is a tidy demonstration of what the book is going for. It’s hard-boiled sci-fi. Jack Harlem is the last un-augmented detective in a city rife with cybernetic enhancement. He’s got a case to solve that could pay for his daughter’s mounting medical bills. Of course, it all goes to hell immediately.
This 48-page comic immediately swept me into its world. Texture and detail bring the Zap City spreads alive. The character designs are fun. Dialogue is snappy. The premise is laden with genre convention but Jake Machen deploys it with enough awareness, playfulness and style to produce a work that’s fresh.
I enjoyed Machen’s cartooning throughout. Even in dialogue-heavy sequences, the characters never just recite their lines. There’s always an informative bit of acting to enhance the scene. The grid of panels is often punctuated by sequences of smaller panels to focus on one small part of the action. In lesser hands this could distract from or jumble the narrative flow but when done this well the reader’s eyes move through the page to the rhythm the story demands. That’s some comics magic.
Trench Coat is labeled as Volume 1 and as the story ends it seems like the author intended to produce more of it. I don’t know if that’s still the case but it was a satisfying read regardless. Whatever Jake Machen publishes next, I’ll be seeking it out.