ADVANCED REVIEW: Hot Lunch Special #1 by Eliot Rahal, Jorge Fornes, & Taylor Esposito

There is a very personal feel to this story about mafia debts and severed appendages.

By Zack Quaintance — To join in on the food motif of Hot Lunch Special #1, let me start by saying this comic book feels like a main course of generational immigrant success story with a healthy side of Fargo-esque Midwestern crime noir, plus just a taste of a cautionary mafia power struggle. That’s a big meal (end of the food references, I swear), but it’s one that writer Eliot Rahal and artist Jorge Fornes serve up (damn it) expertly.

I liked Hot Lunch Special #1 quite a bit, and the main reason why is that there was a compelling level of realism here, one that at times made it feel almost like a memoir, although not quite because readers are never that far removed from a cops or crooks scene, or gasp a severed finger in a sandwich (that’s page 1, actually). Credit for this realism is, of course, due in large part to Rahal’s script, which I’m fairly certain was heavily informed by his familial history, but it’s also due to Fornes artwork, which strives for and achieves an immersive and intricate level of detail in even the book’s quietest moments—especially in the book’s quietest moments.

Fornes also does some great work with his colors, using them as so many masters have to make clear which scenes were set in the distant past for an older generation (one word: sepia) and which are in modern times.

There’s certainly a lot to pack into this debut, yet the book doesn’t fall victim to a frequent first issue pet peeve of mine: over exposition. No, there are no lengthy exchanges between two talking heads filling in how grandma met grandpa or how the family business first became entangled with organized crime (not a spoiler...all of that was in the solicit). Instead, Rahal and Fornes expertly careen this story through space and time, sparing us any over-inflation and keeping the narrative tight. It works so effectively that I halfway wondered if this was an oversized issued as I read. Put simply, a lot goes down.

But it’s all manageable and the hands of the creators go largely unnoticed. By the time the third act here came to its excellent cliffhanger of a conclusion, I felt like I knew who our main stakeholders were (especially the fantastic antagonist) and, more importantly, I felt like I had a reason to care about the story’s central family. I am—groan—ready for a second helping.  

Overall: Hot Lunch Special #1 takes a very personal generational story and mashes it up with  Fargo-esque Midwestern crime noir. It’s a quiet and grounded comic mostly, one that also feels taut and dangerous by its end. This first issue is promising, an excellent start for what may prove to be a unique book. 9.0/10

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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.