By Alex Batts — Have you ever thought about what 1930s Chicago would be like if magic had been outlawed during prohibition instead of alcohol? Me neither. But comics creator Christian Ward did, and with the help of artist Sami Kivela, colorist Dee Cunniffe (whom Ward is assisting with colors), and letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Tommy Gun Wizards #1 has sprung to life with that very premise. Ward, an illustrative comics veteran, is taking his first turn as purely a comics writer here and with a knock-out first issue, it’s a turn well-taken.
Tommy Gun Wizards is set in 1931 Chicago, at the height of prohibition, with Elliot Ness and his band of untouchables circling infamous mob boss Al Capone. Instead of dealing in alcohol, however, Capone has a lock on the market of magic. In this world, anyone can wield magical powers by consuming a drug known as the "Lick". Though there are some wizards and startlingly-powerful characters in the series, the magic prominently granted to your average Joe is significantly more mundane. You can keep your bath warm indefinitely, comb your hair without moving your arms, and maybe make your muscles a bit bigger.
This grounded level of magic helps sell the realness of the setting. This is a familiar place and even a somewhat familiar time period. 1930s Chicago has been explored many times in many mediums, but the injection of magic into the lifeblood of this particular rendition of the Windy City sets it apart from others. Ward has insisted that the realism has to sell the fantasy, and it does so in spades. The world-building and character work accomplished in this opening issue is something to be lauded. There are layers of storytelling here that we’ve only just scratched the surface of, and you immediately get a firm grasp of every character that appears.
While the concept, the plot, the character work, and the dialogue are all excellent, the art really brings this book to life. Sami Kivela immaculately renders Chicago. From highly detailed and lively city shots to frantic and chaotic action sequences, everything elevates the mood of the story. The character expressions are palpable, the panel layouts inform the storytelling, the architecture of Chicago is striking, and it all comes together seamlessly. Accompanying Kivela’s already great work are brilliant colors by Cunniffe and Ward. Cunniffe lays down the base colors, and Ward goes over them adding an extra pop and SFX. The colors work to make the art pop and establish the mood in different scenes. Volatile action scenes are bathed in red hues, more mundane (while still engaging) speeches have a yellow/brown tint, horror has a green overtone, and the windswept streets maintain a stunning blue.
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s letter work is also of note. It's yet another piece of the artist puzzle that helps complete the mood of the book, enhancing the storytelling. Keywords are bolder than others, and the speech bubbles are expertly placed to guide your eyes exactly where they need to go. Every creative component in this book compliments the others.
There’s also a backup story written and illustrated by Ward that serves as another piece of the puzzle to the rich world of Tommy Gun Wizards. This piece is wholeheartedly sci-fi and the way it fits into the central narrative remains unclear, but that’s part of the magical mystery. Without going into specifics or spoiling anything, I’ll just note that it reminds me a lot of Ward’s work on Invisible Kingdom in all the best ways.
Overall: Tommy Gun Wizards masterfully blends crime, horror, and fantasy into an alternate history period piece that’s captivating from cover to cover. The entire creative team has struck gold with a lightning in a bottle concept they execute perfectly. 10/10
Tommy Gun Wizards #1
Writer: Christian Ward
Artist: Sami Kivela
Colorist: Christian Ward with Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Backup Comic: Christian Ward
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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Alex Batts is from Texas. A lifelong comic book enthusiast and movie lover, if he’s not talking about comics, he’s probably not talking. You can find him on Twitter by following @BatmanFiles.