New To You Comics: Hillbilly Werewolf Bootleggers Take On La Cosa Nostra In ‘Moonshine’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Not always. Sometimes. Okay. Twice. It happened twice.

This week, Brendan introduces Tony to Image Comics’ Moonshine Vol. 1 TP, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. Here’s what Image tells us about the book:

‘Set during Prohibition, and deep in the backwoods of Appalachia, Moonshine tells the story of Lou Pirlo, a city-slick “torpedo” sent from New York City to negotiate a deal with the best moonshiner in West Virginia, one Hiram Holt. 

What Lou doesn’t figure on is that Holt is just as cunning and ruthless as any NYC crime boss. Because not only will Holt do anything to protect his illicit booze operation, he’ll stop at nothing to protect a much darker family secret…a bloody, supernatural secret that must never see the light of day… or better still, the light of the full moon.’

Brendan Allen: You might think a backwoods hillbilly moonshiner like Hiram Holt would be in over his head dealing with a slick New York mobster. You’d be wrong. Hiram’s hooch is finer than anything else on the market, he’s got a steel jaw, and is surprisingly savvy when it comes to business. He doesn’t even flinch at throwing an offer back in the face of a big time crime Yankee crime lord. Might have a little something to do with that other thing, the occult angle in this offering by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.

What did you think?

Tony Thornley: You know I don’t drink, right?

All kidding aside, this is a standard boilerplate supernatural crime story set-up. So it’s all in the telling of it, right? When you have Azzarello and Risso reuniting to tell a werewolf horror story that’s set right in the middle of the Prohibition era though, that’s good stuff. This is just an entertaining as hell story.

Brendan: I like that it’s set in the woods. Most of these mafia bootleg liquor stories take place on the other side of things, in New York and the big cities where mobsters are squaring off against the FBI and local law enforcement. Moonshine takes it back to the source, a copper still hidden in the Appalachian backwoods and the madman who operates it. 

One of the other things that really makes this one work is that there aren’t any clear lines drawn between faces and heels. It isn’t apparent at any point who the good guys are supposed to be. Pirlo is crude and a tactless alcoholic. Big Joe is a sociopath. Hiram is just as bad. Hidden behind that simple, dirty, backwoods hillbilly facade is a brutally cunning confidence, a steel will, and a ruthless sense of justice.

You kind of have to pick a side and roll with it, since everyone’s hands are dirty.

Tony: Yeah, sometimes the best thing about a crime book is when you really can’t cheer for anyone. Not every writer who does crime books can find that equilibrium and the stories often suffer for that. It’s a balance that Azzarello has always danced well and does so again here.

My one issue here is that we only get two female characters and they’re pretty underdeveloped. Tempest is largely just the noir bombshell archetype, and Delia is just a mysterious stranger. I don’t know if Delia quite falls into the trope of the “magical Negro” but it pushes that line. It’s definitely something that could get better with later stories, but it’s pretty glaring here.

Brendan: To be fair, this is just the first collection. There are three more trade paperbacks, and the fifth arc should be collected soon. They do get really close to that line again with Delia in the third book. 

Tony: I mean, this is the exact thing that you and I talk about often. These aren’t done-in-ones and are hard to judge the overall story from the first arc.

Brendan: On the art side, Risso pulls up his end with striking and gruesome visuals. Weathered characters, beautiful landscapes and a distinctive muted palette sell the script, and he uses shadows and silhouette to amazing effect. 

Tony: Good grief, Risso is so good. Everything is shadows and atmosphere. His Batman work is the first thing of his that I read and it made such an impression. This is even better though.

One thing he does exceptionally well here that I don’t think gets talked about ever is GORE. You and I have talked about how gore is one of the biggest things that turns me off to horror in general. Well Risso draws some incredibly grisly stuff in this book, and he does it just right. It’s shocking and stomach turning but not in an off-putting way, and he doesn’t dwell on it in a way that many horror artists would.

And that’s just on top of the fact that he’s a killer-good storyteller.

Brendan: Can we just talk about the title here for a minute? Moonshine. Moon. Shine. Hillbilly werewolves making hooch. Come on!  I absolutely love it when titles so perfectly encapsulate the twist with clever wordplay. (See also: Redneck.)

Tony: I have appreciated that ever since the title was announced, without a doubt.

Brendan: Aside from the dead brilliant title, where’d you land on Moonshine?

Tony: I liked it. It leans a little more crime drama than horror here, but it’s a great set-up. I was invested in the characters and really want to see where it’s going next.

Brendan: Word. What’s up next in your queue?

Tony: We are going to jump into Wakanda! We’re going to take a look at Ta-Nehisi Coates and Daniel Acuna’s 2018 Black Panther relaunch, The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part 1!

Moonshine Vol 1, Image Comics, 24 May 2017. Written by Brian Azzarello, art and color by Eduardo Risso, letters and design by Jared K. Fletcher.

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