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Although the cover of the first issue of this miniseries lists the title as Joe Hill’s Thumbprint and his name is in the grouping of creators, Hill himself is not directly involved in this issue. Rather, the series is based on a novella Hill wrote by the same name. Thanks to the popularity of Hill’s novels and IDW’s own Locke & Key series, it makes sense to prominently feature Hill’s name on Thumbprint. Although issue writer Jason Ciaramella (The Cape) does a pretty good job, those expecting the suspense and characterization that made Locke & Key so compelling may be disappointed by this issue of Thumbprint.
The story so far is that Mallory Grennan, a former Army private, has recently returned to her hometown after being dismissed for her involvement in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. Mallory avoided any legal action because her face wasn’t visible in any photos but word has gotten around about what she’s done. Additionally, her father, himself a decorated medic in Vietnam, died hours before her return. As we enter the second issue, Mallory has just received a mysterious letter with just a thumbprint on it. Most of this issue is spent in flashback as Mallory remembers a particular encounter in the field with a bomb-maker. After a bloody battle in which numerous insurgents are killed, Mallory confronts the bomb-maker, whom the Army thinks has useful information. In order to get him to talk, she insults him with sexual comments about his wife. She continues with insults during the ride back to base and the man spits at her, leading a fellow solider to throws the prisoner from the vehicle. Despite severe injuries, the man survives, we’re told, but escaped later. It turns out that he lost his thumb in the fall (a clue!), which allowed him to slip off handcuffs.
This is a different sort of book to review because it’s only a three-issue miniseries. So when the last panel says “To be concluded,” we know that this means the entire story will end, not just the first arc. So what is expected in an issue where we get 33% of the story is different from a regular issue of an ongoing series. Although there is intriguing set-up happening so far in the first two issues, it moves slower than one would expect. The thumbprint is an engaging hook, but there is really no development on the premise in this issue. Mallory receives a second thumbprint sheet, and the reader sees a figure lurking in the distance, but it’s mostly backstory in issue #2. I would have liked to see the present story progress further.
A large portion of this issue is the flashback to the bomb-maker mission. There was also a flashback in issue #1 that focused on harsh interrogation techniques (including waterboarding) that Mallory used. The fact that these issues are spending so much time showing these scenes makes me question what the series is trying to do. Is this a suspenseful tale of regret and revenge? Or is this series trying to show us in vivid detail how horribly the U.S. treated the citizens of the Middle East during the Iraq War? It may be trying to do both, but I don’t think that we need to see Mallory’s experiences. They are luridly shown, but I don’t know that they add that much to the overall story. In the first panel of issue #1, Mallory, as the narrator, says, “I was eight months back from Abu Ghraib, where I’d done things I regretted.” To me, that is a much more effective way to convey all this information.
On the plus side, Ciaramella does a nice job with some of the dialog. And he also adds some effective touches that show what Mallory was like as a boorish American solider, such as when she takes a banana from the home of the bomb-maker and leaves the peel right on the floor. Other characterization feels forced at times, though. There’s a bar co-worker who feels like the stereotypical letch. The art by Vic Malhotra is strong, for the most part. Malhotra’s has a distinctive, thick-line style that is expressive, though the art – the backgrounds in particular – also feel less detailed here than the work in issue #1.
With a series this short, a great deal of its success will be determined by the conclusion. If it really brings together the threads and makes a powerful dramatic impact, then the slow pace of the first two issues may be forgiven. So far, however, I feel like Thumbprint has tried to focus too much on the backstory to totally make all of its elements work.