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Gary Phillips and Brian Hiatt, Vertigo Crime

By Rich Shivener · August 10th, 2011 · Lit
Make no mistake that Cowboys is a book very far removed from whiskey, spurs, horses and any other accoutrements of the Old West. It’s a 188-page graphic novel weaving the exploits of family-man FBI agent Tim Brady and detective Deke Kotto, whose sexual appetite and devil-may-care ingenuity leads him to deadly places. When their investigations intersect, the results are ugly and maybe even a little surprising.

Written by Gary Phillips and illustrated by Brian Hurtt, the novel opens with a showdown between the two cowboys, and then flashes back to three weeks earlier. In a brilliant touch of writing, the creative team sets up two narratives, a pairing that’s ironic and complex.

Brady is white; Kotto is black. As the book shows, Brady goes undercover as a broker that needs the trust of a shady Hip Hop mogul, while detective Kotto, disguised as an auditor, infiltrates a money-washing corporation. Their dealings are surrounded by lies, hot sex and racial tension, all of which tie back to the common target, Aziz, an ex-con-turned-Muslim suspected of terrorism. The stakes are high for both lawmen, as depicted in Hurtt’s realistic, shadow-heavy art.

Cowboys has steady pacing, especially as Brady and Kotte dig deep into the seedy underbellies of their sources. It’s controlled by Hurtt’s mix of two-, three- and four-panel pages, complemented by Phillips’ knack for writing witty, foul-mouthed characters.

However, the graphic novel’s ending feels rushed and messy, similar to the blood-and-guns climax of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. Phillips and Hurtt weave the lawmen’s investigations together well, but the fates of Brady and Kotte collide and unravel in less than 10 pages, offering little resolution for both parties. Neither rides off into a beautiful sunset. Grade: B



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