Caper turns into a farce, both in fiction and in execution: 7 Psychopaths
By Fabien Vehlmann and Sean Phillips
7 Psychopaths has the feel of a long, convoluted joke that builds so well, but then manages to fluff the punchline, playing it too fast, throwing it away and leaving the audience wondering why someone spent all that time for so little payoff.
I looked at issue 1 when it came out back here and rather enjoyed it. The setup’s a simple one, pure WWII action caper with a slight twist to make it interesting; Slightly insane Army Colonel gets word of another madman’s idea to gather 7 fellow psychopaths together, parachute them into Berlin and assassinate Hitler. Most of the fun is in the build up, as is customary with a lot of caper movies, as the team is assembled, each one flawed and broken by the war in some way. Or like I said in the review of issue 1:
Granted, it’s not the most original of ideas; the concept of assassinating Hitler during the darkest days of WWII using a hand-picked group of soldiers, crooks and spys – in fact I’m surprised no-one (not least the publisher) has thrown the Inglorious Basterds /Valkyrie comparisons around with alacrity. But 7 Psychopaths takes this unoriginal idea and puts an original(ish) spin on it – making the assassin team the 7 psychopaths of the title. As it is we see Special Operations Executive Colonel Thompson, recently returned to work after his own little breakdown, fed the audacious plan by German Jewish Professor Goldschmidt, who proposes that he himself becomes the first of the 7 psychopaths.
….. Goldschmidt postulates that because everyone rational believes killing Hitler to be the impossible mission it has rendered the man practically invincible, because, as he says….. “The most tightly locked door in the universe is the one we don’t even try to open”. But … 7 killers who are crazy can succeed simply because they have no concept of the “impossible” nature of the mission. It’s an interesting spin on the whole idea and, in Goldschmidt and Thompson, writer Fabien Vehlmann has two very different, obviously damaged and intriguing leads.
(There’s 7 Psychopaths’ plot in a few panels – 7 damaged people are assembled to assassinate Hitler. But does she make the shot?)
But once the build up is over and done with and the team find themselves in Berlin it all seems to go slightly wrong, both in the story and in the writing. As the mission descends into chaos and the team find themselves with their own individual shots at Hitler, the whole thing seems to rush toward the ending, fluffing every line and messing up the delivery.
The caper descends into farce, which I assume was Vehlmann’s plan all along. Unfortunately the final movement is simply too rushed to be really enjoyable and the big denoument is practically thrown away. If ever there was a story that needed another 50 pages to get it done properly it’s this one.
(It may have all gone wrong, the team may have bolted to each have their shot at Hitler, and the plot may be creaking under the weight of early expectation, but at least Phillips’ art sort of saves the day)
The one big thing 7 Psychopaths does have going for it is Sean Phillips’ artwork. Always a class act, he’s on real form here, with his characterisations and body language just right it’s almost worth getting the book just for Phillips. Almost.
Sadly, it’s just not quite there. Like I said, the ending is fatally rushed, the big reveal is wasted and the whole thing ends with a whimper rather than the big explosive finish something like this probably deserved.
Also, a word on Boom’s presentation. This was originally a European Hardcover album, which is possibly the main reason Phillips agreed to the job (at least that’s what I surmised from his introduction). It may not have saved the book from it’s disappointing ending, but I wish Boom would have had the balls to represent it in the format it was designed for, I imagine Phillips’ art would have been even more impressive.
Overall 7 Psychopaths is nice and full of promise. Sadly it’s a promise that the script by Vehlmann never lives up to. This WWII caper movie of a comic could have been so very good.