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Smoke: Good Boys Grow Up to be Soldiers
Review by Kerry Garvin

Smoke Review Cover Image
Smoke: Good Boys Grow Up to be Soldiers

Alex de Campi
Igor Kordey
Len O'Grady
Robbie Robbins

IDW Publishing
Softcover Original
Publish Date
May 2005
Cover Price

Looking for a bit something different from my normal comic fare, something away from cuddly animal characters or slice of life romantic comedies, I asked a friend for some recommendations. She passed me the first volume in the Smoke series, Good Boys Grow Up to be Soldiers and I took it on with mixed feelings. Could I enjoy a story with so much violence and a complete lack of mopey teenagers or adorable animal sidekicks? I don’t think the experiment was as successful as my friend would have liked, but it did serve to remind me of an important lesson: it’s always good to try new things.

Smoke: Good Boys Grow Up to Be Soldiers is a complicated story to explain in a few short sentences. Set in a futuristic London where the government has only become more corrupt and morally extinct, the story revolves around Cain, a government sponsored assassin who is charged with tending to London’s many crises. Among these crises are a number of murders, a terrorist group called the Right to Beauty Brigade who demands liposuction and plastic surgery for its members, and a conspiracy by OPEC. Cain must also deal with his own private matters including the death of his mentor, an ex-girlfriend who’s come back into his life, and many personal demons.

Writer Alex de Campi smashes a lot of story into this 48-page book sometimes to the detriment of the reader. The story flies around London jumping from plot point to plot point without giving the reader much chance to catch up. Scenes switched too fast, leaving me confused about what was exactly happening and where the story was going. It would have been nice if the book was longer, giving a few more pages to explain the story more completely, or if at least one character or group was saved until volume two.

That being said, the story is still very intriguing. De Campi’s voice throughout the book is hard to pin down. She somehow keeps a very serious book about a corrupt government light-hearted. The story is not funny, by any means, but aspects of it keep the reader from being dragged down by its inherently serious nature. I think de Campi’s social commentary, especially that on the Right to Beauty Brigade, serves this purpose. It made me chuckle to realize that even in Smoke’s future London, not much has actually changed.

Smoke’s intriguing and mysterious main character Cain is the highlight of the story. He is well written and it will be fun to get to know him in future volumes. Again, although there is nothing funny about Cain outright, his dialogue and flippant nature bring some humor to the script. Although the story progresses fast, the script is good and Cain’s dialogue is certainly a strong point.

Smoke Review Interior Image


Although I thought the story could have been tightened up, the art here is top notch. Kordey doesn’t waste a single panel and makes every line valuable. One thing I always look for and admire in comic book art is if the panels are drawn with unusual perspectives. By this I mean, the artist never takes the easy way out and shows the reader a scene as if we are standing at a safe distance. It is much more interesting to feel immersed in the action, peeking around corners or crouching behind a vehicle to see what is happening. Kordey never fails here. He has us standing on a toilet and peaking over the edge of the neighboring stall, driving one lane over from a passenger sporting an Uzi, and crouching in the bushes watching a man be assassinated. This style serves to make the book feel more dangerous and the reader in danger. It gets me into the book and lets me feel like I’m part of the story. Smoke is a fast read already, but Kordey’s art propels the reader through the book at a breakneck pace.

The only improvement to the art I would like to see is the cover. Kordey’s work inside the book is beautiful, but the cover is boring. It doesn’t draw the reader into the story or give any inkling to what the story is about. It would be great to see a portrait of Cain on the cover, but instead we only get a generic soldier.

Smoke Review Interior Image 2

Final Words

While I did have a hard time getting into and keeping up with de Campi’s story, main character Cain and de Campi’s social commentary are worth the price of the book. Kordey’s art is like icing on the cake and seeing what he does in volume two will be exciting. I’m glad I gave Smoke a chance. It was good to reach outside of my normal comic fare for this intriguing story.


Kerry Garvin (email) is a total nerd. She once made a robot out of tin foil for a boy she loved, but was too shy to deliver it. Kerry can also be found rambling at The Comic Queen and A View From the Ham.
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