Debut issue of ‘Gunning For Hits’ dashes promising premise

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Grade: 1.5/5.0

In “Gunning For Hits,” writer Jeff Rougvie and artist Moritat dive into the music scene of 1987, telling the story of talent scout Martin Mills, as he negotiates a contract with the manager and frontman of an up-and-coming rock band. We get the sense that Mills is an antihero, complete with a faulty moral compass and a shady past. And while Mills’ background is opaque, it’s quite clear that Rougvie draws on a wealth of insider knowledge as a music producer in writing the character.

Though Rougvie’s industry experience — notable for collaborations with David Bowie — gives “Gunning For Hits” its ethos, the comic’s debut issue suffers from a confused tone, a symptom of Rougvie being a first-time comic book writer. The last page is a rug-pull that would’ve read better with more setup, and while the series might justify its debut’s conclusion in later issues, some readers might be too jarred to continue following Rougvie’s story.

Adding to the comic’s jarring end is a plot point revolving around sexual coercion. There’s enough in the scene to acknowledge and disavow, in the comic’s words, “casting couch injustice.” But the scene’s lighthearted tone deflates the argument it’s trying to make, and it is ultimately an unearned means to an end. Rougvie certainly means well, and without belittling the possibility that he’s drawing from personal experience, there’s a disconnect between the scene’s intent and the affective experience of reading it.

It’s a shame that Rougvie’s debut issue is less of a hit and more of a miss. The ambitions of Rougvie’s story — delving into the music industry in more detail than, say, “A Star Is Born” — are certainly admirable. “Gunning For Hits” even comes with a Spotify playlist and a Twitter account that chronicles Mills’ journal entries.

But despite the considerable thought that Rougvie has put into the creation of “Gunning For Hits” and its paratextual materials, the first issue disappoints when it should tantalize. The comic’s cover image features the late Bowie drenched in pink against a black background. For a debut issue, it’s a necessarily striking image, which might be all that’s needed to convince readers to pick up a copy. But this image is the extent to which the issue directly features the beloved rocker.

“Gunning For Hits” does make mention of a Bowie-esque musician named Brian Slade, who might be a nod to the character of the same name (also a fictionalization of Bowie) from Todd Haynes’ 1998 music drama “Velvet Goldmine.” It isn’t clear if Rougvie is homaging Haynes’ film or if he’s simply writing in shorthand, and while future issues may clarify the matter, readers shouldn’t be left in the dark about Rougvie’s intent in a debut issue.

This ultimately points to the comic’s biggest takeaway — that rewatching “Velvet Goldmine” may be preferable to reading “Gunning For Hits.” The comic certainly has good ideas in its DNA, indicative of the creative freedom offered by publisher Image Comics. But in execution, “Gunning For Hits”’ debut never really sings.

Harrison Tunggal covers comic books. Contact him at [email protected].

A previous version of this article may have implied that the creators of “Gunning For Hits” #1 intended to depict an anti-Semitic image. In fact, that was not their intention.