Dark Horse: Green River Killer, A Detective Story Review
Sometimes in therapy we must tackle the dark side of things. The parts of life that are a bit harder to face but need facing anyway. This week’s session is a review of a Graphic Novel recently released by Dark Horse Comics. Green River Killer, A True Detective Story is written by Jeff Jensen and art is done by Jonathan Case. Why did I pick up this graphic from Dark Horse, along with my other weekly DC and Marvel pulls? Well from time to time I like to read Dark Horse. Something that doesn’t include giant monsters, aliens, or super villains. Some stories on their own can be enthralling without a Meta being found among its pages. And really for those of us who have been in the comic book world for years know that the origin of many comics did not start out with the Superhero but rather with the gumshoe, the detective. Be it Sherlock Holmes, Green Hornet, or Batman detectives have been a foundation of comic books and comic pulps for years.
So aside from possibly reading a good old fashioned detective story why else was I compelled to buy the Green River Killer graphic from Dark Horse? Well to be honest the Green River Killer hits a little close to home. See I live just outside of Seattle and have for the better part of the past 15 years. Green River is a huge part of the local conciseness. If you don’t know who Gary Ridgeway is, he is one of America’s most prolific serial killers who murdered mostly prostitutes from 1982 to 1998 in the Seattle area. Many of his early victims were found discarded by the banks of the local Green River for which he was named after, The Green River Killer. A river I might add that gets hiked and driven along by hundreds if not thousands of local Seattleites on a daily basis, myself included. Gary Ridgeway even worked and was finally arrested at a local Kenworth assembly plant not but a 15 minute drive from where I currently reside. Needless to say this true life story turned comic struck a little close to home.
The roughly 235 page “Green River Killer: A true detective story” graphic novel has clean but moving black and white art done by local Portland, Oregon artist Jonathan Case an Eisner Award winner for his original work on Comic Book Tattoo and Dear Creature. Jonathan’s art captures the somber mood that not only the case of The Green River killer might invoke but also the mood of Seattle in general ; that of a local community that endured not knowing if the Green River Killer who lived amongst them would ever be caught, and brought to justice.
This Dark Horse gem is remarkably written by Jeff Jensen the real life son of Tom Jensen, the lead detective of the Green River Task Force that chased the killer with little to no leads for over a length of several decades.
Jensen’s story telling of his father’s detective story that spanned an entire career is masterful and compelling in that they do not follow the usual linear story telling method of comics but rather is more like something that you would see in a cinematic thriller movie. We move from modern day where Gary Ridgeway has finally been arrested due to modern science DNA evidence finally catching up to the investigation, after decades of dead ends. Here detective Tom Jensen and other team members secretly hold the Green River Killer in a police bunker and interview him for 188 days in regards to the presumed 90+ killings for which they suspect Gary of committing. While they have DNA evidence to convict him of 4 of these slayings as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty Gary agreed to attempt to reveal all of his victims so that both law enforcement and victim’s families could gain closure.
Via this series of interviews and field trips to burial sites to reveal hidden bodies and details of the Green River Killer’s methods, Jeff Jensen does a spectacular job of moving the reader through events in time via flashbacks in the memories of both Detective Tom Jensen and Gary Ridgeway. In this method of storytelling the reader really gains a since of how long the investigation took and how truly frustrating it was for not only detective Jensen and the Green River task force but for the local Seattle community as a whole.
While this may be a Dark Horse book about the Green River Killer it is really a story of a Detective chasing the killer; and all the tediousness that comes with being a real police detective, dead end leads, hours of data entering evidence into new computers, stake outs that turn up nothing and little to no clues. But through it all you grow to admire a Detective that just will not give up through decades of budget cuts, rough emotional days, and lack of any real clue as to who the Green River killer is. We see that the Green River Killer becomes detective Tom Jensen’s white whale. But even at the end the victory is short lived, for both the detective and the reader. Gary Ridgeway seemed to kill so many over such a long span of time that he has a hard time recalling all of his victims or their dumping sites. Closure was hard to come by in this regard. And the question that detective Tom Jensen and pretty much all people in Seattle if not across the globe asked, “Why?” Was never really answered. In the end it was Gary’s nature, he felt compelled to kill. Mostly cause “prostitutes were easy prey for him”.
The why may never get answered. Or rather the why may never be answered in the manner that we are looking for. After all can there really be a logical reasonable and understandable explanation as to why people like Gary Ridgeway do what they do? While this graphic novel captures a gruesome real life story in Seattle history with all of its ugliness including necrophilia (read as not for kids here) it is a story that must be told. And Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case have told it well. It is a story that needed telling with a beginning and an ending. Was it a happy ending as all monster stories are prone to have? For many Green River Killer Victims and their families, no. For the city of Seattle yes, as Gary Ridgeway is finally behind bars and detective Tom Jensen after years of chasing a monster “still believes in hope and in happily ever afters”.
Overall “Green River Killer: A true detective story” from Dark Horse graphic is a great read and I highly recommend it for those who love detective stories and thrillers alike. Or if you just need a break from the New 52 and Ultimate Spider-Man pick it up. Ah, look at the clock. Time’s up. Until next session…..
Green River Killer: A True Detective Story (hardcover collection) Dark Horse
Cover Artist:Jonathan Case
Genre: Non-Fiction, Crime
Publication Date:August 31, 2011
Format:B&W, 240 pages, HC, 6" x 9"