Based on the character created by Derek Kolstad, John Wick Vol. 1 is published by Dynamite Comics, written by Greg Pak with art from Giovanni Valleta and Matt Gaudio, colors by Inlight Studios, and letters from Tom Napolitano. The story of John Wick Vol. 1 is set in the same world as the action film of the same name starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character. As such, the likeness in the comic is kept to the same beautiful degree.
This volume collects issues #1-5 of the John Wick series which follows a young John Wick embarking upon an epic vendetta, where he comes up against a strange, powerful community of assassins and must learn how to master the rules that guide their lethal business. Taking place before the first film, we learn how John came into The Institution.
Although we don’t know much about his childhood, we do learn that it is his need to get justice drives him to become a part of The Institution. Before he was the John Wick we know, he was Johny. After stealing from the Three Bills he was chased and the pursuit ended in the destruction of an entire Mexican town. Now, 12 years later, John crosses paths with the Three Bills again, saving Charon in the process. For those of you who haven’t seen the movies, Charon, played by Lance Reddick, is the Continental’s hotel manager, and in this volume, I can hear Reddick’s voice just as strongly as I hear Reeves’ as I read the pages.
From that point, the John Wick Vol. 1 is a non-stop battle, with small halts in the bloodshed to build up some plot. Much like the movies, John is good and everyone else is bad. There is no gray area which for a high-octane adventure like this one works. As John speaks with those already involved in the organization, his silence is his maneuvering while the leader of the Russians, Maria, aims to get what she wants from him. John’s stoic nature keeps him at arm’s length. Or at least it does for a while.
One of the great things that this series does is establish John Wick as both a threat and an asset. He is a man you want on your side or a man you want completely out of the way. We also quickly learn the danger of having a freelancer out and about, in both John and the villain Calamity. We see that those who are not tied to any of the primary operators within The Institution cause problems for everyone within it. John Wick Vol. 1 very effectively world-builds the setting we see John in for his two, later three, movies.
While some of it has been explored in the movies, like excommunicado, the coins, and the rules of The Continental itself, there was more left open to interpretation. Now, sadly, this doesn’t mean that we understand John any more than we already did. There may not be dogs, but John’s soft spot for pets is still there. In addition, He is driven by a sense of justice and his own code, which is shown in the films and explicitly stated here.
That being said, a complicated childhood or even his marriage isn’t needed to understand that John Wick is John Wick. He’s good at what he does, he’s a force of nature, and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of him. He is an action star, and where fighting is concerned this series delivers.
With Valleta providing the art for issues one and two and Gaudio providing the art for issues three through five, there is a cohesiveness in their work that keeps the volume feeling whole. This is something that doesn’t often work when multiple artists touch different parts of a series. While there is action at the beginning of the series, the back half kicks it into high gear. The art is dynamic and executed so well that I can string together the panels and see a clear action sequence. The color is also vibrant and gritty, similar to the palette of the films. In addition, the lettering accentuates the explosive panels perfectly.
Overall, John Wick Vol. 1 is a great read, especially for those who loved the movies. That being said, don’t pick up the volume expecting to find out more about who he is as a man outside of The Institution. Perhaps a series that focuses on the time he took training after fleeing the Three Bills could turn John Wick into a more complex character. However, when we watch his films and pick up the comic, we really just want to see him fighting, winning, and maybe learn a little bit about the world of assassins that he inhabits. In that case, this volume succeeds.
John Wick Vol. 1 is available wherever comic books are sold now.
John Wick Vol. 1
Overall, John Wick Vol. 1 is a great read, especially for those who loved the movies. That being said, don’t pick up the volume expecting to find out more about who he is as a man outside of The Institution.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.