With a cover that looks like Pretty in Pink crossed with The Godfather, and a tagline (“An 80’s Coming Of Age Crime Story”) that sounds like a successful elevator pitch, Scout Comic’s Free Comic Book Day offering, The Mall, invites the mob to a high school parking lot, but not before visiting the parking lot at Royal Palm Mall in Fort Meyers, Florida. Our main character, Diego, works at an instrument store there. About as popular a business in 1984 as It would be in 2018, the reason it’s able to stay afloat is that it’s a front for the mafia. Diego is the unrecognized son of a crime boss who was killed, and the shop is his inheritance.
What’s great about The Mall is how quickly the writers, Don Handfield and James Haick III, up the ante. A story where Diego works for the mafia tracks, but then we learn Diego has other half siblings, and they inherited stores, too, and suddenly every shop in this mall could be a front for illegal activity. That’s where the content for future issues lies. Who are these other siblings, and which stores were they put in charge of? Are their businesses thriving or as vacant as Diego’s, and which is better for the real business? Will they compete for premium mall estate or does this family stick together?
Carrying the high school side of things, there’s a homecoming dance coming up, and by coming up I mean the end of this issue. Everything is brought to a head, which is usually the way, but not usually in the zero issue. Dances fall at the end of movies, so it’s cool that Handfield and Haick don’t try to hold off on the big event. They don’t need to, when they have so many other balls in the air.
Rafael Loureiro oversees the art, with Dijjo Lima on colors and DC Hopkins on letters. There are some great 80’s looks in this comic. Lenny, the current head of the Cardini family, arrives well-groomed, in a grey turtleneck and apron, and it’s my favorite character design because it helps facilitates one of the comic’s bigger surprises. There’s still time for Lenny to switch from kind uncle mode to ruthless mafioso, but right now he’s unimposing while Diego steps out.
For a teen who’s new to this world, Diego’s pretty in control. His youth isn’t held against him, as long as he brings results, and after some early nerves, you never see Diego question his decisions. There are plenty of varsity jacketed jocks and cheerleaders, too, but at an arcade, not a football field, and that change of turf makes a huge difference (including some intentionally harsh-on-the-eyes 8-bit figures).
This is not how the “nerd” role is usually portrayed, and since Diego’s a lone wolf, you don’t see him hanging out with friends, either. Other nerds observe his ascent, and I’m curious to see what their part will be in all this, but you don’t get the sense they’re close pals.
If The Mall initially looks more John Hughes film than mob story, that changes fast, and the dominant pop culture reference is The Karate Kid, with some Ferris Bueller narration. It’s the gangster high school drama you’ve always wanted (the two alpha subgenres meet!) and on Saturday, May 5th it’s free at participating comic book stores for Free Comic Book Day from Scout Comics.