Monday, October 19, 2009

9 Days of Reviewin' #1: Could be worse, old chap


By Bryan Talbot

I feel in love with Bryan Talbot’s comics from the first panel: seeing his Torquemada in his very first Nemesis The Warlock panel made a powerful impact on this eight year old. After the scary Kevin O’Neill artwork, Bryan’s insane detail and meticulous geography was incredible and he had me for life.

(It took me years to work out how good O’Neill’s art really was, but he really did scare the crap out of me. Same with Kirby or Mike McMahon: they were too much, too ugly, too stylised for this kid, but as an adult, I drink that milkshake up and ask for more.)

His work has been unmissable ever since and that worked out nicely. The One Bad Rat and the two Luther Arkwrights. The mighty Alice in Sunderland and that one awesome Batman story he did. If you can’t like Talbot’s comics, I can’t like you.

Grandville is the latest, and the first notable feature is that it’s one of those books that is just a fantastic package. Top quality printing and design from Talbot. Old-school endpapers and a thickness that hides the fact the story is less than a hundred pages long.

Not that it feels like it, with some glorious substance in the story and plot. It’s a dense tale, mixed with genuine feeling. A locked murder mystery that unlocks the secret of a great tragedy and the blood and fire and iron it takes to forge the key.

And then there is the fact that every character is some kind of animal. Those animals are often ingeniously chosen, with turtles, foxes and rhinos all showing up in unsurprising roles, but excellent uses of dogs, chimps and one mend badger.

It’s often used for comical effect, including the “Damn. He’s croaked.” line and the cover, which features a menacing hero with two big guns and two beady and crossed eyes. But the animals can be hugely expressive, conveying some sharp emotions and inner caricatures.

On the same page LeBrock croaks the frog, there is a fantastic panel of his adjunct Detective Ratzi watching the hero beat the amphibian to death. Ratzi’s black eyes make his expression unreadable, while saying multitudes. It helps that Ratzi is one of the most decent and honourable characters in the whole thing and gets the single best line in the whole book – “Indubitably, DI. Rats are jolly good at this stuff.”

This kind of story and the way it’s presented means it lives and dies on the strength of the main character and that’s no bother, because Detective Inspector LeBrock literally packs barbells for luggage. The sharpness of a Victorian analytical genius combined with the capacity for monstrous violence and the tenacity of… well… a badger.

He goes to some very dark places in this comic and by the end, is the weariest goddamn badger ever seen in comics, tired of this great and stupid game of treachery and murder.

There’s so much more: action sequences that rank amongst Talbot’s best (and his best, such as that seven seconds sequence in the first Arkwright, are better than anything). A weirdly satisfying Tintin subtext, from the look of those weird doughfaces from Angouleme to poor Snowy’s opium dream. The 9/11 parallel and the fictional justice that is wrought.

It’s a dense and satisfying work with much to recommend and little to moan about. But this is no surprise.

This is Bryan Talbot. He’s always good.

Further adventures of Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard are eagerly expected.

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