Sunday, January 2, 2011

#6 for 2010

Grandville: Mon Amour
By Bryan Talbot

The second Grandville book only just got onto this list, as I only managed to get a copy just before Christmas, but it had to go in, because I never, ever get sick of Bryan Talbot drawing characters shooting bloody big guns.

Tom Spurgeon made a very good point a few weeks ago about the lack of good fight scenes in comics. While action scenes are an integral part of most mainstream comics, there are remarkably few artists that can craft a solid and thrilling slice of action.

There are still a few out there – When Frank Quitely draws superpeople beating up other people, he uses goofy body language and an exact sense of space to craft visually thrilling scenes, and there are a number of other artists working today - including talents as diverse as Cam Kennedy, Jill Thompson and Sean Phillips - who actually put some thought into the deceptively intricate dance that the beat of the action comics page demands.

But while Bryan Talbot has earned a deserved reputation for cerebral comics over a career that is well into its fourth decade, he is also a master craftsman who can put together some of the most thrilling action sequences in comics.

This is nothing new. He broke a seven-second action scene in the first Luther Arkwright book down into its base elements, before building it up again over pages and pages of tight, controlled panels, and his career since then has been a pleasing mix of thoughtful and tasteful slices of ephemera and terrifically fast-paced adventure yarns.

Which brings us to Grandville, and the second book in the series. It’s certainly not the best thing he’s ever done – with further books already in the planning stages, Mon Amour is a fairly blatant case of world building at the expense of an individual story, the plot is immensely predictable (anybody surprised by the revelation of the ultimate bad guy really isn’t paying any attention) and the use of another badger prostitute that happens to look exactly like the one the main character lost in the first book is just a bit too much, although she thankfully avoids the original’s fate and allows LeBrock to move on.

But there is still plenty of charm (largely thanks to LeBrock and the implacable Roderick), the book makes a few nice points about the nature of political heroism and takes the piss out of Dave Sim.

And it’s the action that makes Grandville Mon Amour so tasty. There are only a few action sequences in the book, but they are alive and exciting in a way so few comics manage.

It’s the little touches – the way the LeBrock’s pistol recoils every time he lets off a massive shot, or the way speedlines have evolved into an oddly tasteful digital blurring of the background, or the body language of the characters as they flail about, or the lack of sound effects other than the occasional clicking firearm or ringing telephone, or the way the panels start to tilt just slightly as the action heats up and the energy displaces the usual fixed perspective.

And it’s in the characters Talbot uses to pound the crap out of each other. Detective-Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard is a force of nature, thundering down corridors in righteous fury, standing up tall to the lowest scum in the streets and the corrupted fools in power with equal indignation. LeBrock is still a double-hard bastard, but he also gets so weary with the world he lives in, and like all the great heroes, he only comes alive when there is a terrible villain to bring to justice.

The villain in this second Grandville book is just the ticket – a literal mad dog who needs to be put down before he causes more horrible harm. His confrontations with LeBrock are charged with the hatred the two feel for each other, giving the action a suitably feral angle.

Anthropomorphic isn’t always easy to pull off, especially when you’re dealing with suitably serious subjects, but Talbot is crafting a world in his Grandville books that is getting progressively richer. The next book in the series is eagerly anticipated, and the action it will surely contain is also something to look forward to.

Because when it comes to vicious animals with big guns trying to take each other down, nobody does it better.

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