In this prequel to his graphic novel, Kill My Mother (2014), Feiffer delivers another noir fever dream, sending America right to the top of the flagpole with a hard-boiled, lyrical punch of immigrant stories, labor relations, and the almighty dollar.
Detective Sam Hannigan is the biggest fist in the Red Squad, a crew of heavy-handed cops charged with breaking up a labor union at a cannery in Prohibition-era Southern California. On the side, Sam makes special deliveries to some of Hollywood’s biggest producers on behalf of the mysterious Cousin Joseph, who fears the corruption of audiences by a “tribe of tricksters.” Through payoffs and intimidation, Cousin Joseph steers “problem movies” away from subjects like the plight of the downtrodden and toward more wholesome fare with small-town values. On the other side of the anti-Semitic divide from Cousin Joseph, the oversexed daughter of the cannery owner finds her first Jewish penis to be absolutely charming, standing out as it does among the genitals of her many partners—from underage boys to union brutes. Things come to a head when the Red Squad is called upon to break a massive strike led by Sam’s old high school chum while Sam and Cousin Joseph clash over creative differences. This second installment of what will be a trilogy answers the question that haunted the first book—who killed Sam Hannigan?—while also delivering early looks at major Kill My Mother characters (though the book stands perfectly well on its own). This new tale captures the frenetic energy and kitchen-sink attitude of the original, and Feiffer’s gracefully chunky illustrations mesmerize. Even when his crumpled, balletic figures twist and lurch into a splash of bold lines, emotion cuts straight through the jumble with telltale flourishes: a striker’s panicked eyes, the interlaced fists of a strikebreaker’s haymaker raised high.