Writer Jensen (James Bond: Live and Let Die, 2019, etc.) and illustrator Powell (Come Again, 2018, etc.) deliver a kinetic noir graphic novel about the cost of war and guilt as a straight-arrow soldier with blood on his hands returns from World War II to restore order in his hometown, plunging into a volatile mix of police corruption, racism, and the mob.
Gideon Kemp was a good soldier with plans to be a lawyer, but after a friendly-fire incident in the war he becomes a cop in Little Rock, Arkansas, secretly building a case against Abraham Bailey, the loose-cannon chief of detectives who shoots first in his personal war on crime—and with the mob setting up shop in town, that’s a lot of shooting. The unhinged Bailey shares a macabre compulsion with his foe, mob boss Big Mike, though the sadistic Big Mike comes across as the more reasonable of the two, offering a promotion to Esau, the numbers runner in the mobster’s illegal poker room, after Esau doesn’t give up his boss when assaulted by Bailey during the detective’s extrajudicial search for evidence. Noting the absence of opportunities for African Americans like them in Little Rock, Esau encourages his brother, Jacob, to quit the ad hoc police force of war veterans who patrol the underserved black side of town (only by the grace of the all-white Little Rock Police Department) and instead embrace the money and respect offered by the mob. The knotty story shows the traumas of the past shaping the present, some panels literally haunted by specters. Fresh from his work on John Lewis' acclaimed March trilogy, Powell applies a pleasingly realistic look while cartoonish flourishes electrify the page. Jensen weaves a propulsive narrative of intersecting stories and festering wounds that doesn’t quite deliver a knockout punch but is highly engaging.Good pulp.
Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019
Page Count: 256
Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019
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Gorgeous and troubling.
Cartoonist Kuper (Kafkaesque, 2018, etc.) delivers a graphic-novel adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s literary classic exploring the horror at the center of colonial exploitation.
As a group of sailors floats on the River Thames in 1899, a particularly adventurous member notes that England was once “one of the dark places of the earth,” referring to the land before the arrival of the Romans. This well-connected vagabond then regales his friends with his boyhood obsession with the blank places on maps, which eventually led him to captain a steamboat up a great African river under the employ of a corporate empire dedicated to ripping the riches from foreign land. Marlow’s trip to what was known as the Dark Continent exposes him to the frustrations of bureaucracy, the inhumanity employed by Europeans on the local population, and the insanity plaguing those committed to turning a profit. In his introduction, Kuper outlines his approach to the original book, which featured extensive use of the n-word and worked from a general worldview that European males are the forgers of civilization (even if they suffered a “soul [that] had gone mad” for their efforts), explaining that “by choosing a different point of view to illustrate, otherwise faceless and undefined characters were brought to the fore without altering Conrad’s text.” There is a moment when a scene of indiscriminate shelling reveals the Africans fleeing, and there are some places where the positioning of the Africans within the panel gives them more prominence, but without new text added to fully frame the local people, it’s hard to feel that they have reached equal footing. Still, Kuper’s work admirably deletes the most offensive of Conrad’s language while presenting graphically the struggle of the native population in the face of foreign exploitation. Kuper is a master cartoonist, and his pages and panels are a feast for the eyes.Gorgeous and troubling.
Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019
Page Count: 160
Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019
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Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.
Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.
Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.
Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014
Page Count: 144
Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013
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