Schuiten and Peeters add another attractive but enigmatic chapter to the history of the Cities of the Fantastic. This one describes Brüsel, a city strikingly like our own Brussels. In this fiction, the city is taken over by madmen and destroyed. At first, the city's inhabitants and rulers encourage and fund the "renovation." One by one, people in Brüsel begin to suffer under the bizarre attack of its corporate oligarchs. Then, when it's far too late, the city realizes its doom: all that made it livable has been razed, and what's been raised makes it unlivable. The projects end, half-done or less, when the city is bled of its last dollar. Even the ground beneath their feet rebels, when its soft underground structure and protective dikes fail under the skyscrapers' mass. Never discouraged, those of the grand plans simply blame the soil for being too weak, the country for being too poor, and the city for being unworthy of such grandeur. Instead, they propose that the world's Paris-lookalike be the next target, or victim.
This is hardly a proper story, more a series of snapshots of urban suicide loosely tied to the strand of one man's life. Our central character, Constant, find his health failing as the health of the city also fails, and he is confined to a satiric caricature of a modern hospital. Despite its shiny newness, the same old doctors practice the same old medicine within its walls. They seem to count successs by the numbers of patients hoarded within, with no regard for the number of cures effected.
Brüsel is a satiric look at the descent of a city, not just falling but driven downwards, full-power, by inflated egos. If you've seen Boston's "Big Dig" described, you'll get some sense of how very real this story is: the city-state's whole capital wasted on inept and incomplete construction, while what had once been sound is bulldozed or left to fall into ruin. The 1992 copyright marks this book as prescient rather than satiric, however. Shuiten's art is a lovely as ever, built around his expressive lines and subdued palette. It's marred in a few places by unskilled replacement of French signs and captions with English, but those annoyances detract only a little from this thoughtful story. It's certainly not for the Bam-Pow comic reader, but Brüsel speaks loudly to anyone who cares about the cities in which we live, and especially about the historic marvels that remain to us.