An artist designing a mural is found murdered under suspicious circumstances. When the commission of the mural is passed on and the second artist is also murdered, foul play is suspected! Archie LeBrock and his faithful sidekick Roderick Ratzi are once more on the trail of crime in the steampunk city of Grandville.
This new installment in the Grandville series feels the most strained of the three books; it doesn't fly along on its original, creative energy like the first 2 books, rather it plods along to a fairly pedestrian murder mystery plot that we've seen before in countless crime novels let alone the first 2 Grandville books. There's a strong Bond flavour to this third book maybe because this is a Bond anniversary year (50 years on the big screen). From the Bond-like cover, to the Blofeld-like villain with a toad on his lap instead of a white cat, and a Q-like character who gives LeBrock some gadgets at the start of his mission, Talbot hits all the touchstones. Even down to the villain explaining to the hero his dastardly plan in its entirety, instead of just killing him.
The villain is Baron Krapaud, a toad, whose lair is called Toad Hall. I realise this is a reference to the children's classic "The Wind in the Willows" but I'm getting a bit worn out with writers taking benign children's stories and characters and twisting them so that they're presented anew in the 21st century as evil. Baron Krapaud is another example of this as Talbot hints that Mr Toad was an evil so and so. The conceit is played out at this point and I wish writers would stop purposely trying to ruin favourite characters just because they can't come up with anything original themselves.
Bryan Talbot's art is once again the best thing about the book, his style is as perfect as the first 2 books were, and he's always good for some winks to the audience in the panels (my favourite being the drunk Paddington Bear). The plotting may not be as strong as the other books but there's enough here to make this a fairly decent read that'll please some fans of this original series, though it is the most forgettable book in the series so far.
This novel begins slowly. A cabal of industrialists is plotting to overthrow the French government. The drawing is heavy and dense. The characters are obvious and the writing is heavy-handed. I despaired.
But then - an artist is assassinated; there is a locked room - the police turn to Inspector Le Brock of Scotland Yard and the story takes off. From there the dialogue is witty, the drawing is compelling, the characters are engaging, and one becomes immersed in the vaguely Victorian, slightly steampunk, incrementally alternate universe of Grandville.
There is a Sherlock Holmes/James Bond aspect to the hero, and he is crafted so cunningly that it works. The dialogue is arch and cutting, like the best of the Holmes/Bond style exchanges. The femme fatale is compelling. Secondary characters have distinct and memorable personalities. Sub-plots are alternatively intriguing and amusing. The steampunk angle, which is often just a distraction or an affectation, actually works in service to the plot.
And, the use of animal bodies for the characters really works. The choice of bodies is sometimes obvious, (the bad guy capitalist is a toad), but often reflects a subtle sense of humor. And the characters are drawn in a very convincing fashion, so that the anthropomorphism works and enhances the reading experience.
This is not a self-indulgent and showboaty graphic novel - the author is creative but restrained and the overall impression is one of great craftsmanship. Even for a reader who is not a particularly avid graphic novel fan this is a very attractive option.
The overall impression is that this is a clever, witty, engaging tale that is both elegant and entertaining.
Thanks for your attention to this. Please note that I received a gratis electronic copy of this book in anticipation of a review.
In a steampunk world of anthropomorphic animals where Napoleon won and where humans are a lower-class species, a tough badger Detective Inspector tackles crime coming from the direction of Paree, and all with a Sherlock Holmes/Arsene Lupin twist. If that doesn't hook you then you are simply wasting your literacy.
The satire and social commentary in Bete Noire isn't just layed on thick, it's written on a brick and thrown in your face. It's not much of a problem, as a graphic novel has to be concise subtlety often goes out the window. The villain this time around is evil toad Baron Krapaud (imagine Greenback from Dangermouse) who has formed a cabal of renegade, fatcat industrialists and plans to overthrow the government who are about to impose higher taxes and labor rights that they don't agree with. Kinda like what about to happen everywhere in real world with a failing economy. If only we had Archie LeBrock to sort them out.
As usual the artwork is lovely and the flow of the panel progression is flawless. The design of a steampunk Paris in a period setting populated by animals makes for the kind of graphic novel that you just don't want to end. Unfortunately, it's over a bit too quick as Inspector LeBrock figures out the mystery at about the halfway mark. Still, the characters are great, the interactions are amusing, and the humor hides way at the back for those sardonic readers. Bryan Talbot plans for this to be a series of about 5 stories. Long may it continue beyond 5!
on 27 November 2014
This is an second-rate Edgar Wallace story dressed up with some quite nice art-work and an utterly idiotic premise. Let's start from that. A parallel world with animals and humans swapped. Could be interesting if there were any meaningful satire on the subject (as in, say, Will Self's 'Great Apes'), but there isn't, just a number of throw-away jibes. Otherwise, it seems to give Talbot a chance to draw humanoid lady badgers in the nude, which points out something: how come that, if these are genuine animals, they have human bodies? Real badgers do not have necks and breasts and waists and hips. So, even if this was an attempt to make something of the way we treat animals, it failed horribly, because Talbot committed the terrible body-imperialism of expecting them to look and move very much like us.
Now, onto the plot. This is often described as 'noir', which is simple nonsense and suggests merely that those so describing it do not know what 'noir' means. It is action adventure, like a peculiarly neo-victorian Bond thriller. Noir is about style, and a particular world-view. Here there is no style, only kitsch.
Moving on, the plot is a simplistic affair, in which a very bad man (sorry, Toad - Mr Toad, of all people) decides to take over the world with the help of modern art, which apparently deprives people of the ability to see reality. So, okay, I understand that Mr Talbot is not a fan of Picasso, but to imply, as he does, that all modern art is simply the product of charlatans doing the work of their puppet masters is outrageous. Particularly as, in an after-word, Mr Talbot goes on to explain to us that, in fact, modern art is the result of a CIA plot to destabilise the people's paradise otherwise known as the Soviet Union, in favour of the well known tyranny current in the West.
Now, one might say that this is not that important. Mr Talbot is just a paranoid lunatic, who cares? After all, Alan Moore is a raging megalomaniac, and he (used to) write good stuff. Well yes, but the trouble is this: Talbot justifies his own artistic prejudices by appealing to popular canards, and in the process vilifies anyone who may produce or enjoy art more complex than a simple linear narrative, while making it very hard for them to fight back. This is not very honest. In addition, given that many of his other works (most notably Luther Arkwright) are little better than hymns to fascism, it seems strange that he should now claim to be a fan of democracy. Especially a democracy which, judging from his confused exposition, is itself little better than tyranny of the many by the few.
So: boring story, foolish politics, confused and pointless central conceit. If you want to read something really intelligent about animals and humans, try Grant Morrison's 'We3' or Jeff Lemire's ongoing 'Sweet Tooth'.