One of my favourite comic book reads in the runup to Christmas has been Grandville: Noel, the fourth volume in Bryan Talbot's stellar steampunk anthropomorphic detective thriller series. And with this volume, given the title and the time of year, takes on a religious feeling.
There's nothing a new reader needs to know upon reading the book, but regular readers will recognise the continuing emergence of "doughfaces", the name given to the rare human beings in the world of Grandville.
And if we saw Tintin in the last volumes portrayal of humans, in this volume, it's another familiar French/Belgian cartooning icon taking the lead.
And yes, as ever, Grandville is packed to the rafters with references to other works, whether that's violent rabbit violence from Watership Down to a certain rat from Sherlock Holmes…
Okay, not so easy to scan a book like this.
But these are details, though ones that become important, in a grander story that reflects the Jonestown cult deaths, modern day cults movements like The Church Of Scientology as well as both racial abuse against Jewish people in Europe and black people in America. This is a book about the concept of The City and how it deals with a variety of people who are attracted it, for good and evil. There is the police, there is organised crime, there are the grey area that most people in such circumstances live in, and with Detective Brock, a man whose absolutism can cut through like a knife. What if a woman decides to leave her family and join a cult, isn't it her right to so such a thing? Isn't kidnapping her and taking her home worse? What is she doesn't want to go? Well Brock holds no brook with such liberal wishy washy meandering and makes his attitude to life, love and liberty far more direct and excusing himself of the usual justifications that superheroes wrap themselves in.
Throw in the ideas of exceptionalism, with a unicorn who believes that Jesus Christ was a unicorn – and therefore he is Jesus Christ, and suppressed religious texts after Napoleon successfully conquered Europe (in Grandville's version, Genesis begins on the ark with the animals disembarking) and you have complex and thrilling race across the city in pursuit of the truth – or a decent facsimile of it. In many ways, this is what Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code would be like if it were full of animals and any cop.
And it is beautiful. Oh, so beautiful. But also ugly when it needs to be. If you like the stories of Ankh-Morpork but wish it had more badger-on-badger action, this is the graphic novel for you this Christmas….