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Page 54 of Grandville Force Majeure by Bryan Talbot

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Grandville by Bryan Talbot - official homepage

Grandville Force Majeure: review by James Robertson

Grandville Force Majeure by Bryan Talbot

One of the many wonderful things about running Bryan's official fanpage is getting sent review copies of his comics well before they are actually published.

Because of this I have had a PDF since July of the comic sitting on my hard drive to read, and enjoy the sheer exuberant rollercoaster of a plot, with its twists and turns and deeply satisfying ending.

And read again, this time lingering over the artwork, taking time for the glorious anthropomorphic world Bryan has created sink in, absorbing the intricate detail in every panel and the way that you can tell a character is a pompous upper class snob just by looking at him... - even though he is a Dalmatian dog.

And then read again - this time catching the puns, jokes and references to so many other anthropomorphic works: the Cat in the Hat is there, the 3 Bears and a huge tribute to the works of Leo Baxendale, and the looming, utterly threatening form of the main villain, Tiberious Koenig, a dark red Tyrannosaurs who reminded me a little of Mr Henry Phage and also the Devil Dinosaur.

And do you know how unspeakably hard it is to be able to immerse yourself in a comic of this quality and then not be able to talk about it!

Because I got it so far in advance of publication I was under strict orders to not reveal any plot to anyone, full stop, no arguing.

And when a request like that comes from the person you've run a fanpage for, for 21 years it is a little less imperative than a command from on high.

A little. A very small amount indeed.

So there I am having read the culmination of this story I've waited 5 years to read - and all I can say is "yes - it's good: really good" and "no - I can't say any more: yes I've read it; no I can't talk about it: you're just going to have to get it when it comes out."

Well, now I can talk about it and give it it's full credit!

To do so I am going to have to go on a extended metaphor: bear with me - it will all make sense.

My other big passion apart from Bryan's work is the music of Queen. I got their Greatest Hits when it first came out and I must have been 12 or so. I wore that record out I played it so much. I loved everything from the utter brilliance of Bohemain Rhapsody to Don't Stop Me Now to my all time favourite piece of music ever in any multiverse - Somebody To Love.

And so - I resolved to buy their entire back catalogue. The sleeve notes detailed each separate album that each of the hits came from, and so, quite methodically, I went out and bought each one.

And the result when I got them home was always the same: face-draining, queasy in the pit of the tomach "this is what I have spent 3 weeks pocket money on?!"

You see - Queen were intensly expriemental: one album never sounded like another - they would go off on tangents that the individual hits from each album didn't hint at.

And then I would play the record again - and again - and as I got more familiar with them I got to like them: they grew on me - and then they would "click' with me and I would get them, and love them. And this happened with every album I went back and bought - every single time: initial unfamiliarity and beweilderment followed by dawning comprehension and then total love.

And the reason I mention this is because way back when Bryan announced the first Grandville would be an anthropomorphic comic I got that same feeling as when I heard a new Queen album. The old sinking feeling and a thought of "what on Earth?"

And I really should have known better. We're talking about Bryan Talbot here!! - he took this anthropomorphic style that I always used to associate with kids funny stories - your typical Beano and Dandy kind of thing - and showed me exactly what a master of the comics format could do with the style.

Granville Snowy

He showed me how the animals form could reveal so much about their personality: he showed me how he could make an otter look terrified, a badger look thoughtful, sad or amused: how an opium addicted Scots terrier could look wistful for his adventures on an alternate world.

He showed me just how well the anthropomorphic style could support the telling of a tale: how giving people the heads of animals could add yet another magnificent layer to the story, on top of the stunning art and intense plot. Once again he showed me that in his hands, even a style of story-telling that had - however incorrectly - got lodged in my head as being only associated with kids comics could become a masterpiece like the Grandville series.

And so onto Grandville Force Majeure in particular.

In this comic the adventures of Archie LeBrock come to an end - in a way that's ferociously satisfying! One of the few inherent and unavoidable weaknesses of the detective genre (and even of the "hero is a good person" meta-genre) is the fact that by definition they are almost always reactive - not proactive: it is the bad guys who create the plots that the good guys must them foil.

But no one - no one - ever gets to try the same trick twice on LeBrock and get away with it. In many examples in the books someone sucker-punches him, or charges him - or tries some trick which works - and then tries it again a second time, and this time LeBrock is "you don't fool me twice sunshine!" So even though LeBrock is not the protagonist in the sense of he is not the instigator of plots, he is satifyingly briliant and brutal enough to stop them dead in their tracks.

(and as another thought - you never once see Bryan write himself into a corner with LeBrocks ferocious adaptability: there is never a moment of weakness or dithering in the plot, even with such a competent hero as LeBrock)

There are so many moments when references and seemingly throwaway scenes from 2 or 3 books previously are brought to fruition. If it were not for the masterfully skilful storytelling and foreshadowing Bryan puts on the page then what LeBrock gets away with would be just unbelieveable. But as it is, when you have read it through for the third or fourth time and you can hold the whole plot in your head in one go, you can then follow it with your minds eye and see how it was all there on the page - you just hadn't realised the significance at the time or the sheer doggedness of LeBrock and Ratzi.. You can see how LeBrocks training at the hands of the master detective Hawksmoor lead to him being a master detective himself. You see where preparation, deductive brilliance and a badgers ferocity means that there's a desperate hope that LeBrock can defeat a villain as implacable and vicious as Tiberius Koenig.

And on the subject of villains - this is an instance where Bryan is outdoing the Marvel Cinematic Universe right now. Love the MCU as you might (and I sure do!) - you can't deny they have a distinct lack of tough beleiveable villains. With the glorious exception of Tom Hiddleston's Loki they just don't have anyone who can last beyond a single movie - or seem more than momentarily threatening even in that movie.

No - Bryan's villains are hair-raisingly competent. They have all read the 100 things I would do as an evil overlord list - and all of them follow it and even think up additions.

These are proper villains - and Koenig is the best of them all, rightly saved until last. In the middle of the book when everything seems to be going wrong for LeBrock you honestly cannot work out how the hell he is going to win: Koenig is just too vicious and meticulous and the odds too stacked against LeBrock.

The narrative tension in this book makes it literally unputdownable. It is one of those most cherished things - a book that compels you to read it through every time you pick it up and that you get more out of every single time you experience it.

Once again Bryan has written and delivered a masterpiece - one I cannot recommend enough. If you need to introduce someone to our beloved medium, buy them a copy of Grandville and sit back and watch them as they read it - they'll love you for it!