Page 45 Review by Stephen
"We'd best get on with it, then."
"Sure. All hogtied up like this? You don't happen to have anything sharp on you, do yuh?"
"Are you joking?"
The badger bears his teeth.
The badger really bares his teeth in this fourth anthropomorphic outing to Grandville (Paris), as does its creator Bryan Talbot.
With a title like NOÊL you might expect a lot of Christmas presents - there are certainly enough Easter Eggs - and maybe some saccharine school nativity scenes.
But not from someone like Talbot who here grabs two of my own bêtes noires firmly by the throat and throttles them: organised religion with its avarice, mendacity, brainwashing and hate-mongering, and the similarly styled, racist far-right surging right now in Britain with UkiP as it has for a long time in France under the Front National's Jean-Marie Le Pen and his equally loathsome daughter Marine Le Pen who in September topped a presidential poll.
Think about that. You are allowed to get angry; it's all right if you cry.
The prologue takes us a little further afield than usual in GRANDVILLE, to the American East Coast where a religious cult led by a gryphon and its high priest unicorn celebrates its sanctity by committing mass suicide. "Miraculously" the gryphon and unicorn survive along with their resident, decrepit old mutt of a doctor. Next stop: Grandville
Back in London it's beginning to snow, heralding holiday time for Scotland Yard's Detective-Inspector LeBrock and Detective Sergeant Ratzi who invites LeBrock, his mother and children over for Christmas, along with LeBrock's girlfriend Billie who, not to put too fine a point of it, is a Parisian prostitute. So that could prove awkward.
Before that, however, LeBrock is implored by his guinea-pig landlady to find her missing niece. Alienated from home by an abusive step-dad who also happens to be a badger ("These mixed marriages never work" - ouch), she doesn't appear to have been abducted but instead to have found God and fallen foul of The Silver Path's propaganda handed out by her school gates. The Silver Path and its Church of Evolutionary Theology are based in Grandville. The girl had recently returned from a school trip there and now she's gone again along with some freshly packed clothes, her step-dad's wallet, the cash from his money box and all her mother's jewels.
Guess who's in charge of the Church of Evolutionary Theology? Guess who's the guiding light of and along The Silver Path?
As LeBrock steps up his investigations across The Channel he discovers Grandville gripped by a crime wave following extortion mob-boss Tiberius Koenig's complete victory over the city, buying up all the brothels and much more besides.
On top of that bigotry is rampant. Disparagingly referred to as "doughfaces" (even by LeBrock), humans - very much an underclass discriminated against and often refused board or entry to cafes, bars and clubs - have been campaigning for, well, human rights, and violence on both sides is escalating rapidly. All of which is opportunistically seized on by The Silver Path which has already been fanning the flames of fear and prejudice by blaming the "doughfaces" for every imaginable societal problem, and whose gryphon and unicorn now announce a sister political party with a Final Solution. That is what you think, yes.
The True Gospels mystery I'm going to studiously avoid for fearing of giving too much away, but by gum this is a clever and complex graphic novel, its subplots so intricately interwoven and the implications of its revelations even craftier than you might think. Let us discuss after class instead! I'd so dearly love that!
Back to the story, however, and LeBrock has the bright idea of enlisting the aid of Billie herself to infiltrate The Silver Path cult thereby creating another potential problem, finds himself desperate for the aid of American sharp-shooter Chance Lucas (haha!) of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and is so forced to confront his own prejudices.
I like that. Matt Wagner did the same thing with Wesley Dodds in SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE VOL 7: show his hero to have very similar failings.
From my brief burst of parenthetical laughter you will have gathered that, as ever with GRANDVILLE, there are so many Easter egg bonuses. That is Lucky Luke, you did spy Asterix and Obelix (the trousers are a dead giveaway), there are a couple of nods to Hergé and other childhood favourites, and that dying pose is unmissable as The Pietà. There are dozens more, but my favourite is Nicholas, the boss-eyed gryphon (it's no coincidence that both religious leaders are mythological creatures, the gryphon based on Sir John Tenniel's), doing his best Adolf Hitler impression during The Last Supper before sitting there silent and smug. Nicholas the gryphon? Nick Griffin, former leader of Britain's neo-Nazi National Front party. It looks exactly like him!
As ever with Talbot, it is craft, craft, craft all the way with no skimping on detail. Some of the costumes here are ridiculously rich in colour flourishes, the architecture does Paris full justice and the interiors are equally lush. Plus you will love the gondola-like aerial sky tram used here like a James Bond set piece. There's so much action, choreographed to perfection and you'll get all your steam, punk, I promise!
The theology is equally up to scratch and meticulously researched, although on reflection I doubt Bryan had to do much more than check a few minutiae - he knows this sort of stuff. That the historical facts involving the True Gospels have been so cleverly utilised for his own anthropomorphic plot's ends
well, once more, let's discuss after class, shall we?
Finally, you get quite the bang for your buck. This is as dense as it is intense and whereas most stories are over once the fat lady has sung to crescendo so shattering the glass, here the repercussions are extensive with scene after scene of reprise, reversal, revelation and startling cliffhanger prologue before you even get to the most satisfying four-page epilogue of this series yet. *zips mouth, moves on*
Finally, finally, I think you've earned yourself some comedy, so here's the nannyish Doctor Ermintrude Bovery, head of Religious Studies. Something's really got her goat:
"You're another damned atheist, are you, Mister LeBrock? I suppose you're a meat-eater to boot."
"Guilty as charged."
"Why, oh why, are only intelligent people vegetarian? If your evolution tomfoolery were true, Ursine, you'd find that your brains were bequeathed by ancestors who ate no meat."
"On the contrary. We couldn't possibly have evolved from a herbivore species."
"Why ever not?"
"Because, my dear Doctor
IT DOESN'T TAKE A GREAT DEAL OF INTELLIGENCE TO SNEAK UP ON A BLADE OF GRASS!"