By Bryan Talbot
Publisher: Jonathan Cape (UK) Dark Horse (US)
The Book: In Grandville: Noël, with his trusty adjunct, Detective Sergeant Ratzi, away for Christmas, there’s no holiday for Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard as he embarks on an investigation into the disappearance of his housekeeper’s niece, Bunty Spall.
The trail leads to a growing religious cult, where a charismatic unicorn messiah and his con men cronies, already responsible for mass murder in the United States, are about to lead a crusade for the ethnic cleansing of the French Empire’s doughfaces – the derogatory nickname for humans used by the majority, animal-headed population. Teaming up with Chance Lucas, a gun-slinging operative of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and reigniting his steamy love affair with the voluptuous Parisian badger prostitute Billie, LeBrock clashes with both cult fanatics and doughface terrorists, uncovering in the process a centuries-old religious conspiracy that threatens to plunge the world into bloody civil war.
Grandville: Noël signals the welcome return to anthropomorphic steampunk detective fiction from Bryan, featuring its trademark fast-paced blend of deduction, humour, artistic pastiche and explosive edge-of-the-seat action – dramatically raising the bar for the whole series.
With Paris in the grip of the mysterious crime lord, Tiberius Koenig, and an increasingly violent backlash by human extremists, can LeBrock stop the seemingly inevitable slide into fascism? What is the secret of the legendary True Gospels? Can he rescue Bunty Spall from the clutches of the strangely hypnotic unicorn named Apollo?
And, perhaps more importantly does Bunty want to be saved? And will LeBrock be back in time for Christmas dinner?
No badger does it better!
The Review: The latest book in the Grandville saga further develops the fascinating alternate steampunk-inpsired world filled with Bryan Talbot’s anthropomorphic animals and continues the high standard of past volumes in this Eisner and Hugo Award-nominated series.
The first critically-acclaimed steampunk detective thriller graphic novel Grandville was published in the UK in 2009 by Jonathan Cape in the UK, followed by Grandville Mon Amour in November 2010 and Grandville: Bête Noire in July 2011. In an interview for The Beat last year, Bryan explained that although the books are stand-alone stories and can be read individually, they take place a month after he previous one, and there has been a story arc gradually building that comes to fruition in Volume Five. He scripted that over two years ago now and it’s much longer that the other stories, about 160 pages, and will probably be the final one.
I for one will be sorry to see the saga end when Volume Five is released – the Grandville universe is certainly one that captures the imagination – but at the same time, there really is far too much trading on past success in several media these days and I fully appreciate that Bryan has devoted years to this engaging project and will, I’ve no doubt, leave it on a high.
Another rip-oraring adventure on one level, crammed with wonderful references and homage to other comic and literary characters, Grandville: Noël also addresses some deep philosophical issues, as Brock tracks both a missing girl and a mysterious manuscript that contains secrets that could answer many questions about the origins of his world, including the position of the “doughfaces” (that’s we humans) and the animals that run the planet.
Alongside further character development for Brock and friends (and the introduction of a sinister new enemy), this beautifully drawn, thought-provoking tale opens with and tells the story of a messianic unicorn whose power to influence others is exploited by those around him, and from the scenes of self-inflicted mass murder in America to the far right rallies in Paris, you’re left in no doubt that Bryan seeks to challenge the hold religion and religious belief – and indeed, political belief – has. It’s not unfair to say religion doesn’t come off well, and there’s equal venom for politicians of many hues but the far right in particular – and the role of the media in promoting their world view.
In addressing such issues head on Grandville: Noël is no easy read at that level and will leave you both unsettled and your world view, perhaps, challenged. As a great action adventure it’s wonderful fun and needless to say, Brock the Badger is very much at his best.
Grandville: Noël is another deserved triumph for Bryan Talbot, firmly establishing his position as one of the comic medium’s most astonishing and talented storytellers. Thoroughly recommended, and roll on 2017, when Bryan expects the final Grandville volume to be released (Yes, it is that much hard work).
• If you haven’t picked up Grandville before, check it out over on Bryan’s official web site: http://bryan-talbot.com
• Did You Know? When Bryan first conceived of Grandville, there was a chance that it might be a monthly comic, and so Jordan Smith, Bryan’s long-time collaborator and renowned steampunk artist thought that there might be a chance for him to be able to design and create the covers… – and so created two gorgeous images to send to Bryan so he could see his ideas, which you can view on Bryan’s official web site. Catch up with Jordan’s work on Facebook, Twitter, and see his profile on the Steampunk Empire site and the Saatchi art site.
“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…”
“Talbot is both a skilled writer as well as a talented artist, and he’s not afraid to take his story down darker roads or use more challenging material to flesh out his story.”
“Without going into to much in the way of potentially spoiler-territory details, there’s also a deeply satisfying feeling, especially in the latter third of the book, of the events of this book and the preceding three contributing to some major events which feel like they will be bearing down in the future on LeBrock, a very pleasurable feeling of everything coming nicely together into a larger story and sequence of events.”
“Talbot … 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..”