Since it is the last day of November, I thought I would write about…well, you get the idea.
When I started reading this series of graphic novellas—one at a time at release—I was so confused. But I essentially thought this was Matt Fraction’s female-centric take on Criminal and Sin City if you mashed it together with Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series.
The four novellas follow three characters over the same period that sees their city descend into madness. All four books alternate focus on the POV of one of the three characters, and primarily none of them are good people. I like the challenge that it is character-driven and represented in the experimental structure, which indicates Fraction’s voice. It’s like he approaches new books with structural challenges, then grows the story of that structural challenge. So there are 3 characters, and each intersects at particular points. In the first 3 books and then they wrap up in the fourth book.
What is structurally neat is that the page’s alternate panel counts. At a page turn, we get a character page with a massive panel count—usually as little as 8 panels to as many as 12 panels. This is followed by action or a pilot point that grows out of the character pages with fewer panel counts—five or six panels at most. The narration, hand-lettered by Kurt Ankeny, is also character-centric with different handwriting for each of the three characters—like they’re all writing their version of events to process and heal from this extreme situation.
That last part is often jarring. The handwriting can be hard to read, especially the cursive because it’s white lettering on black caption boxes. That always makes my eyes cross.
Since Fraction sticks with each character’s focus, he often retreads whole scenes and set pieces from each character’s POV and then follows each character off to the end of the book or their story. The retread struck me as needless but I understand why it was done that way. The structure demanded it, and this is a character story and is structured as such.
Elsa Charratier is a stellar storyteller. She’s very agile in that she can go from nine pages of 12-panel grids (volume 3) to a plot point of four panels and a cliffhanger before Fraction pulls us away from the plot point to a different point but related part of the character’s story. Her work with Matt Hollingsworth were characters in themselves, channeling Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books giving each character a unique color scheme to show that we’re moving from one POV to the next.
It is an exciting series that doesn’t quite land and I would recommend you read it all in one sitting; otherwise, if you read one volume at a time, as I did with the first two volumes, you may wonder what the point is. The point is the structure to focus on character regardless of the story. The result is a one-of-a-kind character study.