Grandville by Bryan Talbot

First off, a confession. I’ve been a fan of Bryan Talbot for many years, having first read his work during the late Eighties as he completed his Luther Arkwright series. At that stage he drew a number of strips for the UK comic 200AD, and subsequently some for US comics, such as Sandman. In my opinion he is one of the most underrated
British talents, never quite enjoying the success of Moore or Morrison. So it is with a degree of trepidation that I decided to review Grandville, a rather off-beat Steampunk adventure.

The story follows the investigations of Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, and his partner, Roderick. LeBrock investigates the murder of a British diplomat, faked to look like a suicide, by a French death-squad of assassins. The investigation takes him from the backwaters of England, now an insignificant Socialist Republic in the shadow of the mighty French Empire, to the steam-choked streets of Paris. What he uncovers threatens to reveal a multitude of secrets about the recent independence of Britain from the Empire.

Talbot’s Steampunk world is fascinating on a number of fronts. First of all, all the characters are animals. Yes, animals. Talbot emulates the art of the French illustrator Gerard - so we have LeBrock, the badger, fighting with foxes, dogs and rhinos in a rather surreal way. This allows some amusing references in the story, such as the drug
addled Snowy (from Tin Tin) and Rupert’s dad trimming the hedges outside the murder scene. In the background we have a wonderfully rendered Steampunk world - of automatons, airships, steam engines, a railway bridge across the Channel. The French Empire continues from the alternate history of Napoleon’s victory over the English, with the descendant of Napoleon a decadent lion.

It’s difficult not to get lost in the visuals and reflect on the plot. The story is enjoyable, well-structured and captivating. Talbot brings us up to speed with his world in steps, with a nicely constructed back-plot and flashbacks. He writes with great skill for the comic medium. The characters are similarly engaging. DI LeBrock is by equal measures brilliant and brutal. He has the Holmes-ian level of deduction you’d expect from a detective in a pseudo-Victorian mystery, but a physical presence more akin to a Die Hard film. There’s a fury within him that continually pushes him too far, beyond the level of acceptable for an officer of the law. At times it sits a little uncomfortably, and the graphic novel doesn’t shy away from the gore and violence. On the blurb on the rear of the book reference is made to a Tarrantino-esque level of mayhem, and that’s a fair comparison, especially in the finale where he opens up with a rather sizeable gun. I think Mr Talbot’s airbrush must have run low on red afterwards.

In short, it’s a great read and a great addition to the expanding genre of Steampunk. Talbot has done something fresh with it, having written one of the earlier steampunk comics in Luther Arkwright. Ultra-violence touches aside, Grandville is an enjoyable story to read and I’ll be hunting down the sequel soon for more badger-rich adventure.

8/10 A great read and a great addition to the expanding genre of Steampunk.

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