Why is Christianity Always Catholic in Science Fiction and Fantasy?

Picture by Claudio Ungari via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Claudio Ungari via Flickr Creative Commons

Have you noticed how often Christianity equals Catholicism in science fiction and fantasy? Think about it – when was the last time the religious side of the story was represented by a Presbyterian, a Methodist or someone of Eastern Orthodox faith? But look at Daredevil – both in comics and on screen – The Sage of the ExilesThe Sparrow, or many other sf+f works – you’ll see Catholicism all over the shop.

I don’t think it’s because there are more Catholic writers than ones of other denominations in sf+f. After all, Protestantism is bigger both in the UK and the USA, the sources of most of my reading and viewing.

I don’t think it’s because Catholic beliefs are any more interesting to extrapolate from. If I was looking for a faith that does something unusual then I’d turn to the liberal Quakers, with their decisions by consensus, their evolving book of faith and their soothing/eery (depending on your perspective) silent meetings. And if I was looking for something full of angels, demons and holy warfare then I could pick pretty much any old school interpretation of any faith.

I think the reason may be that Catholicism provides a bunch of handy story-telling tools. The focus on sin and guilt creates obvious internal conflict for characters. The confessional provides an excuse for characters to say things out loud that would otherwise remain internal. The heavy use of ostentatious imagery and symbolic ritual creates striking visuals for television, comics and film – Quaker meetings are cool and all, but they usually look like a bunch of ordinary people sitting in a plain room, and much Protestantism looks like Catholicism light.

I’m not saying that the use of Catholicism in sf+f is necessarily shallow – far from it, Julian May built a whole universe around the dissident theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. But I don’t think it’s generally chosen for its depth, and the attractions it provides for story-tellers are ones most other Christian denominations can’t match. Much as I’d love to read that Quaker sf story, if I want to then I’ll have to write it myself.

Saga by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan – OK, Now I Get It

In a war torn universe a child is born to soldiers from opposing sides. Her mother has wings and a laser gun. Her father has horns and magic. She has the cutest little smile, and half the scumbags in the universe hunting her.

Welcome to Saga.

sagaA Graphic Classic?

I first tried Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s science fiction comic Saga a few years back. It was one of the hottest properties in American comics, I’d heard nothing but rave reviews, and I’d enjoyed other Vaughan books. So I picked up the first trade when it came out.

I was underwhelmed. I enjoyed it – the art was bold, the writing characterful, the universe it portrayed a feast of weirdness like nothing I’d ever seen before. And yet I felt no compulsion to read on. This was a well made comic, but it didn’t blow me away like Transmetropolitan, Preacher or 100 Bullets. It didn’t live up to the hype.

A Strange and Compelling Saga

So a couple of weeks ago I was visiting my friend Mags. I told him that I hadn’t read much of Saga. He looked shocked, and sent me away with five whole volumes. I thought it would be a while before I got through them, given my initial reaction, but boy was I wrong.

Saga is strange. It’s a mad mixture of science fiction and fantasy that carries the “this universe could contain anything” thrill that Flash Gordon must have had for an earlier generation. It’s also a crazy mix in terms of the issues it addresses. At the core is family – what makes one, what they mean to us, and how they shape us. But there’s far more than that. There’s war, justice and morality. There’s sacrifice and selfishness, conformity and defiance.

This is a saga both in being an epic genre adventure story, and in telling a soap opera style tale of a community changing over time. Characters join the cast, live, change and in some cases die. Years stretch out.

Then there’s the design of the universe and the characters, which is dazzlingly eclectic. There are people with televisions for heads; red light planets surrounded by hologram belts; water-dwelling dragons with beautifully mottled skin; living spacecraft. It’s confusing at first, busting through genre expectations, but it’s also amazing in its richness. And every time I thought I’d got a handle on the style, something new would come in to surprise me, like Ghüs, the cute little dungaree-clad seal who goes from sealion shepherd to axe-wielding galactic adventurer.Ghus

With its disparate strands and patchwork style, Saga isn’t as powerfully focused as 100 Bullets or Transmetropolitan. But it is every bit as rich and compelling.

Now I get it.

9 Thoughts About Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil_season_2I recently watched the new run of the Netflix/Marvel TV show Daredevil. Better people than I will offer coherent reviews, but I had a lot of thoughts about this show, and wanted to get them out of my system.

While I’ve tried to stay vague about details, there are spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned…

Damn, That’s A Good Punisher

When I heard that Marvel and Netflix were putting the Punisher into the second season of Daredevil I was worried. I understand the appeal of the Punisher, Marvel’s gun-toting vigilante anti-hero, but I didn’t think that his vengeful brutality would work well here. I was very, very wrong.

Punisher is the best thing about this season. The storyline around him explores the morality both of his actions and of Daredevil’s. It’s the most convincing and nuanced exploration of the character I’ve seen, made more powerful by Jon Bernthal’s compelling performance.

Matt Murdock’s an Arsehole

I really can’t emphasise this enough. It seems like we’re meant to like Murdock, aka Daredevil, empathising with his guilt-ridden Catholic ways and his need to take responsibility for everything around him. But the more I watch, the more I find his attitude rotten and egotistical. His constant references to “my city” and his insistence on him being the one to solve everything aren’t the attitude of a man taking reasonable responsibility – they’re the attitude of a man claiming ownership over the people around him. It’s not noble, it’s selfish, and he’d be far more effective if he worked with others. In his own way, he’s as unreasonable as the protagonists of Sons of Anarchy, and as with those characters, I empathise right up to the moment I think about what he’s saying and doing.

I can’t tell whether this is a deliberate move by a very clever show, or a terrible reflection of what is considered appropriate behaviour for a man and a hero. Given the Punisher plotline, I’d be inclined to give the show the benefit of the doubt, but…

Where’s the Villain?

There’s an interesting conversation to be had about who the antagonist of this story is, but one thing’s for sure – there’s no interesting central villain. The Kingpin was a highlight of the first season, turning it from something good to something utterly compelling. Here he’s a bit player, and there’s no equivalent figure to take his place. The Punisher, though well written and performed, is sidelined in the second half of the season, and there’s no other figure as interesting. The eventual villains are dull and passionless. It’s a real shame, as the makers of this show have shown that they can do better.

Karen’s Become Interesting

Karen Page was a problem in the first season, a bit too much the blonde girlfriend / victim. The hints of darker things in her past weren’t enough to avoid the feeling that we were heading into terrible gendered tropes. This season she does better, emerging as a more strongly written and pro-active character, whose failings make her interesting rather than disappointing.

Will Claire Temple Bring the Defenders Together?

This point is wishful thinking on my part, but plausible at this point. Claire Temple, the nurse who helps out superheroes, is currently the strongest connecting thread between DaredevilJessica Jones and, through her existing relationship with the protagonist, possibly the upcoming Luke Cage series. Could she be the one to bring together these heroes and the as-yet-unseen Iron Fist for the eventual Defenders show?

I really hope so. Of all the characters we’ve seen in DD and JJ, Claire is the one I most admire as a person. She’s strong but not obstinate, caring but not a pushover, and Rosario Dawson never puts a foot wrong with her performance. As the person who picks up the pieces of the broken superheroes, and who calls them on their bullshit, Claire would make a wonderful central point and moral compass for the ensemble show.

Costumes and Personhood

Daredevil‘s two seasons have given us origin stories – one for Daredevil, the other for Punisher. In both cases, the character dons their costume at the end of that origin story, symbolising their new status as a superhero.

But I think there’s something else at stake here. In donning a costume they’re marking themselves as separate from the rest of humanity. Such costumes, like medieval full body armour and modern matching military uniforms, dehumanise the wearer, making it psychologically easier for them to perpetrate acts of violence against others, and to have those acts perpetrated against them.

In the context of the MCU’s gritty street hero shows, this feels particularly important. It fits with the moral decline and isolation we see in Daredevil, Electra and the Punisher. When they put on costumes, they set aside their humanity to take up the fight. The fact that Jessica Jones and Luke Cage haven’t done so is fitting, given that they’re more in touch with their humanity and other people.

This may be me reading my own interests into the show, rather than the intention of the show runners, but then stories only become complete in the minds of the audience.

The Terror of Blood Trails

Ever since watching The Untouchables in my youth, wide blood trails left by crawling characters have always filled me with dread. Every time I see them I feel the tension of the scene where assassins come after Sean Connery’s character, which at the time was one of the grittiest, tensest things I’d ever seen. I still think there’s something powerful and horrible about a messy blood trail left by an injured character crawling. Their pain is written across the ground in a way you don’t get with blood spatters. When I saw that in this show, it hit me harder than any other moment of violence.

The Slow Build of the Weird

The creators of Daredevil are being careful in the way they bring in strange and supernatural elements, building them ever so slowly out of the mundane. It’s a technique I’ve noticed in horror, in both David Tallerman and V H Leslie’s stories. It makes the implausible more plausible. It works well here.

Orientalism

One of the unfortunate aspects of Daredevil is that it reflects the west’s longstanding attitude towards Asia, and in particular east Asia, as a land of the exotic and dangerous. This season is rammed full of shallowly written oriental villains, without sympathetic characters of Asian descent on the other side. In isolation this would not be a problem, but in the context of modern culture it perpetuates a trope that’s very troubling when people are pointing with growing fear at Iran, North Korea and China. If, as some people hoped, Iron Fist had been cast as an Asian character, then the MCU’s street character team could have balanced this out. As it is, it left a slightly unpleasant taste in the mouth.

In Conclusion…

Even a flawed Netflix Marvel show is still a superior superhero show. Daredevil isn’t as brilliant as Jessica Jones, but it’s still a good show, worth your time if you like superheroes or gritty drama. I just hope they pull their socks up for the next season, because season two could have been amazing, and instead it became sloppy.

I Am Currently Reading…

Skein and Bone by V. H. Leslie

Skein and BoneI’m not generally a horror reader. Nothing against the genre, other things just appeal more. But I met V. H Leslie at Fantasycon last year, went to her book launch and drank the free booze. Inspired by the book’s lovely cover, how pleasant the author was, and a sizable booze buzz, I bought a copy and got it signed.

I’ve heard this described as being British style horror, whatever that means. The stories I’ve read so far start out like ordinary slices of modern life, only for unsettling and unspeakable things to creep in around the edges. I’m enjoying this trip outside my usual comfort zone.

The Sign in the Moonlight and Other Stories by David Tallerman

MoonlightSpeaking of both horror collections and drunkenness, I’m also reading the latest collection from my convention bar buddy David Tallerman. I’m only one story in, a well-told traditional ghost tale with a Victorian setting.

One thing I’ve realised reading these two collections is that horror doesn’t affect me the way I expect it to. My emotional reaction to the idea of horror is affected by my upbringing, which left me with the sense of the horror genre as something truly terrible in its cruelty and menace. More often it seems to be about unsettling experiences in a dark yet grounded corner of fantasy. I’ve got another horror collection waiting on my kindle, and will be interested to see if this experience continues.

The Oxford History of the British Army, edited by David Chandler

armyI’m reading a lot of military history at the moment, to provide ideas for my writing for War History Online. This is a decent overview of the British military, broken down into chapters on different periods by historians of those eras, including my old dissertation supervisor. The best chapters bring out the character of their times through the character of key people in them, showing how aspects of story-telling apply as much to good non-fiction writing as fiction.

Reading an overview like this has made me aware again of where the gaps are in my historical knowledge. Despite six years studying history at university, I know very little about the 18th century aside from the French Revolution. Yet that’s the era of such key British figures as Marlborough and Walpole, and events like the Act ofUnion and the American Revolution. However much you know, there’s always more to learn.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

sagaSaga is one of the most critically acclaimed comics of the past few years, yet I’ve never really got into it. I read the first volume a while back and enjoyed it, but didn’t feel like it lived up to the hype. Now a friend is lending me the first five volumes, and I’m giving it another go.

This comic has so much that I love – fantasy, science fiction, big ideas, beautiful art, the undermining of traditional roles. I’m really hoping it’ll grab me more this time.

How About You?

What are you reading, dear readers? Have you read any of these, and what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Jessica Jones: Is Killgrave the Ultimate Male Villain?

JessJonesPoster-600x791David Tennant has become nightmare fodder. Still suited and smiling, just like when he played Doctor Who, as Killgrave in Jessica Jones he has turned his charm into a thing of menace, digging into the darkest corners of human horror. I think he may have presented us with the ultimate in male villainy, an expression not only of brutal selfishness but of the darkest imbalances in gender relations.

Jessica Jones is the latest addition to the Marvel cinematic universe. Like Daredevil, it’s a Netflix show that explores the murkier corners of Marvel’s superhero comics, full of adult themes and street level vigilantes. The protagonist is a private detective suffering from post traumatic stress, who copes with her life by drinking hard and pushing away her friends. The return of Killgrave, the mind controlling villain who almost destroyed her, forces her to face the worst in herself and in the people around her. It might be her shot at redemption, or it might destroy her utterly.

So why do I consider Killgrave the ultimate male villain? Wouldn’t that be some muscle bound thug running around smacking people with his big fists and bigger guns?

No. As this article eloquently and unsettlingly lays bare, the power of men over women in our society, and the threat we hold, is more subtle and insidious than that. It creates a situation where women constantly hold back from expressing themselves, and live in fear of every dark street, however safe it might seem. Where they retreat from low level intrusions rather than feeling they can make clear how they feel. Where they constantly feel that they have to de-escalate confrontations, even as men push their views and desires forward. It is an insidious, socialised sort of mental control that left me stunned when I read that article, talked to women I knew, and realised that this is very real.

Killgrave isn’t always subtle. He is a rapist, in the most literal and awful sense of that term. But his mind control also acts as a metaphor for rape and the threat of gendered violence. He forces people to participate in activities against their own will. This leaves them feeling violated, traumatised and in many cases unable to tell others about it. Strong willed characters are turned into festering pools of insecurity, while the memory of Killgrave lives within their minds every day of their lives. They can never escape how he used them, because they see constant reminders of him in themselves and in the people around them.

Part of the power of the presence of Killgrave lies in Jessica Jones’s response to him. We get to see her, and others around her, fighting back against this villainy. We also get to see women’s responses to men in other parts of their lives, in particular the moments when those men act in ways that make women uncomfortable, or when they try to take over. The sort of shitty behaviour I hate in Arrow‘s Oliver Queen gets called out here. Killgrave may be a terrifying embodiment of male villainy, but that doesn’t mean that the women opposing him are turned into mere victims. There trauma is there to be seen, but so is their fight back.

In confronting us with Killgrave, Jessica Jones has the opportunity not only to raise awareness among non-geeks of just how powerfully superheroes can explore real issues, but also to raise awareness of harmful inequalities. I hope that it added fuel to both conversations, but I know which is more important. It’s the one that will have David Tennant haunting your nightmares as well as mine.

3 Reasons Why You Should Read Powers, and 1 Reason Why You Shouldn’t

New and exciting ideas often come from jamming old ones together. That’s certainly the case for Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s long running comic series Powers.

At first glance, Powers is a classic case of bolting the police procedural onto another genre. Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim are homicide detectives with an unusual beat. All their cases relate to superpowered people, and in a setting where superheroes are celebrities, that leads to some big cases. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a murder of the week show. But Powers is so much more than that.

Strong Characters

Unlike many detective stories, Powers is character driven. The personalities of the detectives and the people around them are vital to the plot. Each case changes them as people, and changes their relationships.

Powers looks at how investigating grizzly murders in a high pressure department affects people. It also looks at how living with superheroes affects them. How does it change a person to lose the memories of their past, accidentally rip off someone’s arm, or find out that the person they work with can leap tall buildings in a single bound?

These are characters rooted in their world, and all the more compelling for it.

Striking Art

Go do an image search for ‘Powers comic’ and you’ll quickly see why I’m taken by the art of this book. It’s dark and stylish. Human shapes are exaggerated in characterful, interesting ways. It’s full of the distorted light and falling rain of film noire.

On top of that, Oeming plays around with page layouts just enough to be interesting but not so much that it’s distracting. This is a part of comics art that’s often neglected, but can make a huge impact.

I don’t know much about art, but I like to see interesting things done with any medium, and this is interesting.

It Doesn’t Sit Still

As I mentioned in discussing characters, this is a book where people change, as does the world around them. Every story arc brings some significant shift in the lives of the characters. The scale of change varies, from romantic entanglements to attacks that kill thousands of people and traumatise the world. This is how the story avoids becoming case of the month detective fare. These cases take place against a backdrop of changing lives.

Beware the Darkness

But all the reasons why I love this book are also the reasons why it’s not going to be for everyone. It’s a darker, more troubling book than the setup and those cartoonish characters make it appear. Hugely influenced by David Simon’s Homicide: Life on the Streets, this is a dark depiction of both crime and policing.

The characters are interesting, but not always likeable. The art can be dark to the point of grim. The upheavals of the story can be deeply unsettling, especially if you become attached to the characters. Being left in suspense for eleven volumes over whether a lead character committed a murder, that’s a level of tension that can be hard to take.

Powers is a daring and fascinating comic book. If you like superhero stories or The Wire then you should consider giving it a go. If you like both then you should rush out and grab a copy now. But if you like things safe and easy, this probably isn’t the comic for you.

Now excuse me, but having read fourteen volumes in two weeks, I need to curl up somewhere safe and warm for a little while.

Then I’ll go out and buy the next volume.

Reading Angry – Picking Books For Your Mood

transmetToday I am reading stories full of eloquent rage and imaginative cursing. I can’t help it. British politics is once again spewing ugliness and stupidity across our emotional landscape in the form of the ‘debate’ over the leadership of the Labour Party. As during the general election, I’m coping by reading Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson’s Transmetropolitan, a book that pre-emptively savaged the ugly, empty politics we seem collectively to have accepted.

Last week I was reading Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter’s The Long Mars, a gentle bimble through fascinating alternate worlds, in which conflict, usually the essential driver of story, is flattened from stark peaks to gentle undulations, fading into the background of the world building. It was just what I needed to wind down at the end of some intense working days.

In between, I re-read Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s run on Young Avengers, mostly for the bright and snarky dialogue of its characters, perfect fun weekend reading.

All of which made me think about the connection between reading and emotions. What we read can change or support our emotional state. It can exhilarate, inspire or even depress us. Ignoring how we’re feeling as we decide what to read seems like a waste of powerful emotional energy.

I realised that I should pay less attention to what I think I ought to read, and more attention to what mood I’m in. If I read to suit my mood then I’ll read more and enjoy more, and it’ll help me deal with the day. If I go against the mood, I just end up putting books down and reaching for the easy options of TV and the internet.

So what mood are you in today, and what will you read to suit that mood?

Don’t Blame Canada! Vaughan and Skroce’s We Stand On Guard

I love science fiction that’s full of strange and shiny future devices, from spaceships to laser guns to talking robots. I also love science fiction that focuses on the social and the political, relationships we take for granted shifting in the near future. But you know what I love best of all? Science fiction that has both, like new Image comic We Stand on Guard.

This Is Not the War You Were Looking For

We Stand on Guard is set a century from now, and tells the story of Canadian resistance fighters struggling against an invasion by the USA. That’s an unusual and intriguing idea. It’s an unexpected underdog story, with giant mechs thrown in for good measure.

And lets be honest, I think most of us outside the USA feel somewhat intimidated by that country, even a little trodden upon as we see our governments, economies and cultures drift ever further into the thrall of American dominance. The idea of America as a bullying invader has an immediate resonance, fairly or not, and the idea of watching plucky underdogs fight back against dastardly Yanks will have many of us cheering in the aisles of our comic shops.

I know, American readers. It’s not entirely reasonable or fair for us to view your nation this way. But think of it like this – usually Americans get to be the goodies. Why not mix things up this time?

Quick Clear Characterisation

Though I’ve never been there, there’s something hugely appealing about Canada. It seems like the USA’s more mature, thoughtful sibling, rugged and polite but living in the shadow of its sister to the south. Sure, I hear the name and I instantly start humming the ‘Blame Canada’ song from the South Park movie, but that’s doesn’t mean I can’t take a serious interest in the place too, so Canadian protagonists biased me in favour of the book.

But what really won me over was how well these characters are written. We don’t meet most of the resistance fighters until halfway through the first issue, but they’re a varied bunch, well enough written to make several of them stand out in the space of only a few pages. Actions speak as loud as words, and writer Brian K. Vaughan lets those actions show character almost as much as the dialogue does. I want to spend more time with these people. I want to see their struggle, not because I fear the stars and stripes, but because of who these characters are.

I also have to mention Steve Skroce’s art, which brings the characters and scenery to life. There were a couple of panels early on that felt awkward to me, but once the story got going his art really flowed, full of life and character.

I don’t read many comics monthly as they come out, but this one’s going on the list. I want to know why this war happened. I want to know where it’s headed. But most of all, I want to know what happens to there characters, and that’s what damn good fiction’s all about.

Lets finish with the Canadian national anthem, as sung by the country’s most exuberant son.

Do We Need the Darkness? Angel & Faith: Daddy Issues

Picking up a media tie-in comic is a risky prospect. Sometimes you find a creator let loose on their favourite characters with glorious results. Sometimes you find a steaming pile of cud, the remains of once great stories chewed over and spat out in a rush for brand recognition.

Against my cynical expectations, the high quality stuff has become more prevalent in recent years, and that’s especially true in the universe of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. So it was with enthusiasm rather than trepidation that I picked up Angel & Faith Volume 2: Daddy Issues.

Big Questions, Big Action

The plot and dialogue of this comic is very Christos Gage, both in its strengths and its weaknesses. I enjoy Gage’s big ideas, his deft touch with character development and his willingness to try new things, as exhibited in the sadly short-lived Stormwatch: PhD, a comic about superhero internal affairs investigators. Daddy Issues delivers on the big idea through its central plotline, in which brooding good vampire Angel and edgy vampire slayer Faith take on a villain who is taking away people’s sorrows and regrets. It raises an important question about what makes us human – do we need those dark feelings to make us who we are, to drive us to strive for better things? Or would it be OK to just be happy?

The cleverness of Gage’s writing is that he ties this in well to both the characters and an action story. Sure, there’s a big issue for the reader to reflect on, but it’s developed through its importance to the characters, making me care far more about it. And it’s used to deliver a series of nice comic book set-pieces.

Great Comic Art

I’m not terribly knowledgeable on the nuances of art. My assessment of artists is mostly about gut feelings and overall impressions. But on those grounds, Rebekah Isaacs nails it with this book. There isn’t a particular distinctive style at play here, like Sean Phillips’s noire stylings or Rob Guillory’s dynamic exaggeration, but it’s a well executed example of the style somewhere between realism and cartoon exaggeration that is currently very popular in American comics. It’s perfect for a comic that follows on from a TV show, bringing in the verisimilitude we’re used to from the big screen.

But the Dialogue…

And now the downside, because nothing is perfect – as this comic itself argues, we need the shadow to see the light.

While I love Christos Gage’s ideas, his dialogue never grabs me, and as someone very focused on words, that’s a problem. My absolute favourite comic writers make the words sing, whether it’s through the distinctive snark of Warren Ellis, the convincing dialects and slang of Brian Azzarello, or the poppy banter of Kieron Gillen. Gage’s words aren’t terrible – there are far more clumsy writers in the world of comics – but they left me very aware that I was reading a story, rather than absorbing me utterly in it.

Angel & Faith Volume 2 is worth the time of any fan of the franchise or a comics reader looking for an interesting story. Not an all time great of the medium, but a well executed and surprisingly thought provoking book.

Steampunk Style and Substance – Grandville by Bryan Talbot

A someone focussed on words, I’m normally drawn to comics by their writers. But there three exceptions, artists whose work is so distinctive and brilliant that I’ll pick up a book just for them – Jamie McKelvie, Frank Quitely, and Bryan Talbot. Fortunately for me, Talbot is also a fan of stemapunk, as shown in one of his worlds that I’ve returned to this week, the strange place that is Grandville.

Wind in the Willows But With Murder

Grandville and its sequel, Grandville Mon Amour, are the sort of strange, idea-packed stories that the comics industry is particularly friendly towards. It’s a steampunk that combines an alternate history in which Napoleon won with a world of anthropomorphic animal people. Into this mix are thrown murder mystery plots which must be solved by the hero, Detective Inspector LeBrock.

One of the reasons this setting works so well as a comic is that the visuals provide a constant reminder of the setting, without getting in the way of the plot. Every moment your eye is on the page acts as a reminder of the odd world Talbot has created. This means he doesn’t have to stop to describe a strange gadget or the hamster landlady – they’re just there on the page, the story flowing through them.

Tying the Strands Together

As detective stories, LeBrock’s adventures aren’t particularly innovative in their rhythm or labyrinthine in their twists. But that doesn’t matter because they’re so strongly told. The central character, the setting and the crime are all neatly connected, meaning that each one helps to inform the readers about the other parts. The alternate history background is not incidental. The Socialist Republic of Britain’s recent separation from the French Empire is intrinsic to the mysteries LeBrock faces, the obstacles standing in his way, and his own life.

Story, character and setting all inform each other in fascinating and efficiently executed ways.

Beautifully Illustrated

The art too is tied to the story telling. Talbot uses interesting layouts to tell sequences without words, uses his amazing skill to bring the characters and setting to life. Everything is clear, vivid and wonderful to look at. His subjects are sometimes ugly – the scarred, dog-faced serial killer; the hippopotamus brothel madam – but the beauty of his illustration makes me want to keep staring at them.

Grandville is a strange, wonderful place, and one I’d heartily recommend visiting.