Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Bronx Kill

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by James Romberger

Now this is exactly what I was expecting when the Vertigo Crime line launched.  Bronx Kill is a perfect example of a crime comics graphic novel.  It's intelligent, suspenseful, very well-paced, and has a couple of surprises.

The book stars Martin Keane, the only son in a family with at least four generations of service in the New York Police Department.  The book opens with scenes of Martin's great grandfather getting murdered in the Bronx Kill, the wasteland surrounding the stream that separates the Bronx from Manhattan, and then jumps to young Martin being told about it by his father.  At that point, Martin realizes that he will never become a cop, and instead grows up to be a second-rate novelist.

Early in the book, Martin marries Erin, an artist and school teacher, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Martin's grandmother, who mysteriously disappeared, abandoning Martin's father.  There is plenty of animosity and disappointment between Martin and his Dad, and his wife's constant curiosity about the family history does not help things much.

After receiving scathing reviews of his second novel (Martin Amis was particularly cruel), Martin is lost for a while, before he starts to get a notion from his wife's queries that leads him to Ireland for four months of research.  Shortly after his return, Erin goes missing one night, and Martin is plunged into a world of suspicion and distrust.

Milligan handles Martin's decent beautifully, as he starts to crack up under media scrutiny and police suspicion.  He eventually becomes the main suspect in the case.  Strangely, all of these problems make it easier for him to write, and Milligan keeps cutting from the comic to pages of his first draft.  It's easy for the reader to make connections between Martin's family history and that of Michael Furey, his protagonist.

The art, by Romberger, works well with the story, and I find the format of these books - the thick hard covers with the pulpy newsprint inside, to be irresistible. This is a really good comic.

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