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Graphic Novel Review: Dark Rain by Mat Johnson and Simone Gane

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Dark Rain by Matt Johnson and Simone Gane is a classic noir story. Set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the graphic novel is true noir. The protagonists are men who have fallen and are driven by desperation to rob a bank in the flood city during the early days of the storm.

Dabny is an easy man to like because he’s got a lot of problems and is trying to hang on to a sense of honor. He’s an ex-soldier and still believes in doing the right thing. Unfortunately, doing the right thing all the time doesn’t back the back child support he owes so he can see his little girl.

He’s an easy man to sympathize with. He’s in a halfway house in Houston for criminals for taking bribes while working as a customs officer. While there, he meets Emmit, and neither of their lives will ever be the same again.

Emmit was a bank employee in New Orleans where he was arrested for breaking into safe deposit boxes. Since the prisons in New Orleans are overflowing, he gets shipped to Huston and ends up bunking with Dabny. The way he tells the story, Emmit wasn’t going to take any of the money or goods found in the safe deposit boxes. He just wanted to explore and find out what was there. According to him, much of the goods in those safe deposit boxes were put there by criminals.

The story expands, picking up the lives of a young pregnant woman and Flash, an obese man who is only concerned about himself. These additional storylines help flesh out the horror that is taking place during the storm and gives the reader a look at the raw emotions coursing through the beleaguered city. I sometimes felt that the story was going too far astray from the crime plot, but Johnson does a good job tying it all back together neatly at the end.

Dabny and Emmit don’t get along. But Emmit needs Dabny’s skills as a soldier and his connections to Dark Rain, a private security firm that is intentionally a reflection of the Blackwater mercenary force that was hired by the United States government to help aid with the rescue operations and control the looting that took place throughout New Orleans. Most readers will probably remember that Blackwater faced of a number of horrendous allegations during that time.

In this story, Dark Rain is commanded by Colonel Driggs, and there’s no doubt about the man’s villainy. He is definitely the antagonist Dabny and Emmit have to fear most. As well as the raging storm sweeping through New Orleans.

The graphic novel takes a long time to get to the actual heist, but there is a lot going on. I’m undecided about how much of the story ended up being a deflection of the plot rather than an enhancement. Johnson shows a lot of the problems that when on during the hurricane and its aftermath, but that slows down the pace of the crime story. The story about the people and the horrors they suffered is well done, but sometimes it seems shuffled into the main crime plot. Crime novels surrounding a heist like this generally are lean and mean, staying close to the bone.

The ending turns out to be somewhat predictable and all the characters ended up pretty much where I thought they would. For the most part, I was really happy with the story and entertained throughout. Simone Gane’s artwork complements the story and I liked the aqua tones that overlay the inks. There was no way the invading waters from the Gulf would have any hint of blue even before the storm, but using gray or sepia tones wouldn’t have done the panels justice and would have made it all look the same.

Dark Rain overall is a good story with enjoyable and easily understood characters during a situation that most readers can easily envision due to all the media coverage at the time.

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