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Graphic Novel Review: The Bronx Kill by Peter Milligan and James Romberger

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DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint has launched a line of crime-oriented graphic novels. I suppose this is in response to Ed Brubaker’s critical success with his Criminal series for Marvel. Or maybe it’s because the fan base for superheroes is also branching out into the noir roots of storytelling. Whatever the case, I’m enjoying the idea of standalone tales about crime and the darker side of humanity.

Peter Milligan’s The Bronx Kill isn’t anything new or different from noir stories and movies that have preceded it. In fact, the familiarity of the story is one of the most captivating aspects about it. Noir is generally filled with dysfunctional families, and although there are more dysfunctional families out there, Martin Keane’s relationship with his father is about as bad as it gets.

But that relationship is mired in the screwed up relationship of Martin’s great-grandfather, a New York cop murdered under mysterious circumstances. I liked Martin’s character immediately because he is the son that never measures up to his physically imposing and emotionally demanding father. His relationship to his girlfriend and later wife isn’t easy to handle because she ends up wanting him to be more than he is.

I also felt for the guy because his second book gets trashed in literary circles and he starts trying to find a way to “fix” what’s wrong with his writing. It doesn’t take long before he decides to focus on all the things that went wrong with his family. His grandmother disappeared from the family years ago, leaving Martin’s father behind as a baby. No one explained why that happened or where she’s gone to.

Martin decides to go to Ireland, where his family is from, and try to find the truth about his dead great-grandfather. I didn’t really understand why the story went in that direction because we didn’t get that much information from the trip. But it was necessary to the plot. Still, I would have liked a little more information if we were going to go there.

Upon his return to New York City, Martin checks in with Erin. They’ve been apart for four months by this time, and I would have figured the return would have been more emotional. Instead, Erin wants to read Martin’s new book. When he wakes up later, Erin is missing.

I like the way that Erin’s disappearance pulls Martin and his dad together, but it doesn’t last. However, the police don’t go away. Martin is the prime suspect in his missing wife’s case, and the police aren’t going to let him go.

I wasn’t really surprised by the ending of the book, but I think Milligan did a great job of unveiling everything and making the pacing work on the present day story as well as the mystery of the murdered great-grandfather. The characters all remain true to themselves, even the ones that I wished had turned out better. But that’s one of the rules in noir: characters have to suffer.

The art by James Romberger is pretty good. It’s rough and loose at times, but there’s always a sense of time and place, and he does a good job showing emotion and tension.

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