Grandville, vol. 3: Bete Noire

grandville bete noireThe story of Grandville continues in the third volume of the adventures of Detective-Inspector Lebrock of Scotland Yard. If you aren’t familiar with the world of Grandville, it is a deeply engrossing “scientific-romance thriller,” as the subtitle says. Grandville is an alternate Paris, a world where the French empire reigns triumphant and complex political, historical, and artistic contexts are re-imagined. Of course, all the characters are also animals. The author took inspiration from The Wind in the Willows and a variety of historical events to create a steampunk world where the rough and ready badger, Lebrock, tries his best to do his duty amidst political machinations and personal problems.

While you can jump straight into this third volume, it will make a lot more sense to start with the first two and get a feeling for Lebrock and his world. In this volume, Lebrock and his trusty assistant Roderick are once more thrown into high society when the Paris Prefecture requests their help on the mysterious death of a famous artist. Reluctantly, they are caught up in a mysterious and deadly plan involving important industrialists, automatons, and the triumph of abstracts over representational art. Lebrock resumes his slightly distant relationship with Billie, an elegant courtesan, and together they investigate the powerful Krapaud and his plans for industrial power.

While Talbot has distinctive elements in his artistic style, he adopts new techniques for each project he does, and Grandville is no exception. Inspired by the caricatures of J.J. Grandville, a nineteenth-century French artist, in Talbot’s hands, Grandville’s pen and ink sketches satirizing French society take on lives of their own. A first quick glance will bring to mind the smooth illustrations of a children’s book, with anthropomorphized animals wearing elegant 19th century attire, elaborate robots, and detailed backgrounds. A second look (and a little spraying blood and brains) shows the reader how fully realized Talbot’s art makes the world he has visualized. The animals maintain their animalistic traits while being fully human, and the history and philosophy that Talbot is exploring are woven into the background in posters, art, and even the architecture and elaborate steampunk inventions.

Despite the talking animals and gadgets, this is definitely not a book for young children or even young teens. The animals are adults and behave as such. What really makes this a book for mature readers isn’t so much the references to sex and the violence, all of which are smoothly woven into the fabric of the story, but the mature themes of the story and the layered context. If you like the idea of The Wind in the Willows with sex and violence, plus plenty of history, art history, politics, and philosophy all wrapped up in an alternative, steampunk world, then Grandville is for you.

Grandville, vol. 3: Bete Noire
by Bryan Talbot
ISBN: 978-159582890
Dark Horse, 2012

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