Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: The Bronx Kill by Peter Milligan

The Bronx Kill is the first truly successful entry in Vertigo's new manga-style crime series imprint, Vertigo Crime. This is most likely due to the fact that unlike the first two attempts, penned by popular novelists Ian Rankin and Jason Starr, the writing duties have been handed over to veteran comic book author Peter Milligan.

At first, Milligan seems like an odd choice for a crime story series, considering his notoriety for offbeat comic titles such as Shade the Changing Man and Animal Man. But he also has a lengthy history of strong storytelling with a dark edge, and he knows how to utilize the comic format to achieve the greatest possible effect. These are the skills that shine through in The Bronx Kill, and make it an engrossing (dare I say riveting?) read.

Most notable is Milligan's deft handling of the story-within-a-story device, in this case featured as the excerpts of the novel that main character Martin Keane is working on; a novel with themes and obstacles that mirror events in his own life. This kind of device can feel cheap and gimmicky when used improperly, as can when writers make their main characters authors, but with Milligan this is never a concern. While some might remark that the manuscript excerpts scattered throughout the graphic novel read more like a short story than a full-length historical crime novel, consideration for the time and space constraints of the comic format make this less a flaw in writing than a necessity of design. With that aside, Milligan's tale flows smoothly, and feels like much more than an exercise in plot-twists or a rehash of an old Law & Order rerun.

What really separates The Bronx Kill from the previous entries in this series is not only Milligan's experience with comic books, but his respect for the format; where the previous novelists seem to simplify for the comic audience (almost talking down to them), Milligan creates a level of complexity to the characters and plot that should be expected from any decent crime story. Let's hope that Vertigo Crime approaches more comic veterans in the future, and avoids trying to rack up crime-novelist celebrity credits in an effort to cross-advertise. Some more entries like The Bronx Kill, and this might become an imprint to keep an eye on.

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