Grandville, Bete Noire, Bryan Talbot’s third steam-punk themed graphic novel, has the same lavish detail and striking use of color as the first two. English Badger D.I. Archie LeBrock is back, as rough-and-tumble as ever, and in this book we spend a bit more time with Quayle or “Q,” a brilliant inventor adept at stealth weapons, like a smoking pipe that is really a bomb. It’s a nice wink in the direction of Ian Fleming.
The plot is slimmer and more predictable than the first two, and a large part of the story is taken up with the exploration of LeBrock’s relationship with the beautiful prostitute Billie, who he met in Grandville, Mon Amor. We find out a bit more about Billie, especially, in one hilarious and naughty frame, what her particular work “specialty” is. Archie’s backstory is fleshed out, with some well-planted clues about future books.
What makes this book fun is the volume of in-jokes about art and artists, especially French artists. The murder victim is Gustave Corbeau (a crow), and the person who stands to benefit from his death is a gopher sculptor named Auguste Rodent. There are lots of comments about watercolors and oils, and representational art versus abstracts. The murder weapon that kills Corbeau is steampunk-ingenious, and the humor and puns keep coming through the book. (The villain’s cunning plan is to destroy representational art and replace it with meaningless abstractions – and that’s not a spoiler.)
As always, the images are wildly imaginative. There is a thrilling motorcycle chase on pages 76-77, that takes place under the admiring gaze of a gang of French street-apache meerkats.
I enjoyed the other two Grandville books more, but Bryan Talbot’s visual imagination is a treasure. Talbot’s world holds together, provides a fun escapist story and gives us eye candy galore.