The third instalment of Bryan Talbot’s Grandville books appears at quite a fortuitous time for Talbot, his previous book, Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, a collaboration with his wife Mary, has just made the shortlist of the Costa awards and he is deservedly getting more acclaim and attention than he is perhaps used to. As such, Grandville Bete Noire might serve as an entry point to a new generation of Talbot fans who might not usually find themselves reading anthropomorphised police procedurals with a curious literary bent.
Opening with a vicious scene featuring a cabal of rich sorts debating how unfair it is that workers have rights and anti-pollution legislation stops them maximising profits, led by Talbot’s take on Toad of Toad Hall – Toad blasting one of the doughfaces (that’s Talbot’s name for humans, humans playing a denigrated sub-animal role in the world of Grandville that allows him to do lots of interesting things with racial issues) to kingdom come and announcing plans to take back society in order to make sure that the 1% get what should truly be theirs. This is followed (with, it should be said, a delightful frame that has two policemen, a walrus and a horse, watching a drunken Paddington Bear swigging from a bottle) with LeBrock, our bullying badger hero discussing semaphore and morse in the company of his Watson, Ratzi, before they are whisked away to investigate a murder. Turns out an artist has been brutally murdered mere weeks before he was supposed to deliver a mural celebrating democracy.
With several strands competing for attention – the murder mystery (which quickly becomes a murders mystery), an automaton revolution and a subtle take on the historical funding of outsider art by the CIA as well as a continuation of LeBrock’s fledgling romance from Grandville Mon Amour – Grandville Bete Noire is a busy read but it’s easily as fun as the previous two books.
Any Cop?: Talbot’s lighter comics work may lack the complexity of Alan Moore’s best stuff but Talbot is happier playing to the gallery with artful nods and winks. Grandville Bete Noire is a blast.