Review by Frank Plowright
With this fourth collection of The Complete Torpedo we move beyond what’s previously been seen in English language graphic novels, yet Enrique Sánchez Abulí was still a long way off running out of ideas for his dark humoured gangster stories. It turns out there were a lot of gangs in a lot of communities in 1930s New York, and Luca Torelli became involved with all of them sooner or later.
Abulí’s scripts are inventive, funny and entertaining, but would they work as well with another artist substituting for Jordi Bernet? It’s unlikely. Alex Toth actually began the series in volume one, and Bernet references him here with a page in which sound effects are predominant, a trick Toth used in his 1980s Bravo for Adventure strips. Generally, however, Bernet has a far looser style than Toth, his panels having the feel of being dashed off on bar napkins and only later inked, such is their spontaneity. Yet the sketchy style doesn’t mean the pages aren’t superbly designed, or lack for detail. The suits, the cars, and the city are all vividly constructed, and Bernet’s excellent with the expressions of his cast. This doesn’t so much apply to Torelli himself, his lips generally clenched tight enough to hold his cigarette, but his companion Rascal and pretty well everyone else is sublimely caricatured. To display his versatility, one strip begins with a panel of children’s cinema animation featuring the Big Bad Wolf and Three Little Pigs, and Bernet just modifies his style and takes it in his stride.
Bernet hits exactly the right tone, never over-selling the hilarious mishaps that characterise Torpedo, but he’s equally good with the strips that are relatively straight. The sample page is from a tale where Torpedo and Rascal are drinking in the bar of a small town. Bernet creates a great dark atmosphere, wonderfully accentuated by the use of the fly buzzing around, and it’s such a simple story, but gloriously told. Then again, almost everything here is. Perhaps Torpedo losing his voice isn’t quite as funny as Abulí thinks, and the same applies to a robbery at a bakery leading to provocatively crude finale that doesn’t work. Each however, has some very good moments.
As ever, Torelli is an unpleasant violent man in a violent world, and some people may be offended by panels depicting him hitting women and worse. You have been warned. Otherwise this is another exemplary collection. The final Torpedo stories are collected in volume five.