Alternative editions:
Cairo graphic novel review
Alternative editions:
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Vertigo - 978-1-4012-1734-1
  • Release date: 2007
  • UPC: 9781401217341
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Crime, Drama, Fantasy

Cairo is one sticking out sore thumb of an anomaly in the Vertigo backlist, and all the better for that. Part rom-com, part action-thriller and all drama, it’s funny, and ticks several Vertigo genre boxes, crime and fantasy the most obvious.

We follow six people in the Egyptian capital over an eventful couple of days, although calling one of them a person is stretching the truth. They’re a djinn, describing their talent as being able to manipulate probability, yet still able to make a carpet fly. The djinn has an agenda, which ranks it slightly above what any of the five humans have planned. Two are Cairo inhabitants, a small time crook and a journalist, and two have flown in from the USA, their aims best discovered on reading, and an Israeli special forces soldier needs to get back home from Egypt. Paths cross, entwine and complicate the desires of the others. So far, almost straightforward, but G. Willow Wilson starts messing with things, like the formal techniques of comics storytelling.

Wilson does her bit by introducing intriguing scenarios and personalities, but Cairo also needs the imagination and dedication of artist M.K. Perker. The depth of his pages institutes a belief that this is one of the world’s largest and heavily populated cities. He doesn’t just plant people in the background, but gives them activities, so ensuring life springs from the panels. This is even more important once the magic begins to manifest. There is evil in Cairo, but the tone doesn’t call for the pants-staining malevolence of Hellblazer, and Perker keeps his horrific impulses under control while still giving us the danger.

There’s also a restraint to Wilson’s writing. She has some points to make, and makes them well, but not by surrendering the narrative. That slips by very smoothly, and five people who are lost, some more literally than others, discover purpose. Or do they discover destinies? It’s one of the thought provoking touches that’ll take you by surprise as all five are transformed by the discovery that the world is not as they imagined it to be. Magical!