Review by Jamie McNeil
On an alternate Earth animals evolved at the same time as humans to become the dominant species living in magnificent steam-punk powered cities. Since France won the Napoleonic Wars it has ruled the known world for 200 years from the greatest city of them all: Grandville, formerly known as Paris.
Detective Inspector Archibald “Archie” Le Brock of Scotland Yard is a curmudgeonly badger of a man policing the fairly new independent Socialist Republic of Great Britain. He is called to investigate the apparent suicide of British Diplomat Leigh-Otter in his English country home a few hours after he leaves Grandville in a hurry. When Le Brock rules out suicide, he and his adjunct, Detective Sergeant Roderick “Rodders” Ratzi, travel to Grandville to finish their enquiries only to discover that anyone who had even brief contact with Leigh-Otter is dying mysteriously. A conspiracy is unfolding and time is running out as assassins working for the mysterious Knights of Lyon circle Le Brock, Ratzi and the beautiful Sarah Blairow.
One of steam-punk’s most attractive characteristics is how it incorporates industrial steam-powered technology, 19th century architecture, aesthetic design and art nouveau to create something strangely beautiful. Bryan Talbot captures just about every aspect of steam-punk on his pages, whether the Victorian Era fashion, the hybrid vehicles emitting raw power or an impressive mechanised railway line stretching across the water. The opening page illustration with its grand but grimy views of Paris with reflections in still puddles sets the tone and from start to finish Grandville bursts with thrilling action sequences. Talbot sees the potential the steam-punk genre has for great storytelling and by throwing in a bit of hard-boiled crime to mix with the influences of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, the cinematic scope of Quentin Tarantino and large dollops of Mary Tourtel’s creation Rupert Bear he produces one of the most creative and entertaining stories you are likely to read for a long time.
At some points the characters look deceivingly cuddly and cute before the story punches you in the guts and drags you along by the throat, Talbot’s solid storytelling driving the tale. There is far more to Grandville than just what you read in the dialogue or see in the foreground. All sorts of interesting characters are hidden in the background, the influences of comics like Rupert and other anthropomorphic animals concealed. but clear enough to spot if you’re looking. At times it’s tasteful and at other times it is irreverently funny, but it never feels disrespectful as Talbot is only imagining what the character might have to face in the real world. Le Brock and Ratzi, as the latter would say, are ‘spiffing’ characters that appeal in different ways and develop over the series.
Influences from authors such as Kenneth Grahame to Beatrix Potter provide interesting variety in further outings, each book differing slightly from previous ones. The next volume is the tension drenched Grandville: Mon Amour.