Review by Ian Keogh
Rueben to his parents, Ruby to his mates is a drifting teenager in depression-era New York. He sees his family live in poverty as his father slaves for a basic wage, while Ruby can earn five dollars for delivering a gangster’s package. His world is enclosed with teenage certainty, so he’s under no illusions which example represents success and which represents failure, especially at a time when all ordinary people are struggling. He embarks on a rapid learning process.
Joe Kubert’s final original graphic novel is a cautionary period piece employing all the artistic skills learned over a career almost stretching back to the era he’s spotlighting. The art is nuanced and rich, never leaving room for doubt as to what’s happening, while Kubert is old school in obscuring the view slightly when it comes to extreme violence, and he ensures all the leading players can be distinguished. For fans of Kubert’s work there’s the bonus of his separating the chapters with gray wash paintings depicting scenes and seasons.
While the art is timeless and attractive, it’s also deceptive, disguising that there’s otherwise little original about the story. We follow Ruby coming to terms with what’s now expected of him by his associates, his earnings increasing all the time, but there’s rarely a place where Kubert truly surprises. Any seasoned crime story reader will predict early who’s not going to come out of Jew Gangster well, almost able to tick them off a list, and the real question becomes who’ll emerge triumphant from an inevitable fight. That fight is the only occasion where Kubert does surprise, not with the result, which would always be a coin toss, but with space he devotes to it, and the brutality of it.
Two editions are available. The original iBooks publication was rather lost in 2005 as the company closed, but the DC edition is a handsome hardcover tying in with their re-releases of other Kubert graphic novels. Admire the art, which raises this just above average, but there are plenty of better crime dramas.