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Raptors

Stories about the undead grow in number every day.  Most remain forgettable.  Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing’s four part Raptors graphic novel turns out to be anything but.

A few words about the artwork.  Something about it feels European, and indeed such proves to be the case.  What I read was an English translation, but the images retain the kind of heightened reality at which super hero comics in particular excel.  Unlike (for example) Buffy, the costumes worn by many characters simply don’t make sense–at least not naturalistically.  Bright crimson almost never helps when it comes to stealthy sneaking up on anyone.  Long hair worn loose gets in the way during hand-to-hand combat, as do voluminous coats.  No matter!  Everything about these four volumes looks and feels like an intricate dream world, a distorted version of the world we know, tinted with nightmare.

Another sign of non-American origins–sex.  Raptors includes the kind of material most publishers avoid yet cannot help but feel refreshing.  Not simply because sex happens in the story, but the edginess of that sex.  Full frontal nudity (male and female) for example.  For another, lesbianism as well as incest and the blending  of eroticism with violence too often hinted at or (much worse) underplayed.   Indeed, the whole four volume story successfully manages to both rivet and disturb.  No easy answers here.  Even a just war is a thing of darkness.  The best of us have sides to our personalities we’d like to ignore or pretend don’t exist.

Set in modern day New York City, the story (initially) centers around a bizarre series of murders–each victim drained of blood, a pin driven into the skin behind the right ear.  Even weirder, autopsies reveal each victim in absolutely perfect health, no matter what their age.  Inspector Lenore and her partner Spiaggi soon run afoul of a gigantic corruptive conspiracy worthy of the most paranoid of film noir.  Vampires–the city’s elite–view those like Lenore and Spiaggi as cattle.  But someone else, a pair of enemies from centuries past, sees the decadent rulers of this city in much the say way.  Drago and Camilla, brother and sister lovers, long for revenge against those who killed their vampire parents, a pair of proud nobles in medieval Spain unwilling to give up their lives as pure predators.  Now the twins cut a swathe through the undead of New York–with both Lenore and her partner caught in between it all.

This tiny precis of the plot barely hints at the twists and turns, many of them heart-breaking, the plot takes over the course of four books.  What may be most impressive about the whole work remains how it never pulls a dramatic punch.  Yet at the same time this is anything but a story of despair.  Desperation, yes.  Also, cruelty and terror coupled with the peeling back of mystery after mystery.   Still, genuine heroes show their mettle–often in unexpected ways.  What could have easily been a long descent into pure darkness, proves an epic tale of strange salvation.   The mass of humanity, not necessarily innocent but undeserving of what some plan for them, end up protected–at a price.  The way it happens in the real world.

Likewise characters, for all their intensity and heightened natures, remain nuanced.   We come to understand certain points of view, even (slightly) sympathize with them.  After all, is it not better to be civilized than savage?  Yet isn’t a ruthless hunter of human prey at the very least an honest vampire, not a hypocrite, in the end even less damaging than those who wrap their bloodlust with self-righteousness?

Makes for a compelling tale, albeit not one for children.  Sex is the least of it.  Along with the beautiful we find plenty of the grotesque.   A set of parents murdered is one thing.  Another set (human in this case) rigidly and deliberately humiliating their own child is another.   Not so much because Raptors makes for a dark story, but because the darkness remains complex.  A sophisticated urban fantasy steeped in blood–what frankly Underworld tries to be only to ultimately fail (too “nice” too “simple” too straightforward).

 

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david • February 22, 2012


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Comments

  1. Moonlight February 22, 2012 - 1:48 pm Reply

    I have never heard of Raptors before, I’m definitely going to have to check this one out. I’m loving the art style and tone of this one.

    As for European comics vs. American ones, I agree that most things European tend to be a bit naughtier since Europe doesn’t have the strict censorship laws us Americans have. However, over the past few years there has been a huge change in American comics – from the art style to the storylines, as well as the format. More artists are straying away from that classic comic look (thank goodness) and letting their own personal styles show, and the results are fantastic. Publishers are also making big changes as well, there was a time when all American comics were pretty tame, but now, some of the goriest and sexiest comics I read are American. Both published comics and webcomics have changed significantly and they continue to do so. I no longer feel that there is a big difference between American and European comics anymore, except with the languages obviously, but other than that I think the comic world as a whole has grown so much and has become much less prudish than comics decades ago.

    • Novus Vox vampirum February 23, 2012 - 1:23 pm Reply

      The industry’s self-censorship through the Comics Code Authority (starting in 1954 and finally put to rest last year) was the result of outcries over gore and horror in popular comic titles of the late 1940’s/early 1950’s (such as William Gaines’ EC comics). The industry chose self-regulation over possible government intervention.

      Following the imposition of the code, all of EC’s gore-horror titles (such as the original “Tales From The Crypt”) were cancelled, except for “Mad”, which was changed into its present magazine format to skirt the code.

      The original 1954 CCA code banned not just gore and horror,
      “No comic… shall use the word horror or terror in its title.”,
      it also banned depictions of vampires, werewolves and zombies.

      Imagine yourself in a world where “Twilight” graphic novels would be banned.
      Your grandparents grew up in this world.

      A January 1971 revision permitted “vampires, ghouls and werewolves…when handled in the classic tradition (of) high-caliber literary works by…Poe, Conan Doyle…and other respected authors”. Zombies were still banned. Marvel used the word “Zuvembie” as a work-around. >;^)

      there was a time when all American comics were pretty tame
      The C.C.A. was the reason. It’s important that newer generations understand the historical context of the early 1950’s “comics witch-hunt”.

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