December 23, 2010

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Werewolves of Montpellier

Written by Jason
Illustrated by Jason
Fantagraphics

Sven is bored. How to solve the boredom? Steal stuff late at night dressed as a werewolf, of course. There's only one problem--the real werewolves are none too happy about it. As Sven tries to negotiate the complicated nature of his friendships, the creatures of the night are about to end his prowling once and for all. Can Sven keep one step ahead of the law, the wolves, and his relationships? Find out in Werewolves of Montpellier.

I have to admit, I'm still not quite used to Jason's characters talking to each other, even though I know that's not unusual for him these days. I'm pretty close to having read all of Jason's comics, and each one is so solid and reliable, I'd be perfectly fine with building a house on them--except then it might be hard to read the comics themselves.

As with his past few books, Jason mixes the mundane with the spectacular, finding just the right point to have the two interact. No matter how absurd the idea, we're treated to the same evenhanded portrayal of the characters. The titular werewolves operate as calmly and casually as anyone else in the book, as long as that person is a criminal. Their calculated reaction, even when things go bad, makes them seem less like monsters and more like mobsters. Jason might be able to have a character go ape and destroy everything in their path, but it's just not his style. Better to deal with problems as they arise and keep moving.

A large part of the humor in Jason's books comes from this approach to life, and it's especially evident here as we get to a conclusion that reminded me of the end of a British comedy sketch. I don't want to give away the climax, but let's just say you won't see it coming. Then again, if you are a fan of Jason's, maybe you will, at that. It's not an ending that would satisfy me in most cases, but given the absurdist nature of the entire plot, the story finishes up probably the only way that it can.

Part of the genius of Jason's comics is his weaving of regular problems within the larger narrative. We get a lot of that here, with Sven being close to a lesbian couple who eventually can't handle the (unintended) pressure he brings to the relationship just by being around constantly. Sven himself is a figure adrift, rich enough in money to wander through life but being purposeless beyond trying to get the occasional thrill at night. These little touches drive much of the narrative, with the werewolves almost being a side note for much of the book. That the two ideas mesh so well here is a credit to Jason's talent as a creator.

Though his characters rarely move, Jason's ability to drive a story just by looking at the art continues here, even though he's once again using words. His choice of perspective is particularly clever in a few sections of the book, and the placement of bodies in a room often tells more than the protagonists do. A tense moment between Sven and one of the women in the couple, where the panels circle them without written commentary shows all we need to know, without them saying a word. I continue to be impressed with Jason's unique and distinctive style, and if anything, he's only gotten better over time.

This is not Jason's best book, which is by far and away I Killed Adolph Hitler. However, it's nice to know that one of my favorite creators is still at the top of his game. Werewolves is less a horror story and more a character study, but that's okay by me. Fans of Jason definitely should pick this book up right away, and anyone new to his work will find themselves cursed with a need to read more of his catalog after finishing this one. That's one fate I can definitely live with!