Saturday, September 1, 2012

On the Coffee Table: City of Smoke

Title: Berlin, Book Two: City of Smoke
Writer and Artist: Jason Lutes

Image via Cosmic Comix & Toys

Book Two collects issues 9-16 of Lutes's ongoing series.  The story picks up in June 1929, a month after Book One left off.  For my review of Book One, try this link.

Berlin definitely gets racier in Book Two as Marthe is introduced to the city's underworld - drugs, orgies, secret societies, etc.  Not for kids, this one, but good value for the rest of us.  New characters are introduced - most prominently, an American jazz band in an entirely new story line (tangentially connected to the others, of course).  All the while, the socio-political melodrama is intensifying.  The stock market crashes and the already struggling German economy is further compromised.  The increasingly desperate populace is easy pickings for the rising Nazi party.


Marthe originally came to town as an art student.  Part of the cleverness of this series is how the reader is encouraged to perceive the book through Marthe's artistic lens.  In Book One, it was a discussion of perspective.  In Book Two, Marthe draws portraits as Kurt, her journalist lover, interviews witnesses to the May Day Massacre.  She later complains to Anna, a new lover (told you it gets racier), of the limitations of her portraits in telling the stories of the character.  Through this, we pay more attention to the faces of Lutes's characters.


With the introduction of the jazz band, the role of music takes greater prominence in the story, testing the limits of the comics medium.  How do you convey a clarinet solo without the use of sound?  Lutes does a pretty good job over two pages.

Image via Page 45

It may be a while before Book Three is compiled but single issues now run up to 18.  I saw both 17 and 18 the last time we were at Drawn and Quarterly in Montreal but didn't pick them up - next time.  The plan is for 24 total, taking us to 1933 culminating, no doubt, with the rise of Hitler.

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