BABYLON BERLIN by Arne Jysch and Volker Kutscher
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
BABYLON BERLIN is a compelling new crime noir comic. Arne Jysch blends topical themes with tropes to make this timeless detective tale feel fresh. Its protagonist's struggles with authority and morality will appeal to new readers as well as those familiar with the genre.
97 %
Riveting Read

Written and illustrated by Arne Jysch, BABYLON BERLIN is an upcoming graphic novel from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime. The terse, dark work is based on Volker Kutscher’s best-selling crime novels, the novels inspiring a recent Netflix series of the same name.

Set in 1929 Berlin, BABYLON BERLIN harkens back to an earlier era through its film noir storylines, characters, and art. Still, it captures our own time just as well. At a time of violent protests and political upheaval, Jysch’s characters mistrust authorities and acquaintances alike. Yet the deepest struggle is often internal, as individuals seek to find a voice, place, and set of principles in their swiftly-changing society. Jysch has created a world in flux, where motives and moral codes are tough to nail down.

Babylon Berlin
Image courtesy of Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.

BABYLON BERLIN’s Nod to Classic Noir

Hard-boiled detective film devotees will instantly feel at home in Jysch’s world. BABYLON BERLIN boasts a host of classic crime noir tropes, starting with its chain-smoking protagonist. The story centers around vice squad detective Gereon Rath, a likable but at times unreliable narrator. New to both the city and the job, Rath revels in an unexpected lead he receives in a high-profile murder. Little does he know, this is no open-and-shut case. Instead, his explorations take him into a dark world of Russian mobsters, cocaine dens, and a fortune’s worth of missing gold.

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At first blush, Rath comes across as a pure trope. A suave lady killer with movie star good looks, Rath seems cut from the same cloth as many a 40s film noir leading man. Driven by pride and dark secrets, he will stop at nothing to achieve his goal: to join Berlin’s esteemed homicide unit.

Along the way, Rath meets familiar characters and frequents locations well-known within the genre. He tangles with unsavory thugs and highbrow villains, and he falls for a quick-witted, glamorous blonde. He also explores the city’s seedy underbelly, tracking leads in sinful nightclubs and remote railyards.

The work’s art enhances its film noir feel. Jysch’s black-and-white world is replete with the shadows, cigarette plumes, and rainy nights characteristic of classic film noir. Much like his characters, each scene Jysch creates is built upon contrasts: the delicate balance of quiet and chaos, darkness and light. Like any good thriller, Jysch’s drawings are detailed, action-packed, and cinematic in scope. Through his art, he invites us into an enthralling world bustling with adventures and dangers around each bend.

Babylon Berlin
Image courtesy of Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.

Rath: An Investigator for Our Era

Still, BABYLON BERLIN offers more than a tried-and-true detective tale. Again and again, its themes and characters fail to conform to the reader’s expectations. Within the bounds of a chaotic world, where individual intentions are hard to parse, this makes sense. Crucially, readers come to see the story’s main characters as more than purely good or evil, black or white.

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Painted in this light, Rath is no mere “good guy” but a complex and endearing anti-hero. He is also more than the tough-talking detective he appears. Instead, he seeks deeper meaning in life, constantly questioning his own actions. He is haunted by dark dreams of the men he has killed and expresses remorse for inflicting pain on those around him. Additionally, Rath ceaselessly works through his sense of right and wrong. Though a loyal member of the police force, he takes on internal corruption and challenges flawed authority figures. Meanwhile, he learns to set aside his pride — risking his dream job in the process — and inevitably admits to his own crimes.

Cynical and sensitive in turn, Rath remains a difficult character to pin down. He does not check the hypermasculine boxes of a “strong, silent type” or a thoroughly hardened, wisecracking detective. Instead, he frequently confides in the reader, revealing intimate insecurities about himself, his past, and his ambitions. Unafraid to appear weak in doing so, he actively seeks out and listens to women’s advice regarding the case. He is equally undaunted when those women call out his mistakes. This is interesting given BABYLON BERLIN is set in an era when such behavior by women was not the norm.

Daring Dames: More Than a Pretty Face

In addition to his protagonist, Jysch also updates the classic noir portrayals of female characters. In particular, he paints Rath’s love interest, Charly Ritter, not as a “femme fatale” but as a strong woman seeking to find a voice within the police force. A stenographer by trade, the sharp-witted Charly calls attention to the small percentage of women in the force and secretly assists the investigation by pursuing leads and theories of her own.

Similarly, Rath has a brief fling with his landlady, Betty. Rather than remain a flat background character, the outspoken Betty becomes a well-defined, if minor, character. Meanwhile, she refuses to stand for Rath breaking her house rules involving no female visitors and doesn’t hesitate to stand her ground and throw him out of her apartment.

Darkness for a New Generation

Above all, this sharp work takes on themes familiar to new readers and long-time noir lovers alike. Its characters strain to fit into a society riddled with darkness. Its protagonist faces his own inner darkness, seeking moral courage to admit to his crimes. The book profiles women’s struggles to find a voice and highlights individuals’ struggles against corrupt institutions and authority figures.  Fast-paced and brilliantly executed, BABYLON BERLIN is certain to appeal to anyone interested in exploring the dark underside of human nature.

Babylon Berlin
Image courtesy of Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.

This book is available for purchase beginning February 24, 2018. Available for preorder here.

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