By Matt Fraction, Elsa Charretier, Matt Hollingsworth & Kurt Ankeny
November Vol 1 starts strong. It’s a Matt Fraction book; of course it’s going to start strong. It’s an absurdist, high-concept noir appropriately told with a mystery that’s interesting enough to hook audiences right in and keep them reading. Dee’s job deciphering a code hidden in the newspaper and broadcasting it from a rooftop radio isn’t exactly what most people classify as a normal job and the book plays up that premise really well, making the characters and the audience question where the money comes from and the dubious nature of her employers. She’s getting a lot of money for this job, and after a while, she’s used to the new normal.
But what happens when the new normal changes again? The first in a planned sequence of three graphic novellas explore on Fraction’s rich, high-quality work to weave a fine mystery box that has the audiences turning the page for more information. Elsa Charretier’s artwork is mesmerising as the script itself; eye-openly drawn. Dee is the main protagonist who readers meet in November but there’s also multiple leads that that get quickly introduced one by one – Kowalski, a 911 dispatcher, is another, and the book has a firm grasp on fleshing out these characters and making them worth in this seedy, atmospheric style that feels very sixties, aided by the Darwyn Cooke-esque retro feel of Matt Hollingsworth’s colours and Elsa Charretier’s artwork. The city that November is set in may be nameless, so it could be anywhere, but it instantly recalls the seedy underbelly of places like Gotham City and it’s no surprise that Frank Miller feels like an inspiration for the tone and feel of this book. It’s certainly got a gritty, disturbing vibe to it – and also a sense of the abnormal that David Lynch would be proud of. Throw in Kurt Ankeny’s hand-written letters as well into the equation, and the artwork itself thrives, taking on a life of its own.
The book will try your patience; there’s no getting around that – November is a slow burner that will most likely require multiple reads to fully comprehend and taken at a first read alone it seems mystifying. The disjointed narrative runs through right from the start to the end and you don’t really get any answers until the final act. And on top of that – the payoff is still to come, this is the first out of three graphic novels that tell a complete story, and readers will most likely have to buy all three to get a complete picture. But based on what’s there, in volume one, it’s enough to recommend, especially to those who are already fans of Matt Fraction’s work, his track record of speaks for itself and especially when combined with such brilliant artwork from Elsa Charretier’s in particular, this is one of those books where you know you’ll be in good hands already.
November is not a light read, but the more you pay attention the more it will reward you, I couldn’t help but admire how good Hollingsworth is with his colours here with such a limited palette, and Fraction once again is able to work with a complete set of artists that really enable his work to shine as bright as it can. As a graphic novel, November is something that also doesn’t overstay its welcome, keeping things relatively short and sweet in terms of its narrative, but whilst it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, those who are fans of the noir genre will find themselves right at home.