Tagline: “Stunning crime-noir graphic novel exploring the intertwining threads of crime, conspiracy, racism, and insanity in the post-World War II Deep South.”
When I saw this graphic novel was drawn by Nate Powell, the artist of the excellent March trilogy, I knew I wanted to give it a chance just based on that and eagerly requested it from NetGalley. His collaboration with author Van Jensen proved to be strong and I enjoyed this historical drama.
Gideon Kemp is a soldier who is fighting PTSD, who has recently returned from WWII and accepts a job as a police lieutenant detective in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1946. As Gideon is an idealistic rookie, Mayor Sprick warns him against the mob in the city and problematic Chief of Detectives Abraham Bailey. The officers are fighting a sadistic serial killer, and this white police force comes up against Chief Jacob Davis and his black police force when a victim is found in their jurisdiction. Ugly racial prejudices are shown, with postering and threats made, when the two groups should have been working together for the greater good.
Mob activity increases and Chief Davis tries to keep his brother Esau out of it, as racial tensions are about to explode. In the midst of this Chief Bailey is shown to be unstable, with lingering effects of guilt and schizophrenia affecting his everyday actions. All four men are caught up in the ugly cycle of violent segregation and are drawn together in an explosive finale. A fellow cop’s statement becomes symbolic, “Stay a cop long enough you go down one of three paths: you become a cynic, a reformer or a drunk” as justice is not always achieved.
Powell helps the book come alive, and makes the narrative flow through his powerful black and white illustrations. His work is historically accurate and he faithfully duplicates the era. Black backgrounds when there is violence was emblematic, but on the other hand, hard to follow. With a lot of speech bubbles to keep track of, I felt I was missing part of the story, for I was trying so hard to read the conversations that had small lettering. A second read of the story when it is published will be necessary to catch what I missed in the online version.
Far from a light read, author Jensen created a layered thriller, that was inspired by true events. I applaud him and Powell for showing how some deep-seated issues resulted in social ills for everyone in the community, and that they didn’t shy away from showing the tragedy that unfolded because of it.
Jenson, Van and Nate Powell. Two Dead. 2019.