Review: 'District 14; Season 1', by Pierre Gabus & Romuald Reutimann
I mean …
Jeff “Bone” Smith, in his Foreword, expresses it more elegantly, but I don’t think that he has any more idea than I do of what’s going on in these 300 awesome pages.
District 14 is an intoxicating brew of early twentieth century Americana, a world filled with immigrants, gangsters, and heroes. It’s like a dream mash-up of Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, noir and gangster films, as well as 10 cent comic books from the ‘40s … oh, and toss in Babar the Elephant for good measure (the authors are French, after all). (p. 4)
Um, yeah. And with aliens in flying saucers, a phony human superhero, gun-toting tadpoles and their frog crime boss, several anthro-animal underworld gangs at cross purposes, a crime-fighting goose newspaper editor and his fearless beaver reporter, various characters with unexplained psychic powers, some extortionists who are dubious good guys (after they beat the s--- out of you and you pay for their protection, they genuinely protect you), the Babaresque main character who has deep, dark secrets, and … lots more. Definitely noir. VERY noir!
Foreword by Jeff Smith. [Translation by Natacha Ruck & Ken Grobe]
Los Angeles, Humanoids, Inc., February 2013, hardcover $39.95 (300 [+ 4] pgs.)
What District 14 reminds me of most is a Ridley Scott Blade Runner megalopolis (Reutimann’s art convincingly portrays a huge but crumbling early 20th-century city) with Humphrey Bogart as the cynical private eye; and the inhabitants, each of whom has a dark secret, divided roughly into one-third humans, one-third anthropomorphic animals, and one-third outer-space immigrants in their flying saucers. Except for the phony-benevolent-but-mysteriously-sinister cats who are secretly all together, and the “neo-natural” back-to-nature cannibalistic naked anthro animals who have taken over the city’s junglelike enormous greenhouses, the only species prejudice is against the aliens. Most of the criminal gangs are of mixed anthro animals and humans. (How do an elephant and a French poodle have sex together?)
As for a plot synopsis, let’s just say that the book begins with the main character, a foreign elephant assigned the name Michael Elizondo by the immigration authorities, coming to District 14 which looks like an early 20th century New York City on steroids. He almost accidentally saves investigative reporter Hector McKeagh (beaver) from one of the criminal gangs; McKeagh offers to get him settled in District 14; and the plot goes into a half-dozen (at least) different directions at once. Other memorable characters include Miss Vanita Vein, a private secretary (French poodle); Tigerman, the superhero (human); Anderwin, The Telegraph’s tough editor (goose); Buster (horse), Stanley (mandrill baboon), and Oliver (human), the Brotherhood of the Friends of the Upper Tower, the “honest” shakedown artists; Henry Bambell, a human plutocrat (human) and Krapal, his majordomo (frog); Capitaine Bigoodee, a uniformed cat with a thick French accent; Bollart, a contract killer (stag); Tiougcholbjjjchzz (Tux), one of the aliens who is Michael’s neighbor; and Monsieur Voltère, the most enigmatic character of all.
Through all of this, “Michael” the elephant lives his new life stoically while he privately agonizes over the secret that caused him to flee his homeland and come to District 14. Just immerse yourself in the story and let it carry you away ... until you crash into “End of Season 1”. Yes, dear readers, it ends on a cliffhanger!
District 14, Season 1, or Cité 14, Saison 1, won the “Fauve d’Angoulême – Prix de la Série” (Wildcat [the trophy is an abstract wildcat in crystal] of Angoulême – Best Series) at the 39th Angoulême International Comics Festival, in Angoulême, France on January 26 – 29, 2012. Reading the reviews, nobody else could summarize it, either; but nobody denied that it deserved an award. The English translation by Natacha Ruck & Ken Grobe is excellent. Read it!
Some statistics: Gabus is the author and Reutimann is the artist. The French twelve-issue magazine edition by Les Humanoïdes Associés ran from April 2007 to April 2008, and the three-volume album reprint from March to June 2011. This “Édition Intégrale” was published in October 2012. There are also Italian and Spanish editions. The “Saison 2” was serialized from September 2011 to July 2012. If this book sells, presumably there will be an English edition of Saison 2 as well. [Update: There was, and Fred reviewed it.]