I jumped on this review, as I had the pleasure of watching the excellent German TV show based on the Babylon Berlin series of novels by Volker Kutscher, and I was curious to see how the graphic novel differed from the TV series. It became clear very quickly that it adhered more rigidly to the novels than the series did, and given the constraints of a graphic novel, I understand why.
A classic noir detective story set in pre-World War II Weimar Republic Germany, Babylon Berlin follows Police Inspector Gereon Rath after he is sent to Berlin from Cologne under a cloud of scandal. Assigned to work in Vice, Rath is determined to work his way into the famous Berlin homicide division headed by Inspector Gennat. Having been a homicide inspector in Cologne, he considers working in Vice to be beneath him; however, Rath soon finds himself immersed in murder, the porn industry, Communists, and the search for Russian Gold.
The case of a murder victim found in a car that was dumped into the river quickly escalates when the police discover he was tortured before his death. Unable to identify the body, Rath and officers from other divisions are pulled into the case to help. He meets Miss Ritter, the sole female homicide inspector on the force, and decides she might be someone worth knowing. His partner, Bruno, invites him to a party where he meets the former German military officers who seem to have ignored the fact that they lost the war. It is an uncomfortable situation, but Rath is no prude and his own morals waiver when they get in the way of his ambition.
1929 was a tumultuous year for Germany, and the story captures the imminent decline of the Republic into the chaos of Nazism very well. Gereon Rath is the perfect character to represent the changing times, as he can be a jerk, yet a good guy when he wants to be. He’s an interesting character and the book is a fascinating read, but I think trying to stuff what is either a whole novel or series into one graphic novel was a bit ambitious. Some of the transitions are abrupt, and Rath figures out the whole Russian gold, mobster connection, and German army coup with a lot of exposition and faith on the reader’s part. I have no doubt that having watched the series, my mind filled in some of the missing pieces.
Illustrated in black and white, it sets the tone and the period perfectly. The art and paneling are right on point, and I love that the characters look European and not generic; however, my favorite part is the lettering. The voice-overs look like they were typed in using a pre-war typewriter. (That’s pre-World War II.) Also, the use of German newspapers in the background gives it a nice touch. I love period pieces, and this was a terrific introduction to an important time in history that I do not know much about, but would like to learn more.
Babylon Berlin is from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.
Creative Team: Arne Jysch (Writer/Artist), Ivanka Hahnenberger (Translator), Volker Kutscher (Original novelist)
Publisher: Titan Comics
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