James Vance and Dan E. Burr’s last graphic novel, Kings in Disguise, was published more than 20 years ago, to massive critical acclaim. This follow-up has the same main character, Fred Bloch, but can be enjoyed without having read the first – there’s enough explanation of Bloch’s history as we go through to bring us up to date.
Set in the darkest period of the Great Depression, Bloch has been criss-crossing the United States by train, living the life of a hobo, trying to escape his family’s debts.
At the start of the book he has a new job with a circus. He works on a sideshow with a death-defying escapologist called Gordon Corey, who escapes from manacles while standing on a gallows with a noose around his neck.
Through the course of the book, Bloch’s past begins to catch up with him. A stint in the Workers Union (who took him in when he was at his lowest, but radicalised him at the same time) saw him running messages for strikers, using anonymous addresses and drop-boxes, but the strike-breakers are hunting the Workers Union down.
The narrative is truly epic. Every page is a struggle for survival, with the characters barely scraping by while the world is collapsing around them. The art is clear, precise and atmospheric, which smooths the accessibility of this otherwise complex tale.
Every inch of this book screams of quality. It’s a true masterpiece, and likely to pick up just as many awards as Kings in Disguise did, 20 years ago.