Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Stephanie Phillips
Artist: Dean Kotz
Colourist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Troy Peteri
Release Date: 4th December 2019
Paris 1944. A city in the grip of Nazi occupation and full of all the atrocities and horrors that accompany such a ruthless and evil regime, but in the dark something else lurks, preying on those desperate to flee its borders. When a house full of dismembered corpses is discovered, Detective Massu will embark on a seven-month manhunt to capture The Butcher of Paris.
Normally when I see the words “based on a true story” I take it with a pinch of salt, it’s a device used in the movie industry too often to sell their film (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre being probably the most famous use of this kind of creative advertising), but this is a story I actually know a bit about, and it’s one that most definitely is based on actual events.
I couldn’t possibly claim to be as well read on the subject as series writer Stephanie Phillips, but I do have a penchant for all things serial killer, and the interesting story of Marcel Petiot is one I’ve read. Petiot was very much a product of the time. A man with a long history of mental illness, stemming from his childhood. A petty criminal and war veteran with a less than honourable service record who, having spent time in a mental institution, still found himself beneficiary of a medical degree due to the veterans accelerated education program, and also enjoyed a short-lived political career.
The occupation of France enabled Petiot him to pose as a member of the French Resistance, a position of trust with which he was able to set up a fake escape network to feed his criminal and murderous desires. There is much, much more to his story of course, but then we’d be entering into serious spoiler territory for those that haven’t read his story before.
This is clearly a subject that Phillips is passionate about, has done a lot of research on, and it shows in the writing of this first issue. As with all things in the comic world, I imagine there is a certain artistic license with the source material, but having read Stephanie Phillips essay at the end of the issue I get the feeling that this will be closer to the true story than other similar comics have been. As a thriller/detective story, there’s a lot to work with and Phillips has taken good advantage of the natural tension and fear of the time to really draw us into the world of wartime Paris – albeit with an added extra level of tension and darkness draped on top of it.
The artwork is what lets this issue down a bit for me. It’s reasonably good – Dean Kotz and Jason Wordie do a workmanlike job of bringing Phillips story to life, the pages feel like 1940s France and the character design works well – but the detail isn’t great and they could have done more with the layout. It’s just not up to the quality I’d expect to see coming out of the Dark Horse stable.
Another niggle I have, and this may be fixed in printing, but the one thing that I really didn’t like was having so many adverts, (I counted seven full pages of adverts plus an interview with Steve Niles), it continually takes the reader out of the flow of the story and it just comes across as having to fill out the issue.
The writing is great, and the story is definitely one that I don’t feel has been told enough but the artwork just lets it down, doing something of a disservice to the level of work that Phillips has clearly put into this.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek