THIS REVIEW OF ‘NOVEMBER’ VOLUMES I & II CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Kate Kowalski. You can’t un-crack an egg. And that’s where I suppose we all are now in this country—our collective idealistic illusion of protection shattered to bits and the raw truth of it oozed out and missing the pan. It’s a hard truth to grasp. Those supposed to protect and serve have been given carte blanche to wield weapons and unchecked power against civilians—to kill without consequence—to remove human beings like obstacles, burn them away and walk on into another day. What do we do with that?
Don’t look away. Look through.
Comics can act as a mirror of ourselves and our society, revealing more than what we’re sometimes willing to see. November is one such comic, more timely than ever. In these first two volumes, we have the beginnings of an intricate and nuanced tale of the rot allowed to fester in our justice system told through the lens of a timeless and nameless city and the intersecting stories of three downtrodden and unlucky women.
We begin in a diner, where tired-eyed Dee’s daily crossword and smoke is interrupted by an imposing man with an interesting proposition. The paycheck is too big to ignore and Dee finds herself working an odd job running a radio signal alongside her pigeon coop on the roof of her building. We are given no more than that before the story is whisked away into the day-in-the-life of another suffering, city-dwelling gal—Emma-Rose—whose bad luck leads her to a startling discovery in a puddle. This thread connects us to our third main player, Kowalski, a 911 operator crushing her way through back-to-back shifts on little more than black coffee and booze. Despite her hard work, she is brushed off and condescended to by the cops in her station.
As we shift from narrative to narrative, we inhabit the interiority of these women’s minds, their inner monologue grounding the story and taking up space not afforded in their exterior worlds. Each woman’s thoughts spill out and fill panels, distinguished by Kurt Ankeny’s different lettering styles. We can read their lives through their faces; Elsa Charretier’s attention to body language, posture, and expression pays off. I feel these women’s fatigue in thick, drooping lines and their anxiety and fear in the wiry, angular corners.
Key moments of the story are marked by slight shifts in expression—a split second slips through the gutter between panels during a moment of realization. Panels in November are—almost as a rule—uniformly sized until we need to see the scope of a scene or feel the intensity of a character’s emotions (one notable joyful moment of freedom busts the page open). The pacing throughout the story is intentional, guiding us carefully through its twists and turns.
Matt Fraction has written a dense and layered framework of vignettes, connected through gut-punching visual motifs. Images flit and flow into each other, forging new meaning through their associations. Chain links separate chapters and cage Dee’s routinely fed pigeons and paid strippers. Strings taking kites far past the clouds become bondage one panel over. Smoke, blood, vomit, and water encircle and halo heads.
November finds strength in its grimy imagery and dark atmosphere. But perhaps the biggest revelation of these books is also the most surreal aspect of them. I was struck, upon entering that diner in the first chapter of the first book, by the damp earthenware tones of the world and the bright cerulean people inhabiting it. Matt Hollingsworth’s color palette is off-kilter, evoking a feeling of uneasiness and a sense of decay through nearly exclusive tones of dirt, concrete, and mold. The palette varies depending on who’s telling the story (or whose story is being told). This becomes a key between the two books, another tool to navigate where we are in the nonlinear timeline. Interspersed spots of bright orange or red signal danger. It’s no coincidence these colors appear most often when the cops show up.
Though there’s much left to discover about the specifics of the plot in which our three heroines become entangled, by the end of the second book it’s clear where the danger in November lies. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The police in this story are a menace, using their badge to shield them while they steal and murder with no promise of repercussions. It will be interesting to see how Fraction & Charretier tackle this very real threat safely on the pages. If it will be as messy and difficult as our upcoming months, years will be. We’re in a time of reckoning. The shell’s cracked—there’s no putting the egg back.
Image Comics / $16.99 each
Written by Matt Fraction.
Art by Elsa Charretier.
Colors by Matt Hollingsworth.
Letters by Kurt Ankeny.
9.5 out of 10
‘November’ volumes I & II are available now. Volume III drops October 21. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond code: JUN200172)
Check out this 3-page preview of ‘November’ Volume I, courtesy of Image Comics!