By Ahmad Chaudhary

This book reminds me of the first black and white movie I ever saw. It was Casablanca and I was a 14-year-old punk. Not mall-punk, though I did hang out at the mall; not actual punk like I was into crappy “”core music – and by that I mean grind core, hard core, mom core, noise core, apple core, core-of-the-earth core, etc. I was not old-school punk like I was into the Buzzcocks or Black Flag, and certainly not punk like when people say “that is so punk rock,” which doesn’t actually mean anything since everything is inevitably “punk rock” and I suppose is the same thing as mall punk. I was a punk like I was a stupid adolescent. For example, I didn’t listen to anything my parents told me, I swore constantly, I smoked Marlboro Reds and cared little for school.

In my differently skewed state of mind at the time, based on technological merit alone, there was no possible way a black and white movie could be better than a full color movie. It just could not be. Watching the Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny dud Space Jam in one of my classes and the ultra-classic Casablanca back to back under the direction of the teacher changed my perspective. In fact, my sentiment was echoed by most of my classmates, pretty shocking considering Casablanca was a couple of years yet to be considered “cool” even by nerds and was generally considered nerdy due to its love-story nature and ancient status.

Finally, to get to the point, just as Casablanca is better than many color movies I have seen, Torso is a clear step above most every other graphic novel I have read, most of which are printed in color. As I look back at my recent reading list for AO, though, some of my material has been in black and white, such as was the case with Geisha and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.

Dipping into the back story little bit, I had barely even heard of Eliot Ness, let alone the story of Cleveland’s notorious Torso killer. I remember friends telling me about the Untouchables TV show from the early 1990’s and that I’d probably like it. Since I’m a fan of true crime stories, I decided to read this graphic novel, a decision based primarily on the captivating artwork. I was shocked when I first picked it up.

Blowing my mind with its mix-media combination of heavy inks and photography, I couldn’t even believe that it was also of the true crime genre. Could this be true? It was and though I didn’t start reading it until a few days ago, the pacing was so excellent it took me only two days to finish. Honestly, it is a little imposing but not ultra-wordy so that assisted my speedy read. The artwork did most of the talking.

From page one, where a child sees something – a body, probably, though the reader is never shown – Torso pulls you in, throws you around and spits you out. There’s a little bit of a lull in the middle, but it’s no more comforting than the deceptive near end of a roller coaster when the machine is coasting. Like the best I’ve ridden – Medusa at Six Flags Great Adventure comes to mind – the ending is a skull-cracker that will leave you with your jaw dropped.

Not all is exciting and frightening; there is a handful of humorous moments that brighten the story and are welcomed when they rise to the top. Although I mentioned earlier that the storytelling was facilitated by much of the artwork, the script is not to be discounted whatsoever and is a pleasure to experience. The smattering of colloquial dialogue adds to the book’s overall realistic feel. I’m still not familiar with more Ness (though I’m intrigued to learn more about his career), and I’d also like to investigate the other works of Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko.

Finally, I would recommend Torso to the following people: Ness fans, crime fans, art fans and anyone who wants a good gritty well-paced book that will exceed your expectations, be better than “Space Jam” and not be “punk rock” since, as I mentioned earlier, the statement is meaningless.

Torso: A True Crime Graphic Novel (Paperback) by Brian Michael Bendis (Author), Marc Andreyko
Publisher: Image Comics; Reprint edition (February 2, 2001) LISBN-10: 1582406979 ISBN-13: 978-1582406978