Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes was created by the same person who made Mind MGMT, my favorite graphic novel collection from last year. This book is similarly excellent, exploring similar themes about what defines crime and art while spinning a masterfully complex narrative full of quirky details and insanely compelling short tales.

The strange crimes that occur in the town of Red Wheel Barrow are myriad. There is a woman who steals only chairs, a thief who steals artwork so he can cut it into 100 pieces and sell them off individually, a magician who moonlights as a pick-pocket, a struggling author who steals street and building signs so she can create a warehouse-sized novel, and a photographer who creates personal conflicts and then profits from the images of them she captures.
There are two common threads connecting these capers: Detective Gould, who is infinitely perceptive and deductive, and who has never let a case go unsolved, and a mysterious Moriarty-type mastermind who tests him. Gould is a riff on Dick Tracy and named for his creator Chester Gould; he is a super-cop who always gets the culprit. He may have an excellent track record at work, but we catch glimpses into his personal life and see that his work obsessions have created distance at home from his wife, an art gallery owner.
This distance turns out to be a vulnerability where his enemy tests him, and in the process the areas of crime and art are blurred. The main conflict between Gould and his opponent is played out via a series of dialogue pages where the reader does not really know who is speaking. These sequences are text heavy and fraught with philosophical questions.
This existential, multidimensional, detailed, and addictive book was written and drawn by the  prolific Matt Kindt. He has created numerous graphic novels, including Super Spy and Revolver, worked on his own series Mind MGMT, and written a good number of titles at DC Comics, including Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Justice League of America, and Suicide Squad. He also has written a few comic books series at Marvel of late, including Infinity: The Hunt and Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. He has been nominated for multiple Eisner and Harvey Awards. Kindt speaks extensively about his work on Red Handed in this interview.

This book has perhaps been overshadowed by Kindt's many other works, but it has also been praised highly. CBR's Greg Burgas named it his favorite original graphic novel of 2013 and summed it up as "brilliant." NPR's Glen Weldon likened it to a mind trap that "snaps shut on the reader in a way that's ruthless, irrevocable and entirely satisfying." Booklist honored it with a starred review, and Kirkus Reviews called the book "elegant scribbles from an electric mind," "told by way of Socratic dialogue and pulp homage."

Red Handed was published by First Second, and they provide a preview and more information here.

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