3 out of 5
Essentially a series of short tales, all linked in some way to an affluent club – the Green Manor Club – Fabien Vehlmann’s and illustrator Denis Bodart’s tale is interesting through all of its vignettes – occasionally creepy; touches of dark humor – but is also somewhat foiled by its structure. This could just be me, looking for patterns that don’t exist, but when a story decides to employ a framing mechanism that’s narratively justified beyond a storyteller (a la Tales from the Crypt and etc.), I tend to look for reasons for that frame; Vehlmann’s use of a doctor visiting a patient in a psychiatric hospital who tells him tales of the Club – specifically tales of murder – put me in mind of wanting to see how the patient tied in to events, or to understand some kind of linking principle between the various stories. For the former, Vehlmann has the patient – a one-time manservant at the club – personify himself as the Green Manor itself, which is interesting, but still muddies the water on the front of doing a Where’s Waldo for his role throughout: occasionally a butler that looks like it could be him in the stories is there, occasionally not. For the latter, while it seems like we’re initially reading chronologically linear tales from the Club’s history during the late 1800s, and that they all involve murders committed there or being planned there, the sequencing eventually goes astray as does that structure: a bleaker tone gives way to a more humorous one, and sometimes it’s just that a murder is tied to someone from the club, but not necessarily committed / conceived there.
This isn’t to say the tales aren’t all individually strong: these are not the norm when it comes to murders or murder mysteries; the club’s members seem especially interested in macabre, unexplainable events, and so the things we witness follow that suit, and true to Vehlmann’s usual creativity, the stories are always surprising, but logical as well, with the various characters coming alive with personality within panels. Fabien is – also as usual – assisted by the pairing of a great artist: Bodart’s work is very stylized, and almost comical in its expressiveness – but its grounded by that European sensibility that crafts lived in, realistic spaces and follows a formalized panel structure. Each story also has a slightly varied color palette (if Bodart is also doing the color – I don’t think I saw anyone else credited); the book definitely has an overall green and brown look, but just by casting things slightly brighter or more blue, etc. in each story, Bodart gets a lot of visually interesting mileage out of similar settings.
So when we wrap back around to the frame, and our visiting doctor intends to come again for more tales: yes, I’m interested. Green Manor may not be the most cohesive of Vehlmann’s writings, due to its episodic nature, but it’s still a wonderful slice of entertainment, with promise for more surprises in its second volume.