Ich Bin Ein Berliner!

"Berlin" #17 from drawn & quarterly

American jazz musicians, Communists, Socialists, Jewish immigrants to Berlin, a self-hating writer and Hitler himself have all been characters at one time or another in Jason Lutes' long-running series about the Weimar Republic and its slow, sad, disintegration into the despot state that was Nazi Germany.

I LOVE "Berlin". (I also didn't mind Berlin, incidentally. Beautiful city.)

With all that said I felt let down by this issue. Is this issue at the same quality level as the other issues? Or are my opinions colored by the long wait since the last issue? Issue #16 was my first flush with the pleasure of reading Jason Lutes' brilliant work. Followed by a slow process of collecting most of the previous issues of "Berlin" finally allowing me to read the earliest ones. In which I discovered, in issue #3, Lutes' brilliant use of sound effect lettering which I detailed recently in an editorial here on The Long and Shortbox Of It and which I used as an example in my college Senior thesis.

(For the sake of accuracy and honesty, you should know I have not read "Berlin" #5 through #14. Certain details are lost on me as a result.)

"Berlin" is broken into eight-issue arcs; there will be three of them when the series is complete and then Lutes will move on to another project. So this issue is the first of the third, and final, story-arc of the series. I wonder if the series suffers from the same effect that many superhero series do: after the exciting feeling of an arc's conclusion the shift to an arc's beginning leaves the reader with the 'nothing happened here' feeling. This issue will undoubtedly go down as an important one in the series as it is the first time Hitler himself is shown on-panel.

"Berlin" #17 details several character interactions that don't lead much of anywhere:

-Four farmers work in a field. A very good scene.
-Hitler speaks with a propaganda man (Goebbels, I presume) in a dimly lit train-car.
-Our quasi-main character, the writer Kurt Severing, walks into the Communist Party headquarters, argues with an old acquaintance and leaves disgusted with what he sees.
-Silvia, a young girl, leaves the Communist headquarters and has a night-time conversation about the nature of political organizing and sabotage. Excellent scene!
-Finally, we are treated to young lesbian lovers being discovered in bed but treated as an innocent pair of friends comfortably naked with a member of the same sex. Another great scene.

Only about half of these scenes include involving details or revelatory moments, all are probably necessary set-up for what is sure to be a brilliant final story-arc bringing the entire sad story to the finish line, but still... What gives? 'Writing for the trade' in an underground comic? If there is over two years between issues, there should be a modicum of a self-contained nature to the story. drawn and quarterly's website even bills the new issue as:
"The beginning of the third book of the acclaimed historical trilogy. The long-awaited first chapter of Berlin: City of Light, the final volume of Jason Lutes' epic historical series."
~ publisher's online product description
Come now. Any product should awesome on its lonesome and the story feels incomplete here. Though, the issue undeniably ends well.

Lutes' art is as sharp as ever. Smooth and fluid. Never a line out of place. Beautiful street scenes. A character's facial reaction upon being kissed is ever-so-slightly spied in the quarter of her face visible to the reader while adorable squiggles and a sweat drop (synesthetic visual character 'emanata') spring out of the spot their faces touch.

A bit of a lagging story in this one, but gorgeous art and smart storytelling more than make up for it. I am unshaken, still looking forward to more. I am a "Berlin" fan.

It's still the best indie comic-book coming out right now. Ich bin ein Berliner.


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