Burglar Bull #4 (2005)

Well this is a nice comic book. Paul Grist is a terrific writer and artist, and delivers a wonderful comic book in Burglar Bill. As always with Grist’s work, the artwork is gorgeous – full of resonant blacks and charming linework. And like most Grist, this issue has a charming story that resolves beautifully. What surprised me about this story, though, was just how knowing and clever it was.

Unlike almost the work of every other creator out there, Grist’s comics don’t live in a vacuum. Grist’s view of the world of comics includes winks at other creators’ universes. Thus Grist brings readers a very funny and clever take-off on Spider-Man, while still maintaining the integrity of his own comic. The Spider-Man like character fits Grist’s world, but there are also some wonderful touches that make the character unique. For instance, the Spidey analogue is a wrestler. Is that a joke on Amazing Fantasy #15, or just a convenient way to explain why the character is dressed so oddly? I love it that Grist places this meta-fiction up front for his readers because it adds a whole extra element to his work.

Take the issue’s main bad guy, a criminal who runs around in a Ninja Turtles mask. Grist is trusting enough of his audience that he allows readers to read any subtext into the scenes that we might want, while still presenting the character with all the respect he deserves. It becomes wonderfully meta to read the Turtle Robber’s interior monologues the more you know about comics. The Robber’s monologues are reminiscent of monologues in Frank Miller’s comics, which in turn reflects on the fact that the Turtles were originally created as a take-off on Miller’s comics. Everything loops around on itself beautifully. At the same time, a reader who doesn’t get the reference can still enjoy the humor of the character.

The comic is full of wonderful touches. Police Constable Stephen Hill, a rookie cop who’s still idealistic, is presented in a whole series of charming scenes that could only work in comics. I thought it was especially neat how Hill imagines himself as a front page headline, only later to become one. It’s the kind of scene that could only work in comics, and Grist, the master, pulls it off beautifully.

Paul Grist’s art is absolutely gorgeous. The comic is full of scenes that are made more lively or interesting due to Grist’s thoughtful and interesting line work. The scene where the Spider-Man analogue appears at the window of newspaper reporter Firth Park made me laugh out loud, and a scene in a squalid public housing complex made me groan. And once the comic moves to the sewers and Grist can show off his amazing talents in stark black-and-white rendering, the comic reaches an evem higher level.

This is one of those comics that seems good at first reading, but the more you think about it and reread the comic, the better it gets. Grist is an amazingly talented creator.


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