Thursday, 25 February 2016

Jack the Ripper Review (Francois Debois, Jean-Charles Poupard)

The murders of five prostitutes - Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – are attributed to the killer known as Jack the Ripper. Operating in London’s impoverished Whitechapel district between 31 August and 9 November 1888, “Jack” was never caught, his identity never revealed and he became history’s most famous serial killer. 

Writer François Debois and artist Jean-Charles Poupard’s comic, Jack the Ripper, begins just after the Eddowes murder, towards the end of Jack’s killing spree – or is it? It’s told from the heavily fictionalised perspective of Inspector Frederick Abberline, the real-life detective tasked with bringing Jack to justice. 

Besides the bizarre reveal of Jack’s identity in the opening pages to draw the reader in, Poupard’s artwork is the first striking aspect of the book with very detailed period designs that show a high level of research and skill. The shadows of Victorian Whitechapel are as menacing as ever and the mutilations are trés graphique. 

Unfortunately there’s only half of a really good Ripper story here, namely the first half which takes in the canonical killings and Abberline’s hunt for Jack. The first half’s resolution doesn’t quite make sense but I liked how Debois found a clever way of linking the prostitutes’ deaths to cast the murders in a different light. 

Where the book loses its footing is when it leaves the realm of the Whitechapel murders and goes further afield to France and America. The original Ripper killings are so morbidly fascinating – the run-down, dangerous setting, the poor victims, the horrific mutilations, the taunting of the killer in his “From Hell” letter, witnessing the creation of modern day policing and crime reporting – that the fictionalised second half, which creates a far-flung and unconvincing conspiracy theory, can’t hope to compare and it doesn’t. 

The story is not helped by the French creators’ very Hollywoodized approach. Abberline is reimagined as a dashing matinee idol who runs into burning buildings to save suspects and goes on exciting foot chases through London streets when he’s not taking part in horse and carriage chases or running atop trains! He also dangles suspects from ropes above the streets to get answers a la Batman and has a similarly beautiful love interest who, of course, gets her tits out in a gratuitous sex scene. It’s all so eye-rollingly cheesy and the Ripper case doesn’t need any of it. 

Debois/Poupard’s Jack the Ripper comic has half a great original story as well as the gory true crime detail you'd expect with wonderful art throughout – just be prepared to put up with occasional contrived and melodramatic narrative nonsense.

Jack the Ripper

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