Saturday, 11 August 2018


'Season One' of Renato Jones is titled The One %, which sets the stage for what is not so much political analysis as a dynamic and savage attack on the great divide in society, and the super-rich who frolic in that chasm. It opens with the eponymous Renato, on his birthday, about to inherit a huge fortune. 'You have everything you want', says his childhood friend Bliss. 'Not everything', he replies, which sets the stage in the quietest moment of this two-volume graphic novel, which is a piece of stunning graphic art and visceral propaganda: the kind of dissection of our present state that one wishes more dominant media would be able to undertake.

From there we see a wordless flashback, to a woman being murdered as a baby looks on, and then its back to the present where Renato is a guest on a yacht belonging to hedge fund manager Douglas Bradley. He's looking for Renato to invest: 'this hybrid shit isn't going to cure world hunger,' he gloats as he stuffs steak into his mouth, 'it's going to monetize it!' Then it's time to party, but the party doesn't work out as Bradley might like. Because Renato Jones is 'The Freelancer', and his mission is to make the '1% pay'. 'For 20 years they've been murdering the working class', he explains. Now he will start to even the score.

As written and drawn by Kaare Kyle Andrews, Renato Jones is exciting, frightening, powerful story-telling. It's extremely violent, at times so much so that as the panels of the page explode it becomes difficult to figure out exactly what is happening. But as you read you also see that other scenes are calmer, more discreet, that Andrews matches the kind of drawing and colouring (which he also does himself) to the moods, which deepens the contrasts between his characters. 'Normal' family life is portrayed as such, but in Jones' world of extreme wealth and indulgence, the figures are drawn grotesquely, they are exaggerated in size and movement, they are oblivious to their own ugliness. Eventually it dawned on me: this is the kind of vision George Grosz had of Weimar Germany; it is not so much satire as the reporting of disgust. Critics may well look at this as a polemic calling for Occupy to arm itself and turn the battle violent, but it's nothing so crude. The beauty of the comics format is that it can play the societal and personal stirrings simultaneously,contrasting the psychopathology of the lone avenger with the sociopathy of his targets. We haven't seen anything so instinctively accurate since The Shadow was convincing Depression Era criminals that the weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

Of course a one-man vigilante war on the rich is a limited story line, and there are complications in Renato's own backstory. His task is something he's been raised to perform, by a family retainer named Church. And his relationship with Bliss is complicated, another thing which Andrews' inventive layouts and tones conveys with a combination of passion and restraint. It doesn't help that Bliss' father, Nicola Chambers, survives an assassination attempt, and finds himself elected President of the United States. The parallels to Donald and Ivanka Trump are not subtle, but they are remarkably effective. It seems left to satirists and graphic novelists to get the inner core of Trump where mainstream media ignores it blissfully. And as all this builds to an apocalyptic finish, there are moments of extreme tenderness, of sad tragedy, as underplayed and effective as the grand guignol of the bloodshed has been.

At times, Andrews' art reminds of me Steve Ditko's, a cross between Doctor Strange and Mr A, but Renato Jones is as innovative in its way as Spider Man or Watchmen or the Sandman were in their time. It goes a step beyond some of the very good noirish work in recent comics, to a place where comparisons with Grosz are not unwarranted. You will not have read anything like it.

Renato Jones, Season One: The One % Image Comics $9.99 ISBN 9781632159007
Renato Jones, Season Two: Freelancer Image Comics $16.99 ISBN 9781534303386

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