I raved about Joe Kelly’s book I Kill Giants, and while the first trade paperback collecting his series Four Eyes doesn’t quite pack the same emotional punch, it’s still very good.
It’s set in New York during the Great Depression, where the most exciting illicit activity isn’t booze, but dragon fighting (think cockfighting rather than bullfighting). To obtain dragons for the ring, teams of men enter dens to steal dragon eggs. Young Enrico, maybe nine or ten, watches his father die doing this, and as a result he hates dragons. He goes to the fights because he wants to see dragons die, and then for the princely sum of four dollars joins a crew of “beaters” (the disposable workers who distract a dragon while the professionals go for her eggs).
Kelly sets himself a hard task here. He lets us know from the beginning—by setting protesters around the fringes of the action and by letting us peek into newspapers—that dragon fighting is just as cruel and evil a bloodsport as any in our real world. But he puts his protagonist on the wrong side of the moral divide, letting him remain the tough little boy who hates dragons and wants to see them suffer and die, and asks us to sympathize with him anyway. (Amores Perros succeeded, for example, only by shutting its eyes to the immorality of dogfighting. Joe Kelly has denied himself that escape hatch.)
A big part of what makes that sympathy happen is Max Fiumara’s art. Fiumara draws Enrico bottom-heavy, a scrawny upper body atop oversized pants and shoes, his hands often hidden inside giant gauntlets that reach to his elbows, and a scowl on his triangular, big-eyed face. In other words, he uses every visual trick there is to make the boy look like an adorable pixie acting tough and taking on responsibilities too big for him.
At the end of this first volume Enrico rescues a runt dragon, the titular Four Eyes, and bonds with it. But he bonds with it as a survivor, a fighter like him, and it’s not hard to see what’s coming in future issues: Four Eyes will have to enter the arena. Meaning the series will continue to be a tricky pleasure.
Preview below the fold.