Written by Brian Wood, artwork by Mack Chater — We don’t often review graphic novels here on Crime Fiction Lover. Too many of them involve super powers and elements that take the plot well beyond the realm of our genre. But it’s something we’d like to do more often so tell us what you think. When it comes to crime graphic novels, the team of Brubaker and Philips have set the bar high with books like Scene of the Crime. Briggs Land by Wood and Chater, however, is up there in terms of quality.
Grace Briggs is visiting her husband, Jim Briggs, in upstate New York at the Graymarch Federal Prison. Jim is serving a 20-year sentence for an attempted assassination. Grace Briggs, his wife of 34 years, has come to say she is cutting him out and will run Briggs Land herself.
The land she is taking over has been held since the time of the Civil War as a simple and safe place for people looking to escape the unrest of American society. In 1980 it was re-established as Briggs Land, a commune for folks looking to live off the grid. Time has disintegrated the once ideal community and now it’s a hotbed for extremism, white supremacists, and domestic terrorism. Grace Briggs, now in her 50s, is attempting to take over and restore the commune back to its ideals.
This is hillbilly noir that uses a gripping family drama to cut into the infected marrow of contemporary American society. Brian Wood has worked on everything from the computer games Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne through to his creator-owned book Northlander as well as the X-Men, Wolverine and even Conan. Mack Chater too comes from the world of video games, with titles like The Fuse and Star Trek: Waypoint Run on his CV. Together these creatives tackle the themes of civil unrest, restoration of order, societal structures and belonging through a story that is strong, bleak and beautiful. This is matched in the artwork.
But the biggest theme in Briggs Land is legacy and what it means. The book does not reach a resolution, so you’ll have to watch out for the second volume, Days of Rage, with the next run of the comic starting in June 2017.
The change in the community’s leadership sets off a chain of troubling events. A giant rift emerges from the chaos and the family along with the community staggers beneath the weight of change. But Grace works to staunch the bleeding and shows she is willing to fight to the death to right the current and past wrongs associated with Briggs Land.
At the same time, the FBI is on the case. They are looking to find out about any and all misdeeds on Briggs Land in order to shut down the compound and arrest those involved. The case is personal for the lead Agent Daniel, whose father launched the original case against Jim Briggs years ago. Daniel is motivated to close the case in the name of legacy, a sentiment that motivates many in the book.
Wood and Chater strike a fine balance between showing and telling. Flashbacks are used to effectively convey backstory and show how past occurrences factor into Grace’s current actions. We get a strong sense of how and why she is working to make things right. The book is surprisingly touching because this comes in the midst of the all the violence and grit. The art carries over a lot of the gritty video game aesthetic Wood and Chater honed in that world. The images are realistic, though heavy lines are set against the colours reminding us of Pop Art. Shades of gray and brown mix with the occasional pop of orange and yellow coming from the muzzle of a weapon.
The work is notably restrained and washed out. Colourists Lee Loughridge and Jeremy Colwell use muted washes over each page giving the book a rusted out vibe that mirrors the down and outness of upstate New York. The highlights of the work are the wordless pages showing Grace Briggs by herself tending to the land she’s spent much of her life on.
Briggs Land is a powerful book looking at a women’s role in mending the loose board in the fence of a broken society. A great read with excellent imagery.
Click here to see some of the best crime graphic novels of all time. See below for some Briggs Land internal artwork.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars