Night at the Belfry – Xavier Saxon, Writer/Artist
Ray – 9.5
Ray: Comixology has quietly become a powerhouse in the comic book world over the last few years, putting out original comics by top creators like Scott Snyder, Stephanie Phillips, and Chip Zdarsky. Their partnership with Dark Horse has helped this digital-first publisher reach a much wider audience. That lets them take chances – chances like putting out an original graphic novel by a first-time creator, Xavier Saxon, that turns out to be one of the most fascinating comics released in 2022. It’s a melancholy story about aging, it’s a crime thriller, and it’s a noir mystery all in one – and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.
James Ransom is an old man. At 74, he’s retired from his job as a mailman, he lives with his adult daughter Emily, and when he gets robbed on the train by a young punk, it sends him spiraling. An attempt to get his wallet back from the teenager the next day leaves him with a concussion, and Emily hires well-meaning home health aide Ethan to supervise her father when she’s at work. But James has his own agenda – sneaking out of the house to meet with his old boxing trainer Maurice to convince him to train him again. But he doesn’t just want some workouts at the gym. The grim reaper sneaking up behind him and with way too much money in his pockets, James wants to arrange a high-stakes boxing match atop a church tower against a fellow elderly boxer – who he will either beat, or die in the ring against.
If this sounds insane…it is. It’s fairly clear that James is not well, or at least not fully in his right mind. The book doesn’t quite explain what this is, but it’s not dementia and it’s not a brain tumor. Part of the ambiguity is that James keeps us, like Emily, Ethan, and even his partner in crime Maurice, at arm’s length. This story actually reminds me a bit of a play, in that it’s dialogue and mood-heavy, with only four major players plus a parade of hapless schmucks who come in and out for their boxing sessions with James. As the old man chases death, more of his past life comes to light. Without going into too many spoilers, I was expecting things to play out very differently than they did. Many other books would have gone with a dark secret in his past, something he was trying to atone for.
Instead, the story we get of an imperfect man striving for some control as he heads into the sunset of his life reminds me a lot of the famous Iowa-set movie “The Straight Story”, only with a bare-knuckle twist. It’s at times brutal, with a protagonist who can be hard to like. It’s also painfully human, a tale where it’s almost impossible not to empathize with everyone. It’s one of the best comics I’ve read so far in 2022.
GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.