by Joshua Fialkov
A Dreamlike Final Test
A review by Zander Cannon
Tumor is a good example of a new school of graphic novel that seeks to produce the kind of reader experience that was once confined to prose novels. Though to be sure the rendering and the visual storytelling of Tumor have all the hallmarks of comics' long history, the meandering, strategic flow of the story is a closer match to longer fiction than to the incessant crescendos of monthly comic magazines.
Joshua Hale Fialkov (story) and Noel Tuazon (art) depict washed-up private eye Frank Armstrong's last day, in which he is tasked with protecting a mobster's daughter while dying of brain cancer. Throughout the tale, everyone who encounters Armstrong and sees his terrible condition -- friends, policemen, even the daughter herself -- wants to let him abandon this job and die in peace, but the tumor in his brain has conflated this event with one in the past that he desperately wants to do over. Using Armstrong's unreliable perception and a range of artistic styles, Fialkov and Tuazon drag us through the beautiful, dreamlike final test of a less-than-perfect man.
Tumor suffers slightly from an overall lack of precision; long dialogue scenes often meander their way to points that lack punch, and in places the art is loose to the point of being sloppy. Telling characters apart can be challenging as well; I found myself rejoicing whenever the narrator would call someone by name or the story would introduce someone with a mustache. But when we flow with the hallucinating Armstrong into the past and watch as his worst memories spur the dying man on to Herculean feats, Tumor hits its mark dead center.
At 200 pages, the story is not immense, but with the density of the dialogue, the continual layering of themes and parallel narratives, the number of characters involved, and the frequency with which the present gets confused with the past, readers will want to take their time with this book. The overall effect of Tumor is that of a fast-talking, foul-mouthed detective tale, brushily rendered, but with a strong sense of composition that anchors it in the real world, even as its anti-hero wonders whether it's all a dream.
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