Subjective Ramblings and Peripheral Thoughts from the Edges of a Comics Studies Project
Back to Brooklyn is a five-issue 2008 miniseries with a story by Jimmy Palmiotti and Garth Ennis, script by Ennis, and artwork by Mihailo Vukelic. Set in the Brooklyn underworld, the story starts with Bob Saetta, the brother of the “man who runs Brooklyn,” sitting in a police interrogation room and about to give the cops everything they need to bring the boss down. When it turns out that Bob’s brother has his wife and child, he insists on a new deal: if the cops let him have the weekend to get his family back, Bob will give them everything. From there, Brooklyn becomes the stage for a bloodbath, as Bob, meeting up with friends from his past, cuts a bloody swath through the borough, with his brother’s top hit man hot on his trail.
The writing is classic Ennis: the pacing is thought-through, the causes of events revealed gradually and with much narrative finesse, the violence is frequent and inventive, and the dialogue rough and laced with creative profanity, invective, and slurs that provide a realistic and/or humoristic touch. Vukelic’s artwork, which is realistic, if somewhat cartoony, and has a cel shaded look to it, adds to the atmosphere established by the script. As for location, the title makes it impossible to miss where the series is set. Vukelic’s artwork provides a sketch-looking backdrop that provides a New York feel to the story. Most backgrounds are arguably sparse and there is little of either wide perspectives or place-specific references, making the series’ Brooklyn somewhat anonymous for much of the story. You know you’re in Brooklyn, but it’s a Brooklyn that owes more to over-the-top gangster movies than anything else.
Perhaps one of the most gripping things about Back to Brooklyn is Palmiotti’s introduction and two-part epilogue (published in separate issues but collected in the trade paperback). In two short pages before the story, he packs a sideways snipe at “those glasses wearing ‘artists’ who think it makes them cool to pay triple what we would pay for everyday stuff,” a capsule history of the borough, background for the series’ genesis, and a revelation that the people portrayed in the pages to come were based on people he grew up around:
There are events in this story that are based on stories and secrets whispered but never written, things that were seen and not seen at the same time, and people that no longer share a place on this planet above ground. Trust me, It’s a good thing.
Given the clear Ennis imprint on the whole series, it seems that this factual background is buried under a thick layer of semi-Death Wish style revenge fiction. The onslaught released on the borough in the five-issue series is just too much. But it is interesting to note – and highly plausible – that the outrageous story told has a basis in Brooklyn of a past era.
At the end of the collected edition comes parts one and two of Palmiotti’s “What Brooklyn did to me” column. They have nothing to do with the story itself, but rather contain a series of small anecdotes from Palmiotti’s youth. They are, however, interesting for their pictures of life at a Brooklyn Catholic school in the 1970s.
Back to Brooklyn is not the best New York crime comic I’ve ever read, and does not in my opinion measure up too well to other Ennis-penned works like Preacher, but it is definitely worth the read if you can find it.