Comic Book Resources reviews EXIT WOUNDS

“So many comics clogging up the queue!” / Comic Book Resources / Greg Burgas / June 20, 2007

Finally (phew!) we get to a book that will probably be on my short list for best graphic novel of the year: Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan, published by Drawn and Quarterly. It’s 20 dollars, but it’s excellent.

Exit Wounds tells the story of a young Israeli, Koby Franco, who drives a cab in Tel Aviv. He gets a call for a fare who turns out to be a young soldier. Her name is Numi, and she tells Koby that she thinks his father was killed in a bus station cafeteria bombing. One of the bodies was burned beyond recognition, but Numi claims she saw something that tipped her off. She’s evasive about her hunch, and Koby wants nothing to do with her. He’s estranged from his father and doesn’t care to know what he’s been doing. However, he can’t reach his father on the phone, and his apartment doesn’t appear to have been lived in for a while. So he returns to Numi, and the two begin to investigate.

As Koby and Numi try to find out what happened to Gabriel (Koby’s father), the story becomes much more than a simple mystery. It becomes a story about family and about father-son relationships, but not in a traditional way. Gabriel remains an enigmatic figure, as we learn more and more about his seemingly contradictory life. He was a poor father, but he cared about Numi. However, he also cheated on her. He “got” religion but still doesn’t contact his son. He loved a gift Numi gave him, so much that he gave it to another woman. And the question remains: is he dead? And if he’s not dead, what happened to him?

Numi and Koby go through a great deal, as well. Numi is confronted with the fact that the man she thought she loved was cheating on her. Koby has had years to come to terms with his father’s nature, but he still feels cheated when he realizes that Gabriel was closer to relative strangers than he was to his own family. Koby and Numi begin a romance, and it’s a wonderfully real courtship with all the attendant bumps in the road. Numi is not attractive, and early on, Koby reacts angrily whenever someone asks if she’s his girlfriend. She knows she’s not pretty, and this just reinforces it. Then, when she finds out Gabriel was cheating on her (with an elderly woman, no less), she becomes even more upset. Koby has come to realize how kind she is, and they have sex, but it ends awkwardly. It’s a beautiful relationship the two have, because it’s uncomfortable at times and always has the specter of his father hanging over them. In true relationship fashion, one of them does something wrong but the other is made to feel guilty. Isn’t that always the way?

I won’t ruin the ending, because the final chapter is a very nice resolution that allows Koby to put his ghosts to rest and come to some kind of understanding about his father. It also allows him to see Numi again, and the last page is a wonderful wordless summation of what it means to be in a relationship and how sometimes you just have to trust the other person. It’s an uplifting and even spiritual ending, and we realize that both Koby and Numi are free of their past with Gabriel.

Modan’s art is nice, as well. She keeps the reality of Israel and its troubles in the forefront without beating us over the head with it. These are characters who speak rather casually of bombings yet are still upset by the deaths these bombings cause. Numi and Koby are drawn wonderfully as well - Numi really is ugly, but we can see her kindness and the spark that attracts Koby to her, and when she’s happy, her face lights up. Dave Lartigue calls the art “Tintin-esque,” and that’s as good a description as I can give it. That might be strange in a book like this, but it works.

Exit Wounds is brilliant. I can’t recommend it enough.

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