Torso tells the story of the real life “Torso Murderer”, a serial killer who was active during 1934 to 1938. He received his nickname because he left only the torsos of his victims. Without fingerprints or dental records, these victims were very difficult to identify in a time before DNA testing. The investigator on the case was Eliot Ness, Cleveland Safety Director and former head of the Untouchables.
Sometimes it can be fun to take a trip back and find a graphic novel or series that you either had never read, or in this case was not aware of. I had recently ran a search to see if there were any true crime, or murder mystery graphic novels out there, and lo and behold Torso was the first result and very well received result as well. With some fairly easy detective skills I was able to track down a hardcover copy of the graphic novel, and gave it a read to see if it lived up to the high praise reviews it had received at the time of its release.
The series is written by Brian Michael Bendis, and the artwork is from Marc Andreyko, and it was released in October 1998, so this is Bendis towards the beginning of his career in his pre-Marvel days and his inevitable rise in the comics world. Andreyko as well this is some of his earliest work as well within the comic realm. It is really cool to see Bendis and his earliest storytelling days, and personally after having read Torso this may be some of his finest work in this raw noir graphic novel.
The series is focused on the Cleveland Torso Murders from the early 20th century and Bendis wrote the series as an homage to his hometown. He was inspired to write the series when he was given access to the case files when he was working as a cartoonist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Bendis and Andreyko also took information from Eliot Ness’ own written interviews during the case.
The preliminary work that the two did prior to producing the series really stands out as to how well done Torso is. It is dark, it is gritty and it does not pull any punches. It is full of dirty cops and gangsters and has all the colourful language of the early 20th century. There are no heroes, no golden saviors who swoop in to save the day. This is gritty cop drama at its finest. Andreyko uses a lot of black, making panels dark and foreboding, which only adds to the heightening drama throughout. The story itself is told in straightforward cinematic style, with actual clippings or photos from the case used within the backgrounds.
Also should at the back of the book itself is the collected case files that provides an even deeper look into this creepy case, that was compared to Jack the Ripper, and even though this book is nearly 20 years old it has come up on occasion to be developed into a film. Just this year Paul Greengrass has picked up the rights and is producing under the title of Ness.
If you are looking for a dark and gritty story with excellent writing, don’t be afraid to pick up Torso it is one of the best graphic novels I have had the pleasure of reading.