Elisabeth Dumn Against the Devils in Suits original graphic novella
Adaptation: James Robinson
Colors: Anderson Cabral
Editor: Klebs Junior
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $5.99 US
This U.S., translated edition of a Brazilian work immediately grabbed my eye when I saw it on the new-releases shelf at my local comic shop recently. The slightly larger format stands out, but not nearly as much as the striking, simple and effective cover. The title was enticing as well, and when I got the book home, it didn’t disappoint. In many ways, Arabson’s story of familial betrayal and a battle with pure evil is rather conventional, hitting on a number tropes we’ve seen before. But the exaggerated, bombastic quality of the art and the palpable personality emanating from the titular character makes for a thoroughly entertaining read. Writer James Robinson has also done a solid job of making this story accessible to a North American audience without losing the flavor of the South American culture.
Elisabeth Dumn has always been willful, always been defiant, always did as she saw fit, which is why her father sent her away to boarding school, which was more of a prison than an institution of education. But when her mother warns her of a diabolical deal that will cost the teenage girl her soul, her hard head, resourcefulness and intensity will serve her well. She finds herself on the run initially, but after encountering the right allies, Elisabeth sets her sights on confrontation rather than escape.
Arabson’s artwork looks like an unrestrained cross between the styles of Paul (100%) Pope and Nick (The Manhattan Projects) Pitarra. The story features actual monsters, but just about all of the characters are portrayed as monstrous in some way. Arabson’s reflects the ugliness of the characters’ souls in distorted, misshapen flesh, and it’s mesmerizing. One also has to give the artist credit for resisting the cliche of making Elisabeth a foxy bombshell; instead, she’s not sexualized at all, focusing the reader’s attention on her ferocity and confidence.
I find myself curious about the intended pronunciation of the title character’s surname. The name is clearly meant to convey the sense that Elisabeth is damned, but it seems like it would be pronounced “dumb,” which would be unfortunately. My theory is that it’s meant to sound like “doom,” which would be far more fitting.
Some of the elements in the story come off as more than a little familiar. The old bluesman who’d sold his soul for his talent with the guitar. The callous father who prefers his male heir over his female, unable to see the strength in the latter and the weakness in the former. One could dismiss Arabson’s storytelling here as derivative or formulaic, but it’s in the execution that it becomes something more, something special.
What I found captivating from the start is the contrast of the father’s fear with his ruthlessness when it comes to his proposed bargain. The patriarch Dumn’s casual bartering of his family members’ lives is so incredibly cold, I was riveted by it. It’s vital context to cast Elisabeth in the role of the protagonist. She could have easily come off as spoiled, entitled, rebellious for the sake of it, but instead, her willfulness instead comes off as necessary for her to fulfil her destiny. I also appreciated that the school she so loathed (and for good reason) was a necessary part of her story, as it too prepared her for an unimaginable conflict in her life. Arabson achieves a legendary tone to the story, one that celebrates defiance and contrariness as positive qualities. 9/10