Review: The Bronx Kill


The Bronx Kill is great crime fiction unfolding in a beautifully insular and cryptic manner. It's all about family secrets going so deep that the pain could be unbearable. Follow the father and son dynamic in this clever book and you'll never know for sure who to believe.

This is also a story within a story as the main character, Martin, is a novelist trying to make sense out of his family's sordid history by turning it into fiction. Peter Milligan, a founding scribe at Vertigo and author of Human Target and Greek Street, is up to the challenge of writing a thrilling plot through two different stories, one told through comics and the other as prose.

Over the years, we've become accustomed to supplementary text in a comic. What is great in this case is that this text is far from just supplementary. It is essential. Just when the story, as a comic is picking up steam, you read the text and it gets even spookier.

This neatly packaged book, 184 pages and priced at $19.99, part of the Vertigo Crime series, will satisfy you on many levels. Really good crime fiction packs a punch as well as tells a good story. With The Bronx Kill, we explore the darker side of life with inventive twists that keep us hooked. You can't help but wonder what these characters have gotten themselves into, over generations, that they feel they can't break free from. More than one of them desperately cries out that, "Some things are beyond our control." And, always, the mystery keeps coming back to the Bronx Kill, a narrow and shallow strait in New York City that connects the Harlem River to the East River and separates the Bronx from Randall's Island. At low tide, the Bronx Kill reveals various forms of haunted detritus like abandoned cars and maybe even human remains.


Artist James Romberger is a great match for the writing. He knows how to set an offbeat tone with a deliciously nightmarish edge to it. Romberger is known for his depictions of gritty street life on the Lower East Side. He and writer/artist and AIDS activist, David Wojnarowicz, collaborated on Seven Miles A Second, an autobiography of the tumultuous life of Wojnarowicz. The book was subsequently published by a sub-imprint of Vertigo, named, Vérité (truth), which featured non-fiction comics about real-world topics. Romberger's style is sketchy and fits in well in fine art circles but it definitely works wonders in comics too. Maybe Romberger's more raw look was ahead of its time for most comics. Today, it is a style that others would like to emulate.

Back to the father/son dynamic in this book, the tension is pretty fascinating. Martin is a young novelist while his father is a bitter third generation NYC police officer. Going against the Keane family cop tradition, Martin has paid a high price as the black sheep of the family. He is just a guy and not into some twisted idea of being a macho man like his father. Both men don't like or trust each other but, as misery loves company, the father keeps luring back the son with unfinished business dating back generations. It's when Martin's wife is missing that all the pent up animosity comes to the surface and nothing is held back. Martin desperately seeks out the truth as he becomes a suspect in his wife's possible murder. He even begins to think his new novel may hold the clues to solve the mystery. The answer, he dreads, may lie somewhere on the Bronx Kill.
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