Where the Body Was graphic novel review: Another masterpiece by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Where the Body Was is yet another masterpiece by Brubaker and Phillips that takes a left-turn into territory that they have not tread before, but feels very familiar all the same.
Entertainment Weekly's PopFest
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In the world of crime cinema, one name is a constant associated with the genre, and that is Martin Scorsese. For comics though? That is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips who have once again created a masterpiece of crime fiction within the pages of Where the Body Was.

Brubaker and Phillips have been in the game for decades upon decades at this point in time, honing their style to a sharp edge. One thing that is almost expected from their books is a dark, grimy, urban sprawl that makes you feel like you need to take a shower once you set the book down, and that’s being said in the best way possible.

Characters are simultaneously hateable, but you simply can’t get enough of are ever present throughout their books, whether they be gruff PIs or pathetic, lovestruck men or femme fatales. So, when you open a graphic novel by Brubaker and Phillips, you know what to expect, you just don’t know how to expect it in the book’s execution.

With Where the Body Was, Brubaker and Phillips immediately throw you into unfamiliar territory. Suburbia. We’ve seen bits and glimpses of this in their work before, but never have they had a book completely centered around life in suburbia, nor how this book is structured, with that of a documentary. These two narrative choices immediately pull you in and prepare you for the drama within, especially with the usage of a map and a page dedicated to the dramatis personae of the book. The griminess that has been ever-present within their body of work is still present but is handled in such a new way that fans of the pair will be sucked into this new world, and new readers will be interested as to why these seemingly normal people should be the characters of the book.

This world that we are brought into is a world built on secrets, where each of the characters believe that they are the center of the universe. Secrets having to do with lies, affairs, love, and everything in between. But the biggest secret is what happened to the titular body, and that is the most important secret of the book. This secret recontextualizes every character that we know and we see who they are, narcissists who only focus on what can make their lives the best that they can be for themselves, ignoring the consequences of everything surrounding them. It’s a very introspection into what it means to be the hero of one’s own story while seeing the larger picture that none of these people are the heroes of any story.

The father/son duo of Sean (artist) and Jacob (colorist) Phillips really makes this book ascend to the true masterpiece that it is. Sean has constantly established his ability to draw grimy, dirty, dark, and provocative scenes and settings all the way back in Hellblazer, so to see him work in an entirely different setting that feels, for the lack of a better term, normal, it works very well.

You don’t expect him to draw a white picket fence, and yet, here he is doing so, and instead of making this neighborhood feel warm and inviting, it’s cold and unnerving, even in Jacob’s incredibly excellent coloring. They build an incredible dichotomy that accentuates the tragedy of nearly every story present within this book. Their “normal,” warm, and bright art is juxtaposed with the secrets that are present within the story, which tells the reader one thing, don’t get too comfortable, and it’s fantastic.

Where the Body Was is yet another masterpiece by Brubaker and Phillips that takes a left turn into territory that they have not tread before, but feels very familiar all the same.

Where the Body Was, written by Ed Brubaker, with Art by Sean Phillips, and Colors by Jacob Phillips will be released into bookstores on January 16, 2024.