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Brownsville    by Neil Kleid & Jake Allen order for
by Neil Kleid
Order:  USA  Can
ComicsLit, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

The Jewish boys of Brownsville were a force to be reckoned with in the late 1920s and 1930s. Neil Kleid and Jake Allen's biographical graphic novel of Jews and organized crime brings a whole new perspective to Jewish tradition. Including a bibliography of resources used for this undertaking, the authors follow the life of Albert 'Allie' Tannenbaum from the 1920s through the 1940s, using him as a focus point for this account of Jewish organized crime in New York.

As Allie rises within his organized crime family - with such players as the Shapiro brothers, Abe 'Kid Twist' Reles, Martin 'Bugsy' Goldstein, Louis Lepke Buchalter, and Meyer Lansky - his ties to his own family slowly dissolve. He has gone from mere errand boy to driver for the crew known as 'Murder, Inc,' a crime syndicate known for its stylistic assassination standard known as the contract kill where there were 'No motives, no suspects. A strange assassin arrives, kills, and leaves town.'

The seamlessly endless crime spree comes to a crashing halt by the end of the 1930s as public officials launch an attack on the crime lords and slowly round them up, coercing many of Allie's closest friends to snitch upon one another. Allie is now struck figuring out what is the right thing to do and just who his family really is.

With all the markings of film's greatest gangster movies, this graphic novel does an amazing job of intertwining history with a narrative, and intensity with exposition. With dark and light being used metaphorically in such films, the use of black and white in this book cannot be understated or underappreciated. The isolation generated by a character surrounded by black while contemplating his next move creates a virtually visible weight upon the shoulders of the character.

In a graphic novel about true crime, violence is evidently necessary but the authors take care not to sensationalize it. Violence often occurs in silent panels with sound cues when necessary. The silence of the panels grants each act a certain solemnity. The exposition, too, reads quietly. Footnotes and brief historical background information, mostly prepare readers for the next section. The brevity and simplicity of each statement echoes with certain gravity within the story.

The events presented in this graphic novel reveal a hard story of organized crime and cold-blooded murder. But gazing into the subtext, the narrative speaks loudly about friends and enemies, betrayal, law, and righteousness. On the inside flap of the hardcover, the book reveals its category as true crime/graphic novel and it lives up to that description.

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