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‘Moonshine: The Complete Collection’ HC (review)

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art and Colors by Eduardo Risso
Published by Image Comics


Moonshine: The Complete Collection by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, is a graphic novel that attempts to blend the genres of crime noir and supernatural horror. I was excited when I saw the cover of  Moonshine; a werewolf dressed as a prohibition-era mobster holding a pistol in one hand and a tommy gun in the other was pregnant with possibility. Sadly, the end product did not birth what I expected.

Set during the Prohibition era, this series tells the story of Lou Pirlo, a city-slicker and a smooth-talking negotiator for a New York crime boss. His mission is to secure a deal with the best moonshiner in West Virginia, but Lou soon finds himself entangled in a world far more dangerous and mystifying than he could have ever imagined.

Brian Azzarello, known for his sharp and gritty writing style, disappointed my expectations in Moonshine.

While his narrative is compelling and richly layered, seamlessly weaving together elements of organized crime, family feuds, and a sinister, otherworldly presence lurking in the Appalachian woods, there is a quality of misery in his work that is so palpable it makes all of the main characters miserable and unlikeable.

The deft nature of Azzarello’s dialogue is particularly noteworthy, capturing the dialect and mannerisms of the era with an authenticity that immerses the reader into the story’s setting; however, it does nothing to alleviate the story’s bleak and meandering nature.

Despite my disdain for the story, I must admit that Eduardo Risso’s artwork in Moonshine is nothing short of spectacular. His use of shadows and light creates a moody, atmospheric tone that perfectly complements the narrative’s dark themes. Risso uniquely conveys emotion and tension through his character designs and panel layouts, making each page a visual feast. The way he depicts the story’s supernatural elements is particularly effective, blending horror and beauty in an unsettling and captivating manner.

The chemistry between Azzarello and Risso, who have collaborated on several projects, is evident in every aspect of Moonshine. Their combined storytelling prowess creates a rich and believable world despite its fantastical elements. The story’s pacing is another strength, with each issue building on the last, slowly unraveling the mystery and suspense at a pace that keeps the reader interested in what happens next.

One of the most striking aspects of Moonshine is its exploration of themes such as addiction, power, and the nature of evil. The story does not shy away from depicting the harsh realities of life during the Prohibition era, including poverty, violence, and racial tensions. These elements are handled carefully and add depth to the narrative, making it more than a simple horror or crime story.

The character development in Moonshine is murky at best. I needed help understanding the motives of the main characters. Their behaviors were self-destructive, and each character in this book who met their demise could have avoided their fates if they had cooperated. However, the saying “crime doesn’t pay” holds even in a supernatural world of werewolves and vampires.

Lou Pirlo, the protagonist, is a complex character whose journey is tragic and confusing. His evolution from a cocky city man to someone who grapples with forces beyond his understanding adds a human element to the supernatural storyline. Still, it never coalesces into a meaningful journey other than watching Lou destroy himself because of the weight of guilt from a childhood sin. The supporting characters are equally complicated and murky, adding several confusing layers to the story.

Moonshine also excels in its world-building. The setting of rural West Virginia during the Prohibition era is brought to life with meticulous detail, from the seedy speakeasies of New York to the eerie woods of Appalachia. This attention to detail creates a sense of immersion that is rare in graphic novels.

The series concludes with a satisfying resolution that ties up the various plot threads while leaving room for interpretation and thought. The ending is both expected and fitting, staying true to the story’s dark tone while providing closure to the characters’ arcs.

In summary, Moonshine has the potential to be a masterful work by Azzarello and Risso, and in another format, like a film or prestige cable series, the lofty ideas would have worked. Azzarello and Risso do succeed at combining the best elements of crime noir and supernatural horror. Some readers will find compelling narrative, stunning artwork, and deep exploration of complex themes make it a standout graphic novel.

For fans of either genre, this is a must-read and a testament to the storytelling potential of graphic novels.

However, for me, it was a hard pass.

3/5 stars


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