Tumor is a new take on a familiar trope: the world-weary detective who’s taken one too many blows to the head or had a few too many drinks. This time, though, the problem is a bit more serious than a bump on the noggin: our main character Frank Armstrong has a brain tumor, so his problems are a bit more serious than the usual fogginess you get from a concussion. He’s confused, moving back and forth in time and replaying his various regrets in his mind as he tries to solve one last mystery. All of it makes for a good take on the noir detective, as Armstrong’s illness enhances and complements so many of the familiar tropes of this kind of story.
Frank Armstrong has just gotten the news that he has a Glioblastoma Multiforme, a brain tumor that has gone terminal. With just a few months to live, he takes on one last job with a local drug lord, who wants him to find his missing daughter. The case quickly becomes far more complicated than that, and not just because the girl is in danger from several different groups. Frank can’t keep track of time or place, and he quickly begins to mistake the daughter with his long-absent wife. Yet the similarities between the two cases keeps Frank stuck on the case, even as he starts to fall apart.
This story is a hard read, in part because it does such a good job capturing the symptoms of a brain tumor. Granted, it’s unusually easy to rattle me with that: I’ve had a brain bleed that nearly killed me, had intracranial swelling, and my family has an increased risk of cancer, so perhaps it gets to me more easily. That doesn’t change the fact that it gets the feeling right, though. When your brain starts to swell, everything becomes so hazy, even though you feel like you make complete sense. I started confusing dreams and reality and kept thinking I was in a video game.
More than just capturing how a Glioblastoma works, though, the tumor fits in so well with this particular genre. The mystery isn’t a particularly difficult one, but it’s a mystery nonetheless, and Frank has to try and solve it while he’s impaired. Furthermore, the symptoms of the tumor feed the sense of regret he feels about his own life, which is why the case that he’s working on starts to meld with what happened to his wife. Most detective stories feature flashbacks and morose narration, but it just comes so naturally to this particular story. Plenty of detective stories feature characters who are drawn in because of personal reasons, like Vertigo, but it really comes to life here. Furthermore, Frank’s imminent mortality gives him weird moments of clarity amid the confusion; they serve both as moments of insight into the case, and insight into himself.
Beyond Frank, though, the characterization of the others is good too. Frank has a corrupt ally on the police force, Polish, who might be even more regretful of how his life turned out than Frank is. Is he a bad guy, or a friend, or both? Frank’s confusion doesn’t help matters, but it plays out well here too. The missing girl is so lost, in part because the only person helping her is a guy who seems to be losing his mind. But she also won’t accept him making her into a substitute for a dead wife; she wants to be her own person.
Finally, the art deserves some commentary. It’s fantastic in a way that you rarely see because it so perfectly serves the story it accompanies. Everything is hazy and indistinct, mixing well with Frank’s own disorientation. It allows little details to easily be changed, making Frank’s confusion between the daughter and his wife feel more real.
Tumor is a strong read; we could definitely use more innovative takes on noir like this.
[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
Tumor: Hardcover Deluxe Edition Writer: Joshua Hale Fialkov Artist: Noel Tuazon Publisher: Oni Press Price: $19.99 Format: Hardcover; Print