Isaac Goodhart (Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale) and Lauren Myracle (ttyl)’s Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story is a thoroughly frustrating graphic novel. It’s beautifully illustrated and does some fun formal work, particularly when it comes to the leads’ separate points of view. When its writing clicks, it’s an effectively tragic romance with some genuine swoons and neat riffs on Mr. Freeze’s story. Unfortunately, Victor and Nora‘s writing misses as often as it hits. And those misses are significant enough to really hurt Victor and Nora as a whole.
Victor Fries is a brilliant young man. Despite his young age, he’s pushing cryonic science forward by leaps and bounds.
Victor Fries is also a lonely young man. His work is his life. When he was younger, he had a best friend in his older brother Otto. But Otto has been dead for years. And Victor blames himself for the fire that killed his brother.
Nora Kumar is a vivacious young woman. She’s new to Gotham City and wants all that it can offer.
Nora Kumar is also a terrified young woman. Due to a rapidly advancing neurological illness, she has at best months to live. And she may have struck a bargain with a sinister spirit — trading the possibility of a longer life for a good life in the time she’s certain she has left. She’s grappling with death and her terror of it.
Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. Victor and Nora fall for one another and fall hard. But as Victor’s research and Nora’s illness both progress, their love will be sorely tested. They’d both cross lines to ensure the other’s happiness. Lines neither wants the other to cross.
Isaac Goodhart draws the hell out of Victor and Nora. Consider the following page, from the title duo’s first meeting:
Victor’s so caught up in his own head that he’s literally wrapped up in himself. Nora’s so determined to take in as much of the world as she can that she’s spread herself out on the cemetery’s lawn. Body language conveys character, and Goodhart’s work with it remains strong throughout the book. As Victor plunges deeper into his research, he grows stiffer, and his glasses start to catch the light like his grown-up counterpart’s infamous goggles.
Colorist Cris Peter (Casanova)’s work similarly commands attention:
The Gotham of Victor and Nora is a sunnier, more welcoming place than many of its peers, and that’s reflected in Peter’s palette of choice. The happiest moments of Victor and Nora feel wonderfully warm, like spring fading into summer or summer fading into fall. The bleaker moments slip cold in, particularly during the last act. The darkness Peter’s colors bring to Victor’s lab and the blue light his cryonics cast him in enhance Goodhart’s echoes of the adult Mr. Freeze. The result is eerie, even chilling (sorry, sorry).
Victor and Nora is at its most fun when Goodhart and Myracle play with form. Goodhart leans into the morbid humor of a conversation about ways to die by drawing Nora’s imagined demises in a Tim Burtonesque style. A montage of time passing in the last act becomes a burning calendar. Each day tracks the progression of Victor’s work, Nora’s illness, and their ongoing relationship. The picture of the month is a sun-drenched laboratory that boasts it’s “Fixing tomorrow today!” But the fire is rising, and it cannot be stopped.
Myracle’s successes in Victor and Nora are significant. She uses the juxtaposition inherent to sequential art to strong effect, continually bouncing between Victor and Nora’s perspectives to layer the audience’s understanding of her protagonists. The spectral birds she haunts Nora with are frightening, for their surreality, their ambiguous reality and for their insistence on her fate’s inevitability. And, once Victor and Nora have fallen for each other, their romance is quite lovely. They want to show each other their worlds, and they want to make each other happy.
The highs and the lows born from Victor and Nora’s shared desire play genuinely. I like them. I want them to be happy. And I get why they make the choices they do, even when those choices cause them anguish.
But while Myracle does worthy work with Victor, Nora and their relationship, the book has some serious writing issues. Victor’s backstory is laid out awkwardly, and his circumstances prior to meeting Nora aren’t well established. It takes a significant portion of the book for his character to emerge. Nora’s introduction is stronger but turns on some well-used tools of “sick teen” storytelling that feel a bit over-familiar.
The title couple’s first conversation does have the fun Burton interlude, but too much of it reads forced and haltingly. As well as Myracle writes the two once they start dating, their introduction doesn’t work. They trade globules of backstory and banter, but it reads more like mutual exposition than a genuine back-and-forth conversation between two people who feel a spark for each other. It’s also one of the longer parts of the book, meaning that significant page time is dedicated to an ultimately unsuccessful storytelling angle.
In addition, Victor and Nora leans very hard on Mr. Freeze’s pre-existing comics history for its major storytelling beats. Hard enough that it feels like it’s relying on that history to make an impact on its readers, rather than telling its own story.
Compared to Steve Pugh and Mariko Tamaki’s excellent Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, Victor and Nora never quite stands on its own terms. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think Victor and Nora would work as well for someone who didn’t know Mr. Freeze’s history as Breaking Glass would for a someone who didn’t know Harley’s history.
Victor and Nora: A Gotham Love Story is frequently a pretty good comic. That makes its failings all the more frustrating. Mr. Freeze fans will dig it. For other folks, I’d suggest reading up on his history beforehand.
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