Review: Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

At the recent Expozine, I found myself at the table of graphic novel publisher Drawn & Quarterly. It was not the best use of my children's limited attention span, as I could easily visit the D&Q store on Bernard Street. However, I was able to speak to the publisher's sales rep who pointed me in the direction of a graphic novel that I might like--a definite advantage. Asked about my graphic novel preferences, I replied Persepolis, the Paul series and Aya de Yopougon. The rep then showed me Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan.

I was immediately intrigued by the setting, Tel Aviv, and by the fact that the protagonist, Numi, was a very tall, plain Israeli woman. For some reason, I find stories about plain looking characters more believable; I guess I've been exposed to Hollywood's beauty standards for too long. At any rate, I was pleased to see the very average Numi enlist the help of an equally average looking cabdriver, Koby Franco, in solving a mystery of an unidentified body after a bus station bombing in Hadera. Numi believes that the unidentified victim may be Koby's father.

Koby has been estranged from his father for several years and requires some convincing before he agrees to give a blood sample for DNA testing. However, there are some unforeseen complications that take Koby and Numi to the site of the bus station bombing. One of his father's personal belongings is found at the station, but how it actually got there provides for another interesting twist. Although a relationship between Numi and Koby's father becomes apparent, a romance slowly begins between Numi and the younger Franco until a misplaced comment extinguishes the flame...but is it forever?

The reader only catches a small glimpse of Koby's father in an old photograph of him standing behind a large flower arrangement. The mysterious widower, Franco Senior, was said to enjoy his privacy, and it is through Koby and Numi's sleuthing that Koby discovers what his father was trying to hide.

In Exit Wounds, Tel Aviv is presented as a city where bombings and death are commonplace, so commonplace in fact, that every time the bus station attack is mentioned, it is often confused with another bombing that took place around the same time. Similarly, in a scene at the morgue, a young man identifies his father by viewing a videotape of the dead man's ear. He explains to the clerk that they had the same ears and then asks if he could get a copy of the video for his mother. This leads to the very unsettling question: just what kind of condition was the body in?

Did I think that Exit Wounds deserved Entertainment Weekly's "Best Comic of the Year" review? Well, I did enjoy it, and there were some great unexpected twists, and there was very little about the book that was formulaic, but it could have been much better. So my answer is no.

I was disappointed when Numi expressed her dismay to Koby about not being physically attractive. Until that point Numi, our gutsy, fearless protagonist, was always skilfully moving towards what she was looking for. Then we see that her lack of physical beauty actually causes her pain. This sudden focus on outward appearance killed the momentum of the story for me and reduced our erstwhile unique character, fending for herself in a tough and dangerous Tel Aviv, to run of the mill. What's worse, I had the impression that Koby was drawn to her out of pity.

I guess I would have preferred to see more action before the couple actually got together, action that would have given further evidence of Numi's more positive qualities, such as her fearlessness and resolve. Then maybe unearthing her insecurity about her looks would have been unnecessary.

Please reader, don't get me wrong. This book was good, but it could have been fabulous.

Other Reviews:
Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati
Aya de Yopougon by Abouet & Oubrerie


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