The New Deal Brings an Old Story, But the Art Is a Deco Delight

Let me start this review by putting out there that I am not a comics person. I have read and enjoyed several graphic novels (From Hell being my favorite for a point of reference), but comics just aren’t my thing, and I fully admit that may color my review. However, The New Deal caught my attention immediately because it takes place during my favorite era (1930s) at my favorite place in the whole world (the Waldorf Astoria hotel).

Cover of The New Deal by Jonathan Case

The New Deal by Jonathan Case. Dark Horse Comics

The story begins on the streets of ’30s New York City and follows one of the protagonists into his job as a bellhop for the Waldorf Towers. (The Waldorf Astoria is sort of split into two hotels–the Towers are the more ritzy of the two. It houses the Presidential Suite and other mega-high-end apartments.) We quickly learn that he is in debt to a wealthy man who keeps shady company. Then, when a hotel guest’s valuable goes missing, the guest is quick to pin the blame on a black maid.

I was a bit disappointed in the story—it felt like nothing really happened. Big things where occurring story-wise, but it didn’t feel important or urgent . . . or even all that interesting. With one of the principal characters being a black woman in the 1930s, I was also hoping for the story to say something. There is lip service paid to this—at one point, when the maid asks a powerful white character why they are so nice to her after receiving a large tip, the character replies, “People have been nice to me my whole life and I haven’t done a thing to deserve it.” When the quoted character ends up being part of the solution, and more, it seems trite. Perhaps someone would respond that I missed the point. No, I got it just fine. It just wasn’t enough to merit the obvious amount of work that went into it. It felt like this character was an attempt at a Robin Hood sort—privileged, bored, and helpful for their own amusement—but with the length of the work, it just didn’t feel fleshed out, or that it went much of anywhere.

That’s too bad, because the artwork is spectacular. The images of the characters are interesting and detailed—they feel alive. For a period piece like this, costumes are of the utmost importance and Jonathan Case knocks it out here. Each panel is gorgeous and never feels like filler. The Waldorf does not disappoint either, coming to life in all of it’s grandeur as an additional character and not just a setting.

Each panel was a delight. The first theft victim is an elderly woman and it is one of her dog’s collars that is stolen. Her dogs are pugs and the way they were drawn seems to animate across the page—the reader can almost hear their snorffling, panting, and snorting. The art provided this throughout. The clack of high heels on marble, the wind through an open window, everything came to life.

A panel from The New Deal featuring the pugs

Dark Horse Comics

Because of this, even with its lackluster story, The New Deal is something I would certainly recommend to fans of the ’30s, Art Deco, or vintage fashion, or to history buffs looking for a light read.

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