Review – Grand Abyss Hotel
Publisher – Archaia (BOOM! Studios)
Writer – Marcos Prior
Artist – David Rubin
Translator – Andrea Rosenberg
Letterer – Deron Bennett
Release date – 29th May 2019
Originally published in 2016, this graphic novel from fellow Spaniards, Marcos Prior and David Rubin (Ether, Black Hammer, Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West) is a tale of a utopian society [YOU ARE BEING LIED TO] under attack from a radical far left insurgency [ERROR11100101100111…]. The writing is subpar [SECURITY BRE1100011011001000…] and the less said about Senor Rubin’s “art,” the better [FOREIGN SIGNAL OVERWRITING SECURITY PROTOCOLS! ERROR! ERROR! ERR010011000111…]
Hola, camaradas! Pay no attention to the capitalist propaganda above, por favor!
Marcos Prior and David Rubin’s 2016 Spanish-language graphic novel was translated into English in 2019 and I have only four words to say about this – Thank gawd for that! Okay, so, I have a wee bit more than four words to say, but those are probably the most important ones for anybody out there reading this. So, without further procrastinating, dilly-dallying, or messing about… Let’s do the damn thing!
Set in a dystopian future (ain’t they all? It’s kiiiiiiinda like we’ve been going about this whole “civilisation” thing the wrong way or something…) where the architecture of government buildings incorporate the logo of a certain fast food restaurant and the shields used by riot police are emblazoned with the names of credit card companies. A future where everyone is constantly glued to the screens of their mobile devices. Devices which are pumping out a constant stream of news – cuts to public healthcare, education, and pension plans; wages are stagnant and the right to protest is under threat; all while crowing that share prices are up and profit margins are higher than ever. Yup, you guessed it – a neo-liberal nightmare.
Still, into every dirty, money-grabbing, puddle of gasoline, a little fiery spark must fall. During a protest against the government’s latest harmful policies, one man lights the fuse which finally ignites the public’s anger. Will they carpe diem the heck out of this moment? Will the people cast off the yolk of oppression and reclaim the planet before it’s too late? No spoilers to be found here, I’m afraid.
The title of the book refers to a quote from Hungarian Marxist philosopher, Gyorgy Lukacs – “Adorno, like the rest of the pessimists supposedly from the left, lives in the Grand Hotel Abyss. That is to say, any abyss that turns out to be a grand hotel, in which one is given everything served with luxury.” Theodor Adorno (whom Lukacs was ‘talkin’ ’bout, Willis!) was a German philosopher and founding member of the Frankfurt School, known for his Critical Theory of society.
One of the themes running through Grand Abyss Hotel is the battle of these different ideologies; the Frankfurt School on the left (overly theoretical, sitting on the sidelines, criticising but not acting); the Chicago School on the right (laissez-faire capitalism/neo-liberalism which dominates not only this fictional reality, but, sadly, our world too.
Marcos Prior weaves this through the story with little asides and Easter eggs on practically every page. Every time I read through the book, I would pick up on another nugget of information. So dense is Grand Abyss Hotel, that, by my third read-through, I was Googling things to find out more about them on practically every page. Mmmmmmmaybe it’s me that’s dense rather than the subject matter? Could be, to be honest.
The good news? This is a very enjoyable read without getting sucked into the history lessons. On my first pass over, I was enthralled by the tale. Certain sections comparing favourably to stone-cold classics such as Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta (click the link to read our Daniel’s review), Katsuhiro Atomo’s Akira, George Orwell’s 1984, and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. This is a graphic novel which demands multiple revisits though. Lots of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) references to the opposing philosophies mentioned above, along with nods to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the book of Revelations, and jabs at our own contemporary failings – consumer culture, social media addiction, and the destruction of the environment; some of which can be very easily missed. Like I said, dense.
Part of what makes this such a great comic book is, of course, the artwork; take a bow, David Rubin. A master cartoonist, Rubin imbues every page, every panel, with humanity. Facial expressions, teeth loosened by punches, and the talking heads arguing in the background are all unique and distinguishable. Even crowd scenes (of which there are quite a few) can be pored over and new details found every time.
The action set-pieces are phenomenal! Here, Rubin really makes the most of the book’s landscape design. Everything flows from left to right making for breathless, kinetic, bloody fight scenes which immediately bring to mind the best parts of live-action media, like the hallway fights from Daredevil (the Netflix one obvs) or Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy; or pretty much every scene from Gareth Evans’ Raid films (shout out to Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and the rest of the super-talented cast from those movies).
Picking out the stories and jokes floating around in the background are another reason to savour every page; to read and re-read this book multiple times. The use of recurring panels (whether it be the images contained therein, the number of panels used, or even the shape of the panels) is clearly not unique to Grand Abyss Hotel, but it is used to great effect here. One particular chapter which channels elements of Evey’s kidnapping and imprisonment in V for Vendetta, really hammers home the dull, monotonous, soul-destroying routine which grinds the prisoner down. In a series of repeating, twelve panel pages, we see how the system cruelly erodes people’s spirit, until there is no more fight left in them; only the drudgery and misery to which they have become accustomed.
To sum up then, this is one of the most thought-provoking comics I have ever had the pleasure to experience. Scarily, Grand Abyss Hotel is even more relevant today than when it was originally published in 2016 (coincidentally, the same year in which Stuart Jeffries’ novel Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School was published – it’s almost as though some really, really, ruh-huh-heallly awful stuff was going down around then…). Fascism, capitalism, a global pandemic, and a general public who are sick and tired of the folks supposedly in charge; and who are slowly but surely starting to show signs that they have had enough of the status quo, which sees the rich get richer, and the rest of us barely able to scrape by. Grand Abyss Hotel should be read by everyone and “deserves to sell more copies than the bible.”
“Workers of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.” – one of The Marx Brothers (probably)
A few of my fellow geeks and I sat around BGCP Towers, shooting the breeze, and spoke a bit about this book along with some of the other books we’ve been reading on the first episode of our podcast (click the link to find it on your podcast delivery system of choice and listen to our interview with David Cranna, creator of Glasscity: The Story of a Missing Girl)
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