Last year Uncivilized Books published David B.’s Incidents in the Night, a twisting, meta-textual narrative about death, esoteric history, and the pleasures of hunting for obscure, impossible books. In that volume David B. himself appears as the central protagonist, stumbling through a nocturnal world of myth and Parisian bookstores haunted by yeti in pursuit of copies of a journal- also called “Incidents in the Night.” This obscure publication, we are informed, was founded by a Napoleonic soldier named Travers who has spent the past hundred or so years hiding from the Angel of Death inside a book. As for the author-protagonist, he is less successful at evading mortality: Incidents in the Night volume 1 climaxes with his murder as he is gunned down crossing a bridge.
David B. could easily have left Incidents in the Night there: as an enigmatic, fairly indescribable dream-narrative. However, he followed up his own death with a multitude of cliffhangers and questions, and so it seemed possible that a continuation might be on the cards. For many years this appeared to be a ruse: volume 2 was not published in France until a decade after the first episode. American readers, however, have only had to wait a year to receive the continuation of the story. Incidents in the Night thus comes to us as if it were a “normal” serial narrative, published on a regular schedule- and not a mysterious book of questionable probability that presumably many French readers never expected to read. We are like foreigners discovering Guns N’ Roses twelve months before the release of Chinese Democracy, deprived of years of anticipation, doubt, and context.
Fortunately, comparisons to Chinese Democracy end there, as Incidents in the Night 2 is actually very good. Having waited so long to continue his story, David B. wastes no time picking up the threads where he left off: apparently still dead, he nevertheless narrates a short summary of the preceding book’s events, culminating with his own murder. Then he promptly hands the story over to some of his supporting characters- the one-eyed Inspector Humboigne and Marie, a reporter who was also investigating Travers. Thus whereas volume 1 traced David B.’s quest for the disappeared creator of “Incidents in the Night”, in volume 2 his characters are investigating the disappearance of the creator of Incidents in the Night.
That may sound incredibly meta- but there is nevertheless a striking tonal shift. On the one hand, David B. maintains stylistic continuity by depicting his characters inside dark, claustrophobic panels, filled with faces and staring eyes and armor and elaborate battle scenes. There are full-page panels packed with information and detail. He also continues adding elaborate esoteric histories to the book, such as the tale of a secret society dating back to the days of Attila the Hun- which reads like something from The Armed Garden, his triptych of tales dedicated to esoteric history. On the other hand, with David B. the philosophical bibliophile out of the way, there is less of a focus on phantasmagorical publications. Instead it is left to Humboigne and Marie to drive the story, and they are very different characters from their author. Whereas the fictional David B. previously appeared in the biographical Epileptic and the surreal Nocturnal Conspiracies, Humboigne is more straightforward: a character from a 1970s French gangster flick, tough, hard-boiled, and prone to violence. Marie likewise is the archetype of a driven reporter, dedicated to her story in the face of danger.
And so there are thrills and spills and action and adventure: a fight in a scrap yard and a shootout with a criminal gang. This detour towards the genre of action thriller however is repeatedly subverted, as David B. orchestrates the shootout to occur inside one of the enigmatic bookstores from volume 1, and then layers more esoteric, cryptic history on top of the criminal gang, which is connected to Travers, founder of “Incidents in the Night”. But even so, the sudden eruption of two-fisted action inside this enigmatic reality world is disconcerting, and disorientating: almost an invasion of a different type of narrative.
And speaking of detours and invasions, at this point, David B. complicates things further by inserting his older brother Jean-Christophe into the narrative. Previously seen alongside the cartoon version of David B. in Epileptic, Jean-Christophe restores something of the tone of the first volume. He is found browsing in a bookshop where he announces to Humboigne that he has come to avenge his brother’s death. But the narratives continue to mutate: whereas Epileptic illustrates Jean-Christophe’s decline into illness, in Incidents in the Night he is lucid, shares David B’s own interest in the secret history of Paris, and in many ways appears to be a bigger, stronger, more forceful version of his brother. Suddenly we are back in the world of nocturnal Paris, and the hunt for Travers. The story appears to be folding in on itself, while expanding outward, and also shifting sideways. And then it ends, just as abruptly as before, with a fresh set of cliffhangers and questions.
Incidents in the Night 2 feels like the continuation of a dream, although that sense of continuation might be an illusion, a figment of the dream itself. Ah no: the physical existence of copies of volume 1 indicate that the original dream really happened. If you like getting lost, or always wanted to wander around in an elaborate nocturnal labyrinth, or are fascinated by books that don’t exist and arcane retellings of histories that are not really true but which ought to be, then Incidents in the Night 2 is the comic for you. Although you probably ought to read book 1 first.