Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Image of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
August 26, 2013
Publisher/Imprint: 
First Second
Pages: 
176
Reviewed by: 

“. . . a mythic tale that transcends traditional boundaries.”

Filled with true adventure in the grandest style, with devil-may-care heroics normally found in a classic Errol Flynn film, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a warm return to the idea of adventure as fun and adventure as a pure thrill rude.

Set in the 1800s among the bazaars and palaces of Constantinople as well as the beauty of Greece and the Mediterranean, there is more than enough non-stop action to engage even the most jaded of readers.

The wonder found in the story is fully supported by panoramic artwork that alternates between lush spectacle and crisp detail. Everything about the book harkens back to the classic days of Hollywood spectacle.

All of this beauty doesn’t mean that writer and artist Tony Cliff hides the reality of life from the reader. A paternalistic and highly chauvinistic attitude toward women only serves to highlight the rouge activities of young Delilah Dirk.

Thieves and selfish, vicious armies are just another part of that dangerous reality. In fact there is hardly a man in the story who doesn’t undervalue what Dirk can do capable of. Every one that does is eventually left standing in their socks when she blows by them or takes out a half dozen soldiers with the barest of efforts, casually cleaning her sword of their blood when it is over.

The caste system of the day is as prevalent in the story as the attitude toward women. Lower guards of the palace are forced to fight each other for their bonuses as their superiors sit by laughing at the scene. While the meaning of actions such as this may slip by us as they roll quickly across the page, the impression created by such behavior and the idea of separation by economic classes is inescapable.

One of the most entertaining aspects of this tale is the believability of her origin story, a believability that is still just one hair away from being super-heroic.
The daughter of an English Ambassador and a Greek Artesian, as a child Delilah Dirk traveled the world with her parents. As she moved from France to India to Indonesia to Japan and even the wild American west, she learned skills that have created a near superhuman being.

Apparently gifted without the slightest bit of self-doubt she eventually crossed swords with the pirates, aborigines, simple minded and massive Mongolians and almost anyone else who sought to deprive her of breath. In the process she bests every single one of them.

While the rouge Dirk is the heroic figure, the focus is actually on a lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corps named Selim. Saved from beheading by Dirk, he travels with her for a short while before deciding that her impulsiveness, sense of adventure and general disregard for safety may be too much for him.

You see, Selim is a gentle man who is greatest sense of identity is found in his ability to make, serve, and identify tea.

He would much rather live his life in a calm, safe, seaside town as a fisherman. But as these things go, he finds that once he has tasted danger and adventure he becomes inexplicably drawn back to stand by Dirk’s side.

As an artist Mr. Cliff builds impressive cityscapes and fills his characters with wonderfully expressive faces. His experience in animation shows in panel after panel, but he keeps the work deeply rooted inside the world of comics.

Nominated three times for an Eisner award (as well as a Harvey and Shuster), he has a clear understanding of the difference between the mediums of animation and graphic art. This is a sense and understanding that eludes so many others who cross between the two fields.

The night sky found on the title page of Chapter 4 is just one example of Mr. Cliff’s expertise in giving life to a vivid image. This is just one of many pages that captures nature in such a way that what he creates will cause your heart to skip a half beat with its beauty.

Inside the same chapter he creates a two-page spread portraying a campfire scene that so effectively conveys the quietness of the night, the fullness of the moon and its reflection across a bend in the river that you can only pause and sigh. For a second you are hidden among the trees in a moment of reflection.

Few writers would create something as powerful as a flying boat powered by wind, stage such an elaborate bit of introduction for the boat driven by a good amount of bumbling slapstick and then completely destroy it. Anyone else would have ridden such a wonderful device until it was driven into the ground through familiarity.

After all the set up and the wonder behind the miraculous idea of flight itself, Mr. Cliff just drives the flying boat into the ground. What a wonderful way to avoid the obvious.

Everything about the story of Delilah Dirk speaks of a sense of tradition; of myth with a small touch of fable. In a way the title reflects a subtle connection to the roots of pulp and children literature found in the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.
But Delilah Dirk is something more than those stories ever could be.

It is a mythic tale that transcends traditional boundaries. The portrayal of a different culture and land from ours only serves to quietly highlight the similarities between all of us, regardless of where we live or the language we speak.

An entertaining joy on every level, this is a brilliant new series that will hopefully grow over time eventually developing into one of the classics of graphic novels.