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El Borbah    by Charles Burns order for
El Borbah
by Charles Burns
Order:  USA  Can
Fantagraphics, 1999 (1999)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

One must admire a man who dons a spandex outfit and mask and bears the name El Borbah. Ok, he's not that noble, he's just the muscle for hire you call when your son's hanging with the wrong crowd at a particularly disturbing club obsessed with robots. His main concern is money but he gets the job done and moves on to the next gig.

Originally based on his friend John Borba, and in the tradition of Mexican wrestlers, Charles Burns has created a deliciously funny action hero who solves crime, drinks liquor, reads dirty magazines, and never cleans his office. Burns delivers five great adventures of the masked marauder that merely get better as the book progresses. Each piece builds momentum as the plots become more complicated and detailed. Burns cunningly delivers the first four stories, each longer than its predecessor; then for the fifth, he returns to a much shorter length, perhaps registering that his fans might want to finish on a lighter and easier piece.

The stories combine both the bizarre and the relevant, proving Burns has a morbid taste for irony. In 'Robot Love,' El Borbah seeks out a child whose love of technology has gone a little bit too far. Next, El Borbah must resolve a correlation between an increasing rate of suicide and the Bovine Burgers fast food chain. No sooner does he finish that than he's trying to figure out what kind of scam the local cryogenic bank is running with its dead bodies. Of course, no graphic novel is complete without infiltrating a secret society named after the almighty wishbone in order to rescue a kidnapped daughter. El Borbah finishes his adventures by resolving a paternity issue at the local sperm bank - and no, he's definitely not the father. The epilogue rounds out this book with background details on the origin of El Borbah as well as an art gallery that has some great gems.

This over-sized graphic novel merely reinforces the larger-than-life atmosphere that surrounds El Borbah. Though not lacking in text and dialogue, readers will effortlessly glide through the stories, while close attention to detail yields a few subtle jokes. Despite these pieces having been written (in some cases) years apart, the continuity of El Borbah's personality and appearance stays intact; that is, one recognizes clues and references to previous incidents and events.

Without a doubt, this graphic novel entertains on numerous levels. Burns creates a rough but lovable character who keeps the punches and laughs coming straight through to the end, and transforms readers into fans who will long for more tales from this wrestling private eye.

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