For the crime-story aficionado on your holiday list, it is hard to imagine a better gift than Brendan Leach’s “Iron Bound,” a graphic novel from Brooklyn indie-comics powerhouse Secret Acres. “Iron Bound” offers the reader immersion in the milieu of 1961 New Jersey greaser gangs — outlaw kids forging adult identities in the same working-class neighborhood in which they grew up.
It is a richly rendered world. The novel’s tensions hinge on relationships and personalities, but there are also plenty of fights; fights that look and feel far more the like real thing than do most presentations of the subject. In Leach’s capable hands, highly complex, rapid, and simultaneous actions by multiple people are conveyed clearly and elegantly — something graphic novels can do better than any other medium. One particularly glorious gang brawl comes with a phonograph-ready, detachable flexi-disc soundtrack, a gimmick evocative of period movie theaters’ experiments with “Smell-O-Vision” and buzzing seats.
Most of the book is high-contrast black-and-white with pools of stark, outer-space blackness. Leach’s geometry is bold and confident. Low-ceilinged bar-rooms, narrow alleys and cramped sedans explode out in divergent angles that invite the eye in while cogently placing each element relative to the space.
Although “Iron Bound” does not wallow in period kitsch, much of the story occurs in and around late-’50s cars, rendered with affection and personality. When a trio of violent female hoodlums roll onto the scene in a ’59 Impala, its squinting lights and wild fins seem to foreshadow their intentions.
For all its thrills, “Iron Bound” is anchored by realistic characters — think Scorsese, not Tarantino. What binds these bad boys (and they are mostly male) is not just the iron of place and relationship, but a subtler prison, built brick by brick from seemingly minor or spur-of-the-moment decisions. Even the book’s smallest scenes prove crucial. The plot does not go anywhere unconventional, but watching these hoodlums try to wrest their fates from the larger forces around them makes for a gripping, immensely satisfying read.
“Iron Bound” available at Bergen Street Comics [470 Bergen St. at Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, (718) 230–5600, www.bergen