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The Florentine (review)

Creator: Robert Buratti

SubRosa Studio, 2022

As the name suggests, this title by Australian creator Robert Buratti is set in Florence. Underscoring the mystique of Florence as a setting for any form of literature, a funny thing happened to your reviewer in 2010 when he was staying in a hotel immediately adjacent to the Duomo. Returning late one night from a dinner of beef cheeks and Tuscan wine on the other side of Ponte Vecchio, your reviewer spied a large man dressed in a long black cloak, with a luxurious and fearsome black beard, and long, slicked-back black hair. The man stood slightly hunched over, across the way from the Duomo but more on the street than the sidewalk. He muttered loudly in Italian to a woman whom he clutched possessively, and she would occasionally shriek. The only reassuring aspects to this scene were two policemen standing nearby with wry smiles on their faces watching the man and the woman in their gothic embrace, and a mob of middle aged women spilling out of a restaurant nearby, collectively singing off key and wobbly dancing to Abba’s Waterloo.

The Florentine also concerns a mystery – and a terrible one. A young boy has been kidnapped. But we are not allowed to forget that the mystery occurs in Florence. There is the Duomo, there is the Ponte Vecchio, and there is the River Arno.

Mr Buratti captures the city and its Renaissance inhabitants elegantly with his wonderful attention to faces and period clothing. But more importantly, he also uses his remarkable artistic skills to paint a city replete with blood red velvet, crisp white linen, and richly illuminated buildings and watery reflections. Dark tans and browns cast the characters’ faces in shadow, on display beneath chaperons. The colours in this title are just as much the hero as the lead character, a very youthful man named Leonardo, and who we assume is Leonardo Da Vinci.

Leonardo is in prison, and has built a clever clockwork spider to steal the key from his warder. This is perhaps the Leonardo Da Vinci of the video game Assassin’s Creed 2, released by Ubisoft in 2009. The comparison is inevitable: the version of Leonardo in Assassin’s Creed 2 also invents clockwork machines to assist the game’s protagonist.

But here, the young Leonardo is the story’s main character, an almost languid dreamer with a penchant for solving problems. Leonardo has the serene face of a detached angel, not smiling but in never-ending contemplation. “Stay focussed,” says his patron Andrea del Verrocchio (here, much more handsome than he actually was if a contemporary portrait was accurate). But unlike Verrocchio, Leonardo wears no gold ornamentation or fancy clothes. he is not even shoed (the prison captain, in contrast, uses a high heeled shoe to crush the mechanical spider).

And Mr Buratti depicts Leonardo as lithe. He carries no luxury of cloth of fat. There is a simplicity to the polymath, which Mr Buratti conveys on many levels. We were taken by a line of internal monologue which captures the character’s personality beautifully: “I have decided that I am no longer a suitable candidate for incarceration.” Regrettably, there is not quite enough of this visceral text in The Florentine. The art is king instead.

If there is one ardent complaint to be made about The Florentine, it is that it is nowhere near long enough. The substantive story of this first issue is only twelve pages long, more of a sampler than the purported two first chapters of the story. Independent creators make do with the time and resources that they have – a comic such as this, the creative offspring of a single person, was no doubt created in spare moments. Still, we expected more meat on the bone.

We purchased this title at the 2022 Perth Comics Art Festival. The Florentine is otherwise available on the SubRosa website: