I've eagerly awaited the appearance of Jason Lute second volume of Berlin. Now that it's appeared, I realize that it was well worth waiting for. But it also seems to me that there's a bit of a decline in the meticulous craftsmanship that characterized the first volume.
The story line continues in expected ways from an historical perspective, but in quite unexpected ways from the perspective of the characters. The most searing change is in the relationship between Kurt Severing, the increasingly disillusioned pacifist, leftist, and political journalist, and his young love Marthe Muller, whom he introduces to the cultural life of Berlin.
What happens to Marthe and Kurt seems to parallel what's happening to the Weimar Republic in general: things fall apart. Much of City of Smoke follows the breakdown of the Republic: the increasing violence between fascists and communists, the virulence of anti-Semitism, the suppression of intellectuals. Jazz, lesbianism, homosexuality, and a general sense of fin de siecle are some of the themes that Lutes explores.
Two shortcomings, while not at all fatal to Lutes' project, make the second volume of Berlin less wonderful than the first. At times, in order to add some historical detail to his story, Lutes becomes overly didactic (especially pp. 120-124). A weightier problem is the occasional sloppiness with which the panels are drawn. The artistry in Berlin, City of Stones was breathtaking. Here, occasionally, it seems cartoonish--for example, Lutes draws conventionally cartoonish clouds of anger above characters' heads instead of letting the anger showing on their faces tell the story (see, for instance, bottom panel on p. 173). In other places, the drawing lacks perspective and strikes one as preliminary sketches that were never completed (see, for example, the panels on p. 35).
Still, Jason Lutes' is creating a masterwork with his Berlin saga, and I now await the third volume as eagerly as I did the second.