Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Everything Picture - Round Up #4: Picture Book

And finally the graphic novel bits and pieces.

Vampire State is the final chapter of Paul Cornell's fine run on Captain Britain and MI13. It opens rather wonderfully with two of the finest and most melodramatic villains of the past century meeting on the moon to agree a non-aggression pact and proceeds to chronicle Dracula's attempted invasion of the UK. As you'd expect from Cornell it's a wonderfully twisting plot with several sleights of hand, but with the story having lasting emotional consequences for those who survive. It's immeasurably enhanced by clever kinetic artwork cour testy of Leonard Kirk and Michael Collins, bringing a neglected icon (well, neglected for those of us who hanker for the work the two Alans, Moore and Davis, did with the character).

Another writer I know via Doctor Who fandom is Javier Grillo-Marxauch, responsible for some fine early episodes of Lost, some Charmed episodes which I've never seen and above all, the magnificent but shortlived The Middleman TV series. A mutual friend, the rather wonderful Tara O'Shea pimped us some DVDs of the show whilst on a trip to the UK and dammit, hooked me and my wife immediately. It's a clever conceit, placing Steed and Mrs Peel into a landscape derived from the Silver Age of comics and lacing that with healthy pop culture references and a sly wit. The TV show was cut off after half a season, never having a chance to make it overseas, but the comic managed to tell a full story in three volumes. It opens up in the same way as the TV show, immediately juxtaposing the mad and the mundane, before settling for simply jetting off for wondrous realms of insanity. Postmodernism's a tapped out concept but it works here as the square jawed old fashoined heroism of the Middleman is offst by Wendy's modern wisecracks. It's quite a feat to have the jokes flow naturally in the conversation, and it contrasts nicely with some knowing narration. The clean line, cartoonish artwork from Les McClaine enhances the story, fitting the larger than life nature of the story well.

Brian Talbot's The Tale of One Bad Rat' is a different case altogehter. It's one of those moments where comics step away from the superhero genre with which they're become inextricably associated, and tell a very human story instead. The central character is Helen, who starts the story as a Beatrix Potter loving homeless vagrant with a pet rat on the London underground. The story gradually unfolds to tell us exactly why and how she ran away from home and, eventually how she comes to terms with it. Tabot deals skilfully with the central issue of child abuse, importantly never cheapening or sensationalising it whilst using it to tell a heartbreaking and eventually uplifting story. It's also about how we often use fiction as a refuge from the the horrors of reality, and using Potter's works as a metaphor for innocence is startlingly effective. It's one of those rare moments where comics achieve a real beauty and depth.

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