Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Trade Waiting - Phonogram: The Singles Club

After last week's review of Phonogram: Rue Britannia, I was certain I needed to go back and get the second trade which I duly did and  read quickly. It's interesting to hold this story up against the first one, especially as though they fit into the same universe, and showcase a few of the same players, as the structure and story are very different. It's different and I also think it's just a bit superior to the original, hit the jump to read my review and see why I think Gillen and McKelvie have finally carved a masterpiece with this comic.

'Lyrics' by Kieron Gillen
'Music' by Jamie McKelvie
Colours by Matthew Wilson

Despite never really getting paid (such are the economics of independent comics), Gillen managed to snag McKelvie in to draw a second story arc in this world of phonomancers and decidedly British music. The events of this story take place in one night, Christmas Eve Eve, if you can dig it, and it really only takes a few hours from start to finish. There are seven issues to this tale, and each issue takes us through the night from the perspective of a different character. It’s an interesting was to make the narrative a bit more fractured and have emotional pay offs to moments really come issues later when you see the flip side to a conversation, what came before, came after, and what it all really means. David Kohl appears again but he only gets the one issue, this story is about the night, about the convergence of souls, and about how music is the backdrop to lives and loves and everything, really.

‘Pull Shapes’ introduces us to Penny. She’s a phonomancer who uses her magics to get people to pay attention, to heighten the enjoyment of the evening; she’s not evil just naively young and selfish. We meet her with a little dance ditty in her room and it’s hard not to see what she wants us to see. McKelvie does a spectacular job at making Penny the girl that we know we shouldn’t look at, the one we don’t even want to want to look at, but ultimately the girl we can’t take our eyes off.

Penny is on her way to the club with her friend Laura. Penny is decidedly keen to see a boy, Marc, as well as have some G+T and a dance. This is her typical night out. She is hypnotically exuberant and it’s nice to see that the world can’t get her down, even though it continually tries. She’s the perpetual smile found in clubs the world over, and god bless her for it.

This is a great intro issue because it’s a simple done-in-one tale, as they all will be though interconnected, and it shows us that this is a very different tale to Rue Britannia. This is vignette and character work, not quest, and it’s exceptionally well done. Gillen does the voice of Penny very well and you see that he handles all characters very much with their own style and pattern.

‘Wine and Bed and More and Again’ shows us the flip side to Penny’s worst moment of the night as we follow Marc around. He’s the pretty boy sulking in the corner because he’s haunted by the one that got away. Strange thing is, Marc actually is haunted by the memories of this girl, she who will remain unnamed. He heads to the club with his mate Lloyd but instantly sees it for the bad idea it is when he’s stuck bad in the past of those fruitful and perfect moments he shared with her.

Marc must have been in love, or whatever youthful lust calls itself these days, and we can kind of see why. This is where Gillen and McKelvie score because they are able to show us those little moments that make up the wholes of interpersonal relationships. Marc only dated this girl for a handful of months but it was his everything at that time and if you’ve ever been there then you can see all the signs right there on the page. The girl is sexy and different and just a little bit slutty and everything a young bloke is looking for. It’ll take him a long time to get over this and we can see why.

‘We Share Our Mothers’ Health’ focuses on coven leader Emily Aster, who we met in the previous volume. She’s a lady who has graduated to clubbing instead of sticking to the ubiquitous youth of the club scene. She’s beyond it but gets dragged in by David Kohl, who else? She picks the scene apart with a scalpel tongue and makes sure she leaves scars on as many people as she can.

Emily’s shining moment comes in the bathroom as she speaks to the woman in the mirror, the woman she has fought and repressed and been victorious over. Emily is a new version and she’s prepared to fight to make sure she’s the only one. The conversation is fantastic and then she helps out Penny’s friend, Laura, as she hides from Penny, as seen in the first issue. You see, Emily does have heart, but it’s just so much easier to keep it in check and stay in complete control. This is her world and the only way she can break through is by being crazy, not nice. The issue ends with a great dance floor moment and Emily asserting her control to be the one and only lady living in her body.

‘Konichiwa Bitches’ serves up a two-headed beast in the DJs of the evening, Seth and Silent Girl. They're a tandem team and work so well together, even when working against each other. This entire issue, except for 3 pages, plays out in a six panel grid, two across, three down. And this structure is absolutely perfect for Gillen to script witty little one page conversations between a multitude of connections of the players of the night. This issue is probably my favourite of the series as it’s incredibly funny and bloody well written. It almost reminds me of those Whose Line Is It Anyway? skits where the players would have to come into the ring and have conversations, as the buzzer buzzed they changed places, characters, conversations. It’s constantly evolving and progressing and always hilarious. That is this issue.

Seth is a pretentious DJ (is there any other kind?) who constantly challenges those around him to inane and trivial music challenges that he rarely even makes open but adjudicates on anyway. We see Seth as superior and complete petty at all times and this is congruent with his character. We want to think that Seth is actually inconsequential but in a house full of music, and a decree of no magic, he is the lord of all he surveys. He controls the tempo, the pace, the truth of the evening. He is in control and we see that throughout the entire issue, and especially in one fantastic double page spread that is one of the few examples that truly warrants a double page spread. The DJ booth is the sun and the celestial bodies that orbit do so on its gravitational pull, and Seth sees himself as the god of this science, or perhaps its controlled big bang.

Strangest thing is, Silent Girl is actually the one in charge. Seriously.

‘Lust, Etc.’ gives us the sad and slightly pathetic tale of Laura Heavenly. She’s a phonomancer, and a cutter, and in love with her best friend, and confused, and lost, and ultimately very sad. It is these labels, and many more, that Laura lives by. She’s not a person just a label to be identified, tagged, and observed. It’s tragic watching her just want a true reaction, a real emotion, but she can’t find one and lacks the strength to give herself one.

Laura only really speaks in quotes; songs, movies, anything. She’s an echo of a pastiche and rarely aims higher in any situation. She’s the imprint a radioactive cathode tube leaves on the wall after years of warping a psyche. And she’s extremely well written, trust me, I’ve known someone just like this. They only know how to connect via an adapter of something else and it very quickly wears thin and shows you the lack of substance beneath and desperate want for something, anything, to fill that void. Gillen nails this tone of voice perfectly.

It is nice that by the story’s end Gillen gives her a moment of strength to provide her own moment, her own voice. She’s owed at least that much.

‘Ready To Be Heartbroken’ is the story of Lloyd, Marc’s best friend, and a man so desperate to create the name Logos for himself that it’s really quite sad. We meet Lloyd straight after the events of the night, which is a first in this tale, but all we need to know about him has already been elucidated in the previous chapters. What’s now important is what Lloyd (yeah, I refuse to call him Logos too) does with what he has learned.

Lloyd sits down on his bed amidst phonomancer letters, images, and moments and sets to work on his typewriter to create his grimoire, a magical text. We get scrapbook style pages of what Lloyd makes, his interpretation of the night, his dreams and wishes made real through cut-out text and completely open thoughts. He just desperately wants to create what has already been created, he wants to live the music and the vibe that came and went before he even knew about music. He wants a return to glory, but somehow through him. He’s an openly admitted anachronism.

Thankfully, something that David Kohl passingly says to Lloyd gives him an opportunity to sample some new music. This understanding that new music is being created, and that it is good, invigorates Lloyd to finally understand that there is always a revolution of sound occurring, and the world is always ready to accept the next invitations to be the big new thing. It perpetual, there will always be more, you just have to be willing to accept it.

The final issue, ‘Wolf Like Me’ is extremely likeable, and the reviews of it were one of the big reasons I decided to give this entire story a chance. Here we see David’s best friend, who has the extremely unlikeable name of Kid-With-Knives or KWK, as he sets about his night. KWK is the only character who is not a phonomancer but he has tried to pick up a few things from David. What he’s managed to glean is that you have to let the music fill you, accept it into every cell, and then just ride that high for as long as you can. KWK knows how to do this, he’s been doing it since forever.

We then see the gleeful rampage of almost-parkour levels of dancing, kebabs, and lustful enjoyment KWK unleashes on his town. He howls at the moon, steps in on an emo-beating to save the day, scores some food, sneaks said food into the club, nails some shots with his friends, and then sees the prettiest girl on the dance floor. That girl is, of course, Penny and here the series comes full circle as we get the full conclusion that was missing from the first issue. KWK cuts up the proverbial rug and though I kind of think he’s a dick I can’t help but love that he gets the girl because girls like that are meant to be got. Penny’s at that right age, and of the right personality persuasion, that going home with someone is just the right medicine as a prevention for any disease.

There’s a great text page of lyrics from the song and in the block letters we can see what exactly is going on with KWK and Penny. It’s a perfect, and surprisingly subtle way, to sneak in some softcore action and the final page just ends the entire night on the right note.

At the end of the trade we are treated to a stack of extras; a Glossary of terms, tunes, and bands to help bridge any gaps you might be worried about. There’s a Making Of set of character sketches, both artistic and written, as well as reference photos taken by Gillen himself and then a look at the club that McKelvie built in Google Sketchup so he could keep the setting as perfectly represented as possible. We also see the monstrous wall of art McKelvie created to show the timeline of all the issues as they writhe together like serpents in a dankly lit pit. It’s awesome and scary in both excessive degrees. We also find out that Gillen drank the character’s plonk of choice as he scripted their issue, just another handy hint to all the writers out there taking notes. It’s also a delight to get all the covers for the series, a script to page comparison for one page and the B-Side advert they used, which is Seth and Silent Girl addressing the reader and asking them to come to the club. Great extras, really, A+ on this side.

Verdict – Must Read. This series is a fantastic and well written set of vignettes with very real characters and that is what matters, the characters. Gillen provides us with a smorgasbord of interest and I like that so many people would each have different favourite characters, and thus favourite issues. It’s a great way of luring in many by having a hook for them somewhere in the mix. McKelvie does a great job of making each character act and speak through their eyes, their clothes, their being. The entire thing reads like a great miniseries, be it a comic or a TV show. It’s also interesting to see that this is so different from the first trade in nearly every conceivable way, and yet still feels congruent with the reality but is also shockingly possibly the better read. This is superb comics and again you don’t need to know the music to get it. So go on out and get it because most importantly I don’t think you need to know a lick about the first story to get this one, not at all. This is a sequel that’s not only better than the original but it’s also something that can be taken on its own and doesn’t really stand on the shoulders of the giant tale that came before.

Like this review? Interested in Phonogram Vol 2: The Singles Club? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Brian Dickey said...

Glad to see you loved this volume, The Singles Club is definitely the superior of the two Phonograms. Sad that we will probably never get to see more of the series, but at least it went out on a high note.

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