Who Ya Gonna Call?: Department O, Ladies & Gentlemen and Necessary Monsters 2
Posted by Andy Oliver on Nov 29, 2012
Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press, self-published and altcomics. Every week we provide a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.
This week we're looking at three team books dealing with fearless investigators into the realms of the infernal, the abnormal and the supernatural: Jamie Gambell and Andrew Maclean's Department O, the second issue of Worth and Collver's Ladies & Gentlemen, and Necessary Monsters 2, the Goodbrey-Azzopardi follow-up to their critically-acclaimed series of a couple of years back.
As ever, prices quoted are those given at point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders and postage and packaging costs.
Department O #1
Jamie Gambell (writer), Andrew Maclean (artist), Heather Breckel (colourist)
London, 1898, and the remaining members of Department O – a British agency who are charged to deal with incidences of the paranormal – find themselves appropriated for a diplomatic assignment with a surprising twist to it. In a world where flocks of Springheeled Jacks swoop around the streets of England, monstrous creatures stalk the frozen Russian tundra and the undead rise from the sea, just what is the significance of the department’s latest mission and what is the backstory behind this group of mysterious operatives?
What immediately struck me about Jamie Gambell’s Department O is the way in which he throws the reader headfirst into the action and into a narrative that already feels a few chapters in. It’s a brave move because the obvious risk here is that the audience could feel alienated from the outset but Gambell gives just enough information, and drops just enough hints, that as a reader you feel intrigued rather than confused. With such a sprawling cast of characters and so many convergent plot threads there’s a lot to absorb in this opener but the rapid fire pacing and colourful characterisation are an immediate, attention-grabbing hook.
The obvious comparison to draw here would be one with the work of Mike Mignola, and the impressive artwork from Andrew Maclean (see below) – a kind of fusion of Mignola and Jeff Smith – certainly adds to that feel, with Laura Breckel’s careful colouring making significant contribution to the overall atmosphere of mock Victoriana. Gorgeous visuals that evoke a London of the Penny Dreadfuls that's all fog and cobbles but with a healthy dash of steampunk added to the mix. Department O doesn’t spoon feed or patronise the reader with overt levels of exposition but it does leave you eagerly anticipating what’s to come, particularly by the time you get to that gripping cliffhanger ending.
Job done in my book…
Ladies & Gentlemen #2
Richard Worth (writer), Jordan Collver (artist)
More late 19th century paranormal antics abound in the second issue of Mssrs. Worth and Collver’s splendid Ladies & Gentlemen. When I reviewed the first issue some months back I thought it a rather jolly romp, unafraid to playfully embrace cliché and knowingly affect an air of theatrical melodrama. I’m most pleased to be able to say that his follow-up offering loses none of that air of wit and sense of deliberately hammy presentation.
In that opening salvo we were introduced to The Gentry, a team of adventurers based in the Cog and Spring pub who counted amongst their ranks the gentleman spy The Peppered Moth, the suffragette heroine The Lady, reprobate magician Hex Vincente and the silent man of mystery known as The Gentleman. When last we left them, our cast were caught up investigating a series of Ripper-like murders on the gaslit streets of olde London Town in the case of “The Curse of the Were-Hyena and Other Horrible Hybrids”.
While this second outing for the team wraps up the (ostensibly) main plot thread it’s more notable for the teasers it gives to the backstory of some of our players and for setting up a number of new story strands. Potential treachery on the team, flashbacks that evoke the feel of a 19th century The X-Files to the book, ominous portents for the future, and the introduction of the Rat Knight (who simply has to become a regular fixture in these pages!) are just some of the highlights.
I find Ladies & Gentlemen similar to Martin Eden’s small press super-hero title Spandex in one crucial and welcome regard – they both remind me very much of the Marvel comics of my youth when layered subplotting was the order of the day and the soul-destroying practice of “writing for the trade” was years away from making its odious presence known.
Once again Collver’s loose, fluid artwork is compelling throughout. I was rather drawn to the section of this issue wherein Hex Vincente’s “performance” of the “Travelling Man” illusion was illustrated with a true period feel. That’s a lot of the charm of this book because Worth and Collver completely immerse themselves in the spoofery of faux Victorian trappings. When it’s as obvious as this that the creators are having such a good time with the concept how can that infectious sense of fun fail to transmit itself to the readership as well?
Ladies & Gentlemen #2 is available from the Water Closet Press site here priced £3.50.
Necessary Monsters 2: Murderbox #1
Daniel Merlin Goodbrey (writer), Sean Azzopardi (artist)
Necessary Monsters is one of the better small press books of the last couple of years that I haven’t reviewed in this column (although we did touch on it briefly when I interviewed series artist Sean Azzopardi back in February of this year). So many worthy titles out there and so little available time to cover everything I would like to! The follow-up to that 2010 run also falls under the umbrella of the newly reborn First Comics imprint, while the collection of the first series had an introduction by Kieron Gillen, so from the outset you're hopefully getting an idea of the pedigree of that original volume.
That first arc introduced us to a covert agency of supernatural entities and killers known as The Chain – a kind of specialist organisation fighting fire with fire by using forces of darkness to keep the creatures of nightmare in check and maintaining a balance between them and humanity. When last we saw them the core team of Jonathon Gravehouse (host to a Lovecraftian entity), Cowboy 13 (a chainsaw-wielding mute killer who would give Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers bad dreams), new girl Creeping Tuesday (a dream stalker whose father had history with The Chain) and Charlotte Hatred (a vengeance-seeking ghost who travels through mirrors), had just succeeded in stopping the rogue agent Harp’s Bane’s nihilistic masterplan.
This opening issue of Necessary Monsters 2 is largely set-up as we meet Murderbox, a central villain whose bizarre physicality makes the loss of the unforgettable Chicken Neck from the first series slightly more bearable, and whose schemes we are slowly introduced to. We also check in again with Charlotte Hatred and Creeping Tuesday who, since we last saw them, have buddied up to hunt serial killers through their dreams. And we're introduced to a new supporting player who looks set to play an important role in this run’s story arc.
As with the previous incarnation of the book which gave us retribution-seeking J-horror-style spirits, riffs on slasher franchise killers and Cthulhu-influenced beings, there’s the same inventive re-interpretation of classic horror elements on show from Goodbrey. Once again there are two things that really stand out about his writing on Necessary Monsters. Firstly, as far as the cast on show here goes, no one is particularly sympathetic – even Creeping Tuesday, the most identifiable character in the book, is hardly someone the audience will empathise with – and yet Goodbrey again maintains the readers’ interest by the sheer power of personality of the characters involved. The second notable, almost signature element of his plotting is the way in which he just tosses fantastic ideas out there in a positively throwaway manner. An almost Grant Morrison-level of casual concept dissemination.
As for Sean Azzopardi’s art, if you’re a fan of Sean’s autobiographical comics then his approach here may come as something of a surprise. If you’ve read his collaborations with Douglas Noble – see the recent Dark Matters collection for evidence – then it won't be so much of a shock to you just how versatile Azzopardi can be. There are a couple of truly standout creepy moments in this debut issue which, not wanting to ruin the tension and pacing of the issue, I would be completely irresponsible in discussing further. Suffice to say if you only know Sean from his back catalogue of more, slice-of-life fare then you’ll discover his range extends far beyond self-reflective, autobio material.
As with Department O above, Necessary Monsters 2 is more appetiser to the main course than full-fledged feast at this point. However, it’s also full of the requisite hooks and teasers that are essential to a good serial comic. If you didn’t pick up on the first series here’s your chance to get on board for one of the most twistedly absorbing team comics I’ve read since the heyday of Morrison’s Doom Patrol in the ‘90s.
Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.
If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.
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Bart Croonenborghs Nov 30, 2012 at 5:01am
Department 0 looks aces!
Andy Oliver Nov 30, 2012 at 8:29am
Have to say all three of these were top escapist fun. But yes, do check out what Jamie Gambell has set up with his Monkey Pipe Studios collective.
Jason Wilkins Nov 30, 2012 at 7:46pm
All of these books look great :)
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