Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

TRoOB: Phonogram -- The Singles Club

It's Christmas Eve Eve, 2006; if you're lucky enough to have had an invitation foisted on you, Seth Bingo and The Silent Girl are running their dance club, Never on a Sunday. The club has three simple rules:
  • No Boy Singers

  • You Must Dance

  • No Magic!
Because this is The Singles Club, the just-finished miniseries set in the Phonogram universe, and there is just a *bit* of magic in the world. Music is sort of magic-in-potential, albeit mostly the subtle magic of the mind and heart and soul -- a metaphor wrapped in the literal wrapped in a metaphor. Other than that, it is quite exactly our world.

The first Phonogram tale was Rue Brittania a few years back, and told the story of phonomancer David Kohl tracking down the killers of Brittania, the Goddess of Britpop. It was a good start, but with The Singles Club we get real magic on the printed page. Its seven issues tell seven separate but tightly interlocked stories, of a bunch of friends and their night at the club. Each issue tells the same story from a different viewpoint, not so much contradicting each other as filling in each others' gaps, so that the stories considered together are very different from individually. Each takes a different viewpoint character; for example:
  • There is Emily Aster, the ultra-cool girl who got the way she was by casting her original messed-up identity and soul into Limbo. But just because Claire isn't around any more doesn't mean she can't mess with Emily.

  • There's Lloyd, aka "Mr. Logos", who is certain that he can change the world -- if only someone will pay attention to his ideas.

  • Laura Heaven is the nominal villainess of the piece -- and yet, is so easy to identify with, when you read it all from her viewpoint.

  • And of course, there is Penny. She's the beautiful and sweet one, living white magic on the dance floor, and is having the worst evening of her life: as far as she can tell, all her friends have turned against her. Of course, that's not true: they're just all living their own stories.
In clumsier hands, the conceit would be precious and tritsy, but this is a wonder. Each story and character is achingly real, wrapped up in the magic of their lives as only a 20-year-old can be.

Kieron Gillen, the author, has a passion for his subject that borders on obsession. Each issue comes with a page or two of footnotes, detailing the musical references in the stories; between that and the structural intricacy, the result would make Alan Moore proud. (Why can't American authors write this well?) I'm keeping the series out as reference material for the next time I want to do an online musical trawl: I want to dig around and learn more about these characters by learning more about their musical tastes.

All of this is complemented by Jamie McKelvie's beautiful, elegant clean-line artwork. Imagine what John Byrne might look like if he had some visual imagination and the ability to draw more than one face. Actually, that's unfair -- on his best day, Byrne's art has never been this pristine. Even Matthew Wilson's coloring contributes crucially to the story, literally providing it with the subtle tones it needs.

The series has been running for a good while now, not even remotely monthly. With any luck, Image will be smart enough to come out with a collection promptly, and will include all of the backmatter that adds even more depth to the whole thing.

Recommended unreservedly: this may well be the best comics story of 2010, the sort of thing that snaps the chains of genre that so often wrap and limit comics. If you like music or magic or comics, this is worth a try; if you like all three, it's a must-have...
Tags: comics, reviews, troob

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