Current Reviews


Albion #4

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2006
By: Mark J. Hayman

"Jus' A Rascal (Peace in our Time)"

Plot: Alan Moore
Writer: Leah Moore & John Reppion
Artists: Shane Oakley (p), George Freeman (i), Wildstorm FX (colours)
Cover Artist: Dave Gibbons

Publisher: DC Comics/Wildstorm

In preparing for this review, I conducted a little research into what makes Albion tick, including firing off a few questions to the creators which were promptly and graciously answered. The first thing that bears mention is that you need be neither a Liverpudlian nor a connoisseur of classic British adventure comics to enjoy and appreciate this series. It wouldn't hurt, it's just not necessary. That said, learning about the characters on loan from IPC was a treat. Ten seconds worth of searching will yield a cornucopia of luvly trivia about Robot Archie, The Spider, Captain Hurricane, Dolmann, Grimly Feendish... the list seems endless.

The book is split into two principal narratives which are, along with a third, underlying narrative, slowly being coalesced.

Half of the story takes place in an above top secret asylum converted from a Scottish castle (former residence of former paranormal investigator Cursitor Doom, who lies comatose within). The residents comprise the gamut of supposedly fictitious heroes and villains spanning decades of British comics. An American intelligence operative named Nolan (perhaps a take on Will Eisner's Commissioner Dolan?) has arrived to assess the nature and security of the facility which will influence his recommendation about its future. He's guided by the director, Eagleton (formerly "Eagle Eye", nemesis of Grimly Feendish), through a generally mundane structure brimming with surreal inmates. Most enjoy the relative freedom of common areas and socialization while others, such as The Spider, are kept in high security isolation, depending upon their relative gifts (which are rarely dwelt upon). By the fourth issue, the tour has brought Nolan to the armoury, a collection of captured costumes and devices, which he regards as a time bomb. Allusions are made to an American analogue to the castle, though the implication is that America's superhumans have all been either co-opted or executed, a very "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" position. Nolan and Eagleton represent a clear dichotomy, as might be best appreciated by a non-American. One is the can do Yank, gruff and abrasive, with no apparent interest in the inmates as anything but living weapons and the danger they represent; the other is the very model of English bureaucracy, where means are ends unto themselves so long as an air of propriety is maintained. Each sees the big picture - from opposing sides of the canvas.

The other half revolves around a mysterious lad named Danny who somehow survived a train wreck as a child, was left orphaned and, save for the memory of his own name, amnesiac. A set of events hooks him up with Penny Dolmann, purported daughter of former crimefighter Eric Dolmann. Penny gradually proves that the comic book heroes with whom Danny grew up and seemed to identify were real people. At some point the government began rounding up both heroes and villains, including her father, though to what end she doesn't know. Penny maintains a dogged belief that they're still alive, however; so, having surreptitiously inherited Dolmann's technology - a menagerie of robotic puppets and his research notes - she intends to locate and free her father. Dropped signals from interconnected robots indicate that her goal lay somewhere in Scotland.

Their journey begins with the retrieval and restoration of Robot Archie, formerly an automoton crimefighter and adventurer, left broken and on display at a Manchester club (next to a model Cyberman; a moment of pure glee for any Dr. Who geek). Penny later recognizes Danny's source for rare comics as none other than Charlie Peace, a comic character based upon notorious 19th century thief and killer Charles Peace. Evidently he'd pulled off the escape of a lifetime (several of the characters are renowned escape artists - an ironic nod to the escapist nature of the medium and the genre), slipping through not only his executioner's noose but space and time, eventually settling in Liverpool, changing his name to Charles Love, and scraping by as the proprietor of a curio shoppe. After some tense moments (Peace was a murderer, after all), he's recruited for their rescue mission.

The other, other half of the story concerns the inmates. Evidently some of them are aware that their time is coming, though to what end we can but speculate. Certainly nothing terribly positive. The Spider is being fed information by a disfigured shapeshifter named Fred (like The Brain, one of the characters I'm still investigating). A pair of inmates literally suspended in time also seem to have an inkling that something is up, taking Nolan's presence as a cue. The Brain's (a disembodied robot head) predictions of Doom are in part responsible for Nolan's investigation.

There, you're all caught up! And you'll continue to be as, according to Mr. Reppion, the (maddening) six month delay between issues three and four was essentially the result of the vagaries of working in a business where one slightly missed deadline has a snowball effect where each element of production, from colouring to printing, is forced to shift and slide; dramatically, in this case. The point is that the glitch has been corrected, and the final two issues of the series should appear in a timely manner.

I have only praise for Shane Oakley's pencils. Though the style is predominantly impressionist, he employs other styles (from a sort of 20s or 30s pastiche to a frenetic, big screen cartoony approach, to near photo-realism). It's very busy and tends to demand a greater degree of attention than, say, the minimalist lines of Xaime Hernandez; it's entirely suitable and deserving of the reader's extra effort. Oakley is finished by veteran inker and illustrator George Freeman (yes, that George Freeman, as in Captain Canuck, as verified by Mr. Reppion). Freeman uses a heavy brush, lending Oakley's breakdowns terrific weight. The generic "Wildstorm FX" colours are equally stylized, evoking John Higgins' work on Watchmen.

Covers are provided by Dave Gibbons, who requires no introduction. The alternate titles (#4's double entendre, "Peace in our Time," for instance) are specific to Gibbons' covers.

All in all, a cracker of a tale, steeped in almost too much lore to handle. Go forth and seek out back issues! Then settle down and wait with me for Penny, Danny, Robot Archie, and Charlie Peace to launch their assault on Cursitor Doom's castle via the Black Sapper's Earthworm boring machine. Heaven help them when they reach Captain Hurricane's parlour...

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