This issue of Martin Stiff's weird pastoral tale almost feels like a reboot. Part of that feeling is due to the long gap between issues, but a more significant reason is the way that the two protagonists seem to have swapped places. Marwood Clay, once a wretched outsider, is now accepted by the other villagers, despite his past, despite his scars, and despite his odd behavior. All because of the mysterious and still unexplained "miracle" that took place at the end of the previous issue. Meanwhile, Doctor Temple has returned from London to find the village changed in his absence — oops — making him the outsider.
This curious inversion tells us a lot about these characters. The villagers are shown to be a fickle bunch, swayed by fear and superstition, and Marwood's new popularity brings out a sort of spoiled arrogance in him. Temple's honest confusion at all the changes, combined with the eerie behavior of the villagers, makes him the more sympathetic character, eroding some of the creepiness that surrounded him since his introduction. It's strong characterization from Stiff, but it's also rather subtle work.
Once again this title boasts excellent layouts and page design. The double page spread towards the end of the issue as Temple thinks he's worked out what's been making people disappear is a vivid and effective piece of storytelling, and the clever use of repeated imagery on the fourth and tenth pages is another good example of Stiff's skill as a graphic storyteller. Some of the linework in the last few pages looks a bit half-hearted, as if it was rushed, but that is my only complaint about the issue's art.
After such a long absence — oh dear — there was a danger that this series would lose its momentum and focus but instead it returns with a strong issue that messes around with the established premise in a most effective manner, while continuing with the strong characterization and compelling mysteries that have become its emblematic features.
Find out more about the The Absence at absencecomic.blogspot.com.
Kelvin Green erupted fully formed from the grey shapeless mass of Ubbo Sathla in the dark days before humans walked the earth. He grew up on Judge Dredd, Transformers, Indiana Jones #12, The Avengers and Spider-Man, and thinks comics don't get much better than FLCL, Nextwave and Rocket Raccoon. Kelvin lives among garbage and seagulls and doesn't hate Marvel nearly as much as you all think he does.