Page 45 Review by Mark & Jonathan
"Anyway, it's just a business arrangement. It's just money.
There'll be time for my serious work later."
"Eloy, the last thing in the world that you should do is what they're asking!
Sure, they'll let you into their rotten little club!
All you gotta do is let 'em change you so much, you won't be you anymore.
Then who gets the acclaim -- and who'll deserve it?"
Eloy's ready to... well maybe not 'sell-out' but change his vision for a little piece of the funding pie. The installation that he's been working on for so long will get the money if he changes one aspect. But then it won't be his, it'll be theirs. In his head, you've got to do what you've got to do to survive.
Kim felt the same way a few days ago. A girl she knew from the Catshack turned up dead. Assaulted and left in an alley, naked apart from her gold trainers. She & Kim have (had) the same shoe size. She'd tried those sparkling trainers on weeks back. Suddenly the city seems too real, too predatory so she acquired a gun just to be safe. Hopefully she'll never need to use it but she feels safer with it in her pocket. The comfort of cold metal that fits in her palm. Strel went with her to buy it but she thinks that it's a bad move. Violence isn't her thing and she's seen enough of the underworld working as the dance manager of the Catshack. It's not where she wants to be though. She's got this dream of a coffee grinding company but she needs a regular wage to look after her kid now that his father's touring the world. She doesn't approve of Haitous boxing, doesn't like the violence and doesn't want Ben growing up with that influence.
The book starts off with the death of the gold trainer girl before opening up for the story of three couples. We've got the beginnings of a relationship (Eloy & Kim), a couple estranged (Strel & Haitous) so we need one more, something with a little fire. Enter Daisy. Arriving at the Catshack, first day as a dancer, ready to get on stage and show her all. She starts a passionate affair with one of the dishwashers, a mild diversion for her but an obsession for him. John's tired of his job, ready to move on or ready to share his life with someone else. A better choice could have been made.
This project started out as a series of shorts with a shared location. The city, and the Catshack, are big enough to be intimate with each of the threads we're presented with. It's set in the near future, just enough technological advances to make it different but enough similarities to keep it recognisable. The dancers are wired to show their insides floating above them. After stripping and gynaecological porn this is the next vicarious thrill ahead, seeing what's inside a girl when she dances. The boxers use it too. The city, possibly the same one we've seen in Pope's previous HEAVY LIQUID, is cluttered and multi-cultural, akin to the San Angeles of BLADE RUNNER but lighter and more alive.
On John & Daisy's first date, he tells her the story of Tristram & Iseult (or Isolde), a tale of romantic love. She immediately bats it back by telling a soured story of love, addiction and abuse using the same names. We're allowed to see her outward disgust with romance even as she's feeling herself falling for John. John either ignores this and her use of sex to avoid difficult questions or is oblivious to it, captivated by her charm. It's doomed. We know it, Daisy knows it. Rather than keep this as the main story, Pope balances it out with the other two relationship to avoid it becoming too dark. And it's not just a romance book, there are themes of love, money, escape and trust running through the whole thing.
"Words. It's full of little black words.
I can almost read 'em when I do this...
I could break the lock...
...pry it open...
Bet it wouldn't even be hard.
I could read her diary...
...if I really wanted to..."
Later review by Jonathan:
"Wake up and it just hits you. Someday, you're gonna die... Such a terrible thing, and for what? Why life? Why this life? What's it all mean? Deep down, you fear nothing. But you still hope something. Either way, you're not really sure. That's my crisis. I don't wanna die. But if I gotta die, first I'm gonna live. I'm gonna peel life like fruit, and use it up. I'm gonna light up an' burn. I'll burn and burn until I'm snuffed out. Then I'll just fade away. But until then, I'm gonna live! 'Im ready. I'm gonna do it! Come what may, one hundred percent..."
And so we meet John the busboy humping crates of beer and washing dishes in the Gastro Bar, where he meets Daisy the new dancer who's comfortable with up to fourteen centimetres gastro-penetration, no problem. Gastro being the latest burlesque craze for seeing right inside the human body to the internal organs of a near-naked dancer because mere flesh isn't enough anymore. Daisy has been hired by Strel the manager of The Catshack, who with a young child and an absent partner is getting by but who dreams of getting out of Gastro and running her own coffee-roasting company. Strel is more immediately concerned, however, with ensuring Kim, her waitress and best friend, doesn't get ripped off whilst buying herself a gun for protection; a gun Kim thinks she needs because of the girl with the weave-in white braids and gold trainers who somehow ended up dead in the trash cans behind the club last night. And also setting Kim up with Eloy her cousin, or Kettlehead as he's known for his obsession with creating a truly insane avant-garde piece of art with one hundred boiling kettles all tuned to whistle at the same note over multiple octaves, an impossible orchestra creating a one-note symphony. However, Eloy can't get the money to complete his masterpiece without compromising his artistic beliefs... except there's Haitous, the Frankenstein-faced second-ring fight master returned from a year on tour fighting in Eurasia who might be able to help. Haitous has got a scheme to make some money out of his last fight with the much younger and brutal up and coming Wallman. This is the Haitous who happens to be the father of Strel's little boy and who would very much like to be part of their lives again, except Strel won't even acknowledge his comm-threads to her, let alone speak to him.
Thus the lives of our six central characters intertwine and twirl around a Chinatown in New York City with hot happening venues like the Klube which has "generated a fair share of crooning from uptown Sikhs to downtown freaks" and seedy bars with private four-dee booths allowing you sample your drinks sat on a solar panel of a satellite orbiting the earth, or in the midst of an ostrich stampede in the desert depending on what sort of ambience you'd like to create, or yarn you'd like to spin your companion.
For me 100% is Paul Popes finest hour to date, exceeding even the mysterious HEAVY LIQUID, the pathos-filled ESCAPO, the genuinely spooky BATMAN: YEAR HUNDRED and the haunting and sadly long-out-of-print BALLAD OF DOCTOR RICHARDSON, all of which are superb comics in their own right. I can't actually bring myself to talk too much about THB, something he has described as his Dune (presumably for how long it's taking), because it still rankles me mightily to this day that he seems unwilling to finish it. What's your problem Pope?!!!*
100% is a truly engrossing tale of desire, romance, passion and heartbreak, set amongst a city that never pauses to take a breath never mind sleeps. Where Pope pulls his master-trick is to leave some blanks for us to fill in along the way, apparently cutting small portions of scenes where we're left to ponder the meaning of what we've just seen, to surmise exactly what might be happening, and not until the very end is everything made clear. Even then we are left with possibilities, not certainties, nothing is quite 100%. The story never ends and their destinies are left in the characters' own hands to shape as they will.
I haven't even mentioned the art yet which is just masterful, masterful work with not a line out of place and not a square millimetre of space wasted which just further adds to the non-stop whirring insanity of Pope's future New York City. Think Blade Runner squared and you're not even halfway there. 100% is such a beautifully drawn book it's very difficult to say which parts are my favourite, but some stand-out sequences are the dialogue-free negotiation for Kim's gun conducted in the middle of the Klube filled with pounding Indian music, the first date between John and Daisy in the four-dee booth where we start to realise Daisy might just have a few issues, Daisy dancing Gastro in her flaming firecoat and blonde wig in the transparent dance cube, Eloy's passionate demonstration of his artwork to Kim in an abandoned grain silo, and John's closing scene (again split masterfully into two short staccato sequences by Pope) which just so perfectly brings 100% to a conclusion of sorts.
* [THB is due out from First Second as a complete work sometime in the unspecified future - Ed.]