Page 45 Review by Stephen
The future holds no guarantees; the past does not have all the answers.
Unless you dig deep enough.
Slain at the altar of intolerance.
This is England.
Indeed it is. That's quite the arresting first page: cog-enhanced speech balloons over black and white tiles, increasingly splattered with blood. The question is: whose?
I've known Yomi Aveni for over three years now - we greet each other annually at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival - and he is many things: gregarious, engaging, always grinning, always laughing; witty, generous, persistent, ever so dapper and devilishly handsome. One of the things Yomi isn't is obvious. Ayeni and Brotherson have honed that first page's script so spectacularly well, for its precision plays with our preconceptions of victimhood and Victorian England at the height of its empire. Its words will continue to resonate throughout these three chapters.
Anyway, Steampunk ahoy!
I promise you plenty of socio-politics, costumes to cosplay, and delicate, even dainty watercolours whose initial, decorous beauty will give way to bludgeoning violence. I've seen plenty of split lips and livid purple bruises in my time, but few artists I've encountered can recreate the wateriness of a punch-induced eye-haemorrhage like Jennie Gyllblad.
Outside of the automaton Clockworks themselves, there are relatively few fanciful, fantastical genre diversions in her art - the hairpins, perhaps, hats, and the spectacles - which instead replicates in elaborate detail Victorian upper-class finery with its global maps proudly proclaiming empire, framed portraits, stuffed animals, entomological glass cases, luxurious drapes and Indian robes, along with those hideous zoological elephant cages etc with their thick iron bars, and Crystal Palace itself.
Ah yes, Indian robes...
Scientific and global discovery were symbiotic beasts during the British Empire's expansion, so steampunk is a perfectly natural indeed logical genre. Here, circa 1900, an extortionately expensive foreign war has both decimated the population and driven the lower classes further into poverty. With additional power shortages in an already inefficient industry, Her Majesty's government in its wisdom has charged scientists with developing clockwork labour. I say "in its wisdom" but we all know the effect of automation on employment. See working classes / poverty.
Amongst the leading lights of the Empire's scientific community is wealthy kinetic scientist Chan Rabir who arrives from India with his wife Tinku and eight-year-old son Janav in tow to an enthusiastic reception. Driven through London, they are housed in luxury. Along with an old acquaintance Lord Frobisher Pilbeam, Chan Rabir is on the cusp of unveiling a self-sustaining, mechanical humanoid prototype powered by its own movement - which won't be a problem since it's created to be a servant working without break and so perpetually in motion.
It is young Janav who is to launch this invention with a tool given to him as a gift from Lord and Lady Frobisher Pilbeam as part of an ornate toolbox, and then christen the Clockwork himself.
Janav christens it Ashwin after his best friend in India, and he does so delightedly. I cannot tell you how many levels of irony will unfold in the two decades that follow, all of them entirely unexpectedly.
Vitally, Brotherson and Ayeni have presented the family's arrival in England from Janav's point of view. To an eight-year-old such a transition is thrilling in its novelty and daunting in its unfamiliarity, and then, of course, there are those left behind. Gyllblad, meanwhile, is at pains to portray how small, tentative and frightened he is (that fear is infectious) initially both by the idea of a mechanical man and of his father who is stern, impatient, aloof and abrupt. His mother is gentler but firm, proud of her son but worried. And she should be.
Because there is something they haven't told Janav. Not only has he lost his best friend and home country, but now he is going to lose the sanctuary and comfort of his mother as well: they're sending him away to boarding school.
Twenty years later, and that may have been a mistake.
Now, for fear of spoilers, I can tell you little more about the family dynamics, but everything I've touched on comes into play because everything our creators have laid down early on proves pivotal. Nothing here is extraneous. The very first page of chapter two, for example, echoes that of the first specifically, deliciously, horrifically, with the implied violence ramped up even further.
One of the things about science is that its developments tend to accelerate dramatically. Compare the last century to the nineteen that preceded it; the last two millennia to the eighteen that preceded them. So what do you think might have happened to the Clockworks during the last two decades? To the society they serve...? To those who created them? To those who bought them? To the boy who was intended to follow in his father's footsteps as per patrilineal tradition?
You'll have to read this to find out.
I've two pages of notes joined by multiple, criss-crossing arrows which ably demonstrate how intricately every element of this has been ably assembled and interlinked, but I simply cannot use them responsibly.
However, the cog-enhanced speech balloons which Gyllblad designed for the Clockworks - already denoting a certain whirring, clicking accompaniment to whatever's exclaimed - comes into its own twenty years later when otherwise you'd be hard-pressed to discern who was human. It's something which Ayeni and Brotherson employ so deviously that you're going to be re-reading conversations with big grins on your faces after you've subconsciously attributed non-existent cogs or missed them completely.
Right, what else have we got? Between chapters we are treated to pages and pages of process from Jennie, project updates from Yomi, astute considerations on adaptation from Corey, and a wealth of faux advertisements and newspaper headlines / letters to the editor etc. The advertising slogans are punchy and playful; the posters are lettered to perfection; while the London Gazette boasts the tag line "Splendid Isolation - Since 1802".
Now that is attention to detail!