Page 45 Review by Tom
They say you can never go back. When Joe left King for California with nothing but some shell-toes and sick lock-picking skills, he never thought he would. But here he is years later, a Cat Master in charge of his own fate, at least that's the idea. But this city has other ideas for him and his cat.
The cat's name is Earthling and given the right injection he's capable of anything. Need a second key, he'll be a copy-cat, need a hover-board? A periscope? How about a Rubix Cube solved? All in one swipe of a claw, the cat has infinite uses, and in the right hands is the ultimate weapon. But that last part is just cats in general, right?
Joe's only real friend left is the balaclava-clad Pete Taifighter, nicest guy in the world. Wouldn't think he's in this business of spies and thievery too, but he just about drowns in self pity when he's asked to escort a beautiful, water-breathing alien to her fate at the Raquet Club, the seediest sex den in King City. Now he'll do anything to get his finned fatale back. Joe has his own femme on his mind, memories of his ex, Anna, haunting these mean streets since he returned, but across town Anna has her own problems with her current beau, Joe. A vet in the Korean xombie war, Joe struggles with his addiction to Chalk: the drug that becomes you. It's the only thing that holds back his PTSD; it got him through the war but with his whole squad succumbed to the drug's dusty fate, and now his future with Anna looks set to crumble with his along with his body. And throughout these streets battle lines are being drawn, a new gang called the Owls are not what they seem, and creepy men in black take a special interest in Joe's latest heist.
This book must have used all its nine lives to reach the shelves, and in spite of illness, emigration, publishers going belly-up and contractual hell, Brandon still managed to land on his feet. This isn't merely a comic, but a hardboiled manifesto, a call out to everyone in this industry to raise your aim and up your game from a man who literally gave his left nut to finish this book. His first long-form work, Brandon took care to put his art first and just draw what he wanted. That isn't to say this is needless indulgence, he clearly took from all his influences and challenged his ability to match their best work on every level and from character design to sequential layout, this is some of the most inventive and fun sequencing I've read all in one comic, yet it still comes off a concise, even succinct read!
The three story threads of Joe & Earthling, Pete and the water girl, and Anna and Joe wind around each other before coming together in a way you just don't expect. So you're safe to let your eyes wander round, immersing yourself in a string of visual puns and satirical asides. Lose yourself in a crowd scene, while the next chapter asks you to navigate a maze of streets set out like a board game. Literally, with cut-out pieces.
The city itself is very Moebius-esque at first glance but the more you see, the more its crowded shop fronts and dank back alleys open up and you see Brandon's taken elements form Moebius' style - its cinematic scope, the incredible cast of brilliant throwaway background cast, the never quite straight lines of his big blocky buildings - but other influences are bubbling in the brew. There's a heavy Akira Toriyama (DRAGONBALL) influence in Joe's flashbacks to the Cat Master training, the cat-shaped, domed houses are incredibly Capsule Corp. cute, but also the character inventory, and in fact whenever there are intricate pieces of junk to look at I'm reminded of early DRAGONBALL covers. When action calls for it, the scene will decompress and warp at the edges lending a kinetic energy to the movement reminiscent of Taiyo Matsumoto's TEKKON KINKREET.
But I don't want to give the impression Brandon's style is without originality, I'm just emphasising how much he has clearly learnt from the very best and incorporates it into his own distinct vision. I suspect there's a secret school somewhere like the comics version of the Cat Master training grounds. Clearly Brandon, James Stokoe, Marian Churchland and the handful of other contemporaries who contribute back-up stories and interludes to KING CITY are the class alumni. Brandon's art is all swagger and cool charm, it breezes onto the page and lets you think it looks easy, just because it doesn't boast; it doesn't need to. The ideas are exploding off the page like a nerd-infused beat tract, and they speak for themselves, much like a cat.