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The Marionette Unit


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Azhur Saleem & Warwick Johnson-Cadwell

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"Have you got any steampunk?"

… Is a fairly oft-heard refrain within the four mind-bending and wallet-emptying walls of Page 45, but frankly, there is somewhat of a dearth of material on said topic which we can heartily recommend. Bryan Talbot's LUTHER ARKWRIGHT and Matt Fraction's FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE are usually mentioned, along with Warren Ellis' AETHERIC MECHANICS and CAPTAIN SWING AND THE ELECTRIC PIRATES OF CINDERY ISLAND. Also Bryan Talbot's GRANDVILLE, plus Alan Moore's early LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN if you're pushing the definition (trust me: true steampunk pedants, sorry, aficionados, will disagree). Oh, and most definitely DOCTOR GRORDBORT PRESENTS ONSLAUGHT for comedy value, but there's not a great deal else, surprisingly.

This, happily, will now become my de facto recommendation for it is premier amongst hoodlums of the condensation-producing variety! With its plethora of pipework and variety of valves on the cover background, as quilled by Warwick DANGERITIS / 21st CENTURY TANK GIRL / NELSON Johnson-Cadwell, no one could be in any doubt as to its temperature-titillating temptations.

Actually, it's an extremely clever cover beyond that because the sinister foreground profile of the top-hatted toff, with his tailcoat of twisted tentacles reaching down to plug into our heroine's back, perfectly encapsulates what disturbing dystopian ductwork, of both the figurative and literal type, you will find within. For Beatrice, searching for her lost sister, is forced to enter the disturbing Saint Mary Abbot's workhouse, owned by the evil Dubré, whose peculiar idea of social mobility is, shall we say, rather different to the accepted definition... I think I shall allow him to explain his dastardly scheme to exploit the hoi polloi of the social strata.

"My name is Dubré and I am the foreman and engineer of all that you will see here.
"Years I have been perfecting the tools that you will use… and that will be plugged into you.
"You are in safe hands… hands that will serve a working class of and for the future.
"I expect total cooperation. You will see that none complain here, and for good reason."

Yes… because if they do, they get clubbed and thrown in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, never to be seen again. Sorry, couldn't help interrupting his maniacal monologuing there…

"There are two things I believe in here… a strong work ethic… and a resilient nature.
"You will work many hours, but you will not tire. I assure you, this is like no other workhouse.
"I bid you a warm welcome, dear workers of the future!"

Which all sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Except of course, the workers are no more than another, ultimately disposable, cog in Dubré's empire of capitalist output. Indeed, very precisely so, as the plugged-in workers suddenly find their bodies are no longer their own to control, merely obeying Dubré's industrial instruction…

Work them 'til they drop, then, and when they are of no more use, get rid of them... In this era of zero-hours contracts, it's a cutting reminder that whilst we might like to believe that workers' rights and protections have evolved beyond Victorian values, for many, they simply haven't, as Mike Ashley is only too happy to attest. Well, once he was finally forced in front of the MPs Select Committee, that is…

So it's a scything piece of social satire from writer Azhur Saleem, then, as well as a steampunk-powered adventure romp, conceived with co-creator James Boyle. Excellent! Whilst this is their first foray into the world of comics they've a long background in film-making and the media and design industries and clearly understand how to craft an engaging story. I think fans of PORCELAIN would very much enjoy this, actually. An impressive debut! I look forward to the next instalment. Yes, for this work is merely the opening chapter in Beatrice's quest to track down her sister.

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