Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Mysteries within mysteries and an original mythology to become immersed in."
- Warren Ellis
First hefty half of what was originally a ten-volume series and, at the time of typing, we do have some of those slimmer WASTELAND volumes on sale at a mere £5-49.
I know you crave your post-apocalyptic fiction, and this one takes place during the most severe hose-pipe ban in history.
There's a constant dread of danger in this catastrophically damaged world. The various factions and indeed this whole, barely re-industrialised, mountainous city teeter precariously on the verge of violence, under threat as they are from ruthless political power-play, religious intolerance, and the very terrain which is barren and broken.
Whether it's the environmental Armageddon we currently face, the exploited lorry loads of refugees smuggled then sold into slavery, the destructive politics of tyrants like chin-less liar and coward Bashar Hafez al-Assad, or the wilfully ignorant racism that doesn't even have the good grace to lurk beneath the surface of our societies any longer, Johnston has found novel ways of building them into his depraved new world, giving it far more bite than most.
He's even thought about the language we use, particularly when swearing which traditionally references dogs and religion. Here the dogs are substituted with goats which are the cattle of this future, for there is no grass to graze, and since to those struggling to survive outside citadel limits goats represent their very means of subsistence, it's no surprise that some of their language revolves around them. As to religion and religious intolerance, an interesting point is made as a crowd gathers round to gawp at the corpse of a murdered sun-worshipper. There may be swears.
"Fuckin' deserved it. Filthy fuckin' sun-slaves."
"How do you know he was a sunner?"
"Look at him. All those freaky fuckin' tattoos."
"Weren't no slave, though."
"Oughta be. Sun-damned savages."
"No, why you say that? Why you say "sun-damned" when you don't believe in no Mother Sun?"
While we're on the subject of the two religions explored so far here, although there have been tax incentives to encourage marriage, this is the first time I've come across the idea of using such incentives to encourage conversion from one religion to another!
This all takes place in the city of Newbegin whose cold, calculating and treacherous leader is referred to in the text of a letter found by the scavenger Michael out in the wilderness, and attached to a machine which speaks in Tongue, a mysterious and (perhaps) lost language.
It's written by a father to his son, instructing him to follow the machine to A-Ree-Yass-I where, legend says, the Big Wet that destroyed their world began. He brings it to a town thence a woman called Abi, but when their settlement is burned to the ground by marauding Sand-Eaters, the survivors are forced to embark on a punishing journey to Newbegin itself which, if they survive the bandits, slave traffickers and their own tempers, might not be the salvation they hope for.
I so wish I could have found for you images of Christopher Mitten's soaking storm online. It slashes in front of the ramparts in bright, blinding sheets which erode so much behind or beneath it. There are some spectacular, full-page aerial shots of the astonished multitudes scurrying urgently about below.
In that second of the five chapters within in particular, Mittens remaining women and men are ghostly on the page, radiating light as much as reflecting it, from within or without the partial or total ruins and the opaque, grey, basic accommodation which boasts little-to-no decor which isn't entirely perfunctory. Implements of torture - that sort of thing. Speaking of which, it's good to know that we've got our priorities as straight as ever with what little electricity we've managed to regenerate. There may be the odd, lamp-lit main thoroughfare, but mostly it's used to shock the living daylights out of prisoners.
If the interior jail cells are fashioned from old iron bars, then the vast, warped exterior cages that resemble those of a zoo seem to be cobbled together from thick bamboo - or perhaps it's repurposed lead or copper piping.
You'll enjoy long, jagged blades, protective bandages wrapped around wrists, billowing dustcoats and utilitarian hairstyles ranging from shaven to short-cropped or the I-can't-be-arsed-to-even-cut-my-hair curtains. Basically this: it's all been thought through.
You may know Mitten already as Johnston's cohort on UMBRAL whose first volume we made Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month, an act which reportedly caused the most massive spike of internet interest which Antony charted, and deservedly so. We very much recommend UMBRAL, particularly if you're partial to purple.
I now return you whence we began to Warren Ellis, renowned grumpy-chops and ever-so-astute writer of PLANETARY, INJECTION, TREES, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, GUN MACHINE and so much more. Why not pop him in our search engine, lock the door then throw away the key? If you do, you'll find some of his swears are the best.
" Yesterday's "time off" was spent reading the four extant collections of Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten's WASTELAND, which can be viewed as Antony's death metal take on DUNE, given that it's ultimately about the crisis of the cogs of competing systems clashing against each other on the stage of a world that's not really geared for supporting life. That there are wheels within wheels and systems unseen by many of the protagonists is part of the work's developing tragedy."