Page 45 Review by Stephen
Abnett & Culbard seem to have a thing for alien invasion at the moment. In DARK AGES, now collected into a tpb, a cadre of 14th Century mercenaries wish for war and get what they want. Whoops.
Its alien invasion aside, this couldn't be more different. The leafy, tranquil and idyllic English country village of Lower Crowchurch is planning its annual fête over a few pints down the King's Arms. Judging by the open-topped motor cars parked up outside, we're looking at the early or mid-1930s. The wobbly-necked solicitor Gilbert Arrant is a shoe-in for the committee chair again. A natural leader, he's confident, encouraging, forward-thinking and assertive without being overbearing. His good friend Peter Minks, a journalist for the local paper with his hat permanently set at a jaunty old angle, will be in charge of the tombola.
"That's right, so bring along all your donations to me. Nice prizes, please. Not a lucky horseshoe again, Frank."
"It were a lucky horseshoe!"
"Not for the winner it wasn't."
Monacled Squire Umbleton will be demonstrating his revolutionary new agricultural engine which runs on diesel combustion, and of course there will be all the traditional competitions for cakes, jams, vegetables, flower arrangements, arts and crafts and possibly farm animals.
Joining them this year is retired old seadog Mr Clive Slipaway who has just moved in to Journey's End thatched country cottage and is giving its door and windows a fresh lick of nautical blue paint. He appears reserved, even wary, reluctant to engage - and certainly tight-lipped about the action he saw overseas in the navy - but reluctantly agrees to provide target practice with straw bales, tin targets and pellet guns. Nothing too dangerous, anyway
Unfortunately for everyone danger is heading their way, regardless. I suspect you'll have taken note of the cover. War Of The 'Wolds?
The night before notorious poacher Fawkes and his chum Bodie saw a falling star crash to earth on the other side of Hightop. He gate-crashes the committee meeting to warn his fellow villages, claiming it killed Bodie, burned up in a fierce flash of light. Unfortunately Fawkes is a fox who's cried wolf way too often whilst under the influence of alcohol, and only Clive gives credence to his cry for help.
"I've -- I've seen enough young men gripped in terror to know what genuine fear looks like."
As Gilbert, Peter and Clive set off to investigate, something on six legs stirs at Shortmile End and scuttles towards Mrs. Swagger's cottage where she works in the kitchen, all alone...
It's all very Doctor Who. I'm thinking specifically of Spearhead From Space, John Pertwee's first story, with an element of Christopher Eccleston's second. Except, of course, this is anthropomorphics - I haven't mentioned that yet, have I?
It is, however, quite different from any anthropomorphic comic I've seen before. Compared to the likes of GRANDVILLE and BLACKSAD this looks far more like a children's story book with bright colours, bold, clean lines and shapes, and maps throughout which have aged at their edges. It has that magical, fairy-tale aspect of Alice In Wonderland, the protagonists looking like actors who've donned oversized animal heads as they might for a pantomime. Whereas most anthropomorphic characters come with bright, shiny eyes, here - Fawkesie aside, wide-eyed in terror - the old 'uns eyes are almost closed under the glare of the summer sunshine, giving them a terrific sense of age. When Gilbert's do open a little indoors they have a fantastical sense of otherness.
Gilbert's body language is exquisite, delicate, his hands afloat, fingers crossed or gently caressing his chin. Peter's more of a cheeky chappy while Clive is doleful, heavy and tired with saggy jowls. The one time in the first chapter that he becomes animated enough to exert his undoubted physical strength and authority, you can just about see his lower teeth bared to intimidate. It's masterfully drawn.
Abnett, meanwhile, relishes the formality and propriety of the strangers' interactions, especially once they're joined by contemporary fiction writer Susan Peardew whose eyes too widen at what she encounters: living, concrete proof that her ex-husband's successful "scientific romances" - which she edited and essentially rewrote - weren't such fantastical imaginings as they both assumed.
Unfortunately the smaller, spidery scouts which proved lethal enough on their own are soon joined by far more formidable, lantern-topped enemies and our heroes find themselves in a desperate quandary: outgunned, they are being hunted and their only hope lies in greater numbers; but if they run for a village they'll only lead their pursuers there and so doom its inhabitants.
Includes diary entries, a guide to countryside walks, a newspaper report seized and censored by the military and newspaper pages in which the locals are alarmed at a proposed speed increase on the roads from 10 miles per hour to a positively reckless 15 mph!