Page 45 Review by Stephen
"The world we see is smoke...
"And it's all the evidence we need to know the flames are real."
Most of us have no idea.
All we see is the investment bankers' greed, their ruthlessness, their obscene material wealth and their seeming immunity when things go wrong at our expense.
But with Russian plutocrat Viktor Eresko in particular, this invulnerability, this impregnability which you can hear in every word he speaks seems derived from something far older and much more substantial than mere wealth. Lesser men would mistake his assured self-confidence for arrogance. It's not. It is knowledge.
Ignorance is bliss. Things once seen cannot be unseen, so be careful what you go looking for. Clue: on the cover one of the co-creators is listed as Abaddon...
Big, fat-cat package of occult crime fiction exposing investment banking as a deal with the devil, and in which conspiracy theory turns out to be decades of carefully constructed practice. Surprising no one.
If you were spellbound by Brubaker and Phillips with Breitweiser in KILL OR BE KILLED with its exceptional psychological exploration of a single man on his way to murder, then this will make your head spin.
BLACK MONDAY MURDERS is all kinds of uncommonly clever. It's interactive, and it is only fitting for a crime comic that you're invited to do some detective work yourself.
I'll return you to the plot in due course, but I spent hours on its design as a package alone. As early as THE NIGHTLY NEWS Jonathan Hickman bowled us all over with his eye for design and his reaching ambition for what you could do with a comic. When freed from the constraints of superhero comics - which he nonetheless infused with his own unique, upmarket and intelligent, quite beautiful branding - Hickman can be, in his own very different way, a craftsman akin to Chris Ware.
I do believe he love puzzles.
The contents page in most prose and graphic novels is perfunctory or a bit of a tease at best. Exceptions include philanthropist Henry Fielding's riotously witty and iconoclastic tasters introducing episodes from his 18th Century novel 'Tom Jones'. Here the contents last an entire five pages, breaking the book into a four-act play, each of whose scenes carries an individual title. In addition - for Hickman does nothing by halves - every attendant diagram, pictogram, letter, diary entry, transcript, history map or censored personnel file is also titled [in square brackets], except for those whose very titles are censored.
These interspersed discoveries are presented as if typed manually, and bear all the grained imperfections of having been photocopied badly or expeditiously.
The effect is to present you with a secret dossier whose component parts you will need to analyse for yourselves in conjunction with each other and the main, comics narrative in order to build up the bigger picture. And it is a much bigger picture of language and numbers, the language of numbers, of wheels and of systems, of deals and dynasties, of power, money and magic.
Like the contents of the dossier, the main narrative also flickers backwards and forwards in time, so you'll need to mentally slot those sequences in too. Lastly, if you thought the cover credits were clever, wait until you read those at the back of the book, absolutely in tune with what comes before with its sentences hidden within sentences.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. This is brilliant.
For every transaction there is a price to be paid - a sacrifice to the great god Mammon - and most often it is in blood. The bankers just prefer it were ours.
"The first million dollars you make is self-financed. You earn it with your own blood. The cost is your health, your family, your friends.
"You pay, understand...
"The most common mistake is believing that you can accrue even more by continuing this behaviour. You cannot. If you're going to earn more... if you're going to earn real money - accumulate real power - then that is done on the backs of others. Call them workers, call them proles, even call them slaves. I do not care. Just know, it is they who you will sacrifice for gain."
Don't you love a little unexpected honesty?
Sometimes, however, as we shall see, the blood-letting is necessarily much closer to home.
The Caina Investment Bank was founded in 1857. In 1989 it merged with the Russian Kankrin Troika to form the Caina-Kankrin Investment Bank, the biggest in the world. But in between there have been fateful and sometimes fatal struggles for power within its rotating, four-pillar structure and the families - the Rothschilds, the Ackermans, the Dominics and the Bischoffs - who sat in its four chairs.
Then the Wheel would become broken.
It was broken when Wall Street crashed on Black Thursday morning, October 24th 1929. As America started haemorrhaging money, the man sat in the Stone Chair at the moment the music stopped started to haemorrhage blood.
Now the Wheel has been broken once more, for Daniel Rothschild - the managing partner in the Ascendant Seat - has been murdered. The remaining members of the Caina-Kankrin cabal have recalled Daniel's twin sister Grigoria from exile in England in order to fill his position, so that the cycle can continue. But Grigoria did not leave voluntarily, as we shall see, and now that she's back she has certain demands. She's also brought with her the family familiar, a ghostly-white and unreadable woman whose eyes are hidden behind reflective sunglasses, and who speaks only in arcane symbols.
Into this dangerous, twilight world strays one Detective Theodore Dumas, restored from suspension after he shot dead an unarmed civilian man in the middle of the street because he saw something no one else could. Turns out there were eight and a half heads in the civilian's freezer, with the next victim tied to his bed. He's been restored to duty because Daniel Rothschild murder involved an impenetrable ritual. With his preternatural insight, what will Theo see now?
I'm thrilled to see Tomm Coker back. Hopefully you remember him from the likes of the equally umbral BLOOD + WATER and UNDYING LOVE VOL 1, and here his masterful eye for tight composition gives us an elaborately staged, cryptic crime scene with a timely message.
The very first panel in 1929 is set ominously under the shadow of a barrage balloon which - rightly or wrongly - I always associate with war. What's bombing is the Stock Exchange. On the second page there's an acute emphasis on the vertical, on the drop. First there's the aerial shot of the Bank tower / spire, then there's the blood dripping from the man in the Stone Chair going down.
One other free-fall aside, Coker controls all other expressions - just as Garland does the colours - with enormous discipline, lending the dialogue a weight and a power and a shadow, if you like, under which you are drawn to wonder what lurks: hidden motivations galore, and all sorts of nasties dressed up to the nines. Eresko's one-on-one, close-up, unblinking eye contacts are terrifying.
Parenthetically, the dialogue is so well worded you can hear Viktor Eresko's accent as you read this purely from the carefully controlled cadence of his words.
Everything in this comic is ominous - wait until you descend deep under the Berlin Wall! - but there's a particularly impressive, deliciously shiver-inducing scene as Grigoria and her ever-attendant familiar, the impassive Abby, are driven back to New York, the jet-black clouds clawing across the blood-red sky like a shrouded spectre. Red is the only primary colour which Michael Garland uses, and he does so sparingly so it's all the more startling.
Coker's present-day Grigoria is elegant, commanding but where Coker excels himself is in Abigail, Abbrielle, Abby who assumes each era's contemporary chic. She is insouciant, but surprisingly tactile at times, and I love the way she cocks her head occasionally like a bird of prey, curious to gauge someone else's reaction to what has cropped up.
It's an intelligent book, well researched in the schools of economics and confidently delivered when Hickman's making it up. A lot of this is about truths and lies, truths within lies and vice-versa, including an entire website created to propagate one by using the other. Here's the sort of thing that's up for discussion:
"If you ask any competent linguist what's the most spoken language on Earth, they will tell you - with some assurance - it is Mandarin, and they would be wrong.
"Since we first learned to grunt, man has possessed a universal language, and it remains a language everyone on the planet speaks.
"You see, Detective, numbers are primal. What makes them enduring - what gives this language its true power - is when a number is attached to an object.
"We use that union of number and object to count, and counting is how we measure accumulation. And what is accumulation? It is wealth. Now consider that we do the same thing with people..."