Page 45 Review by Stephen
I love this sense of scale!
Is it okay if I start crying now?
Welcome to a whopping, album-sized, 275-page graphic novel of exceptional light and beauty - and the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth.
Specifically, the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth embedded in a mouth big enough to engulf a bathysphere as if it were a bonbon. That mouth belongs to an eighty-foot long Megalodon, a species of shark which didn't have the decency to die out 2.6 million years ago as we were all promised. Since it didn't die out, you can assume with some certainty that it's not alone. It'll have to have a few honeys to breed with.
How has it survived? That proved quite clever. Not everything here passes the credulity test quite so creditably: like Major Bertrand's decision to dive back into the water once a diving cage has been crushed / mangled / mauled beyond recognition, just to see what enormous subaquatic creature could possibly have done that. It proves a pivotal plot point - on account of what else he spies lurking below which he vows never to impart to anyone - but you really wouldn't do that, would you? "All you can eat" must surely be the default menu of any Megalodon on the move.
I thought it cruel, being made to read and review this, for I am terrified of sharks. Mesmerised, but terrified. I don't really want any species to die out, but the very idea of diving in a cage surrounded by Great White Sharks - or even a solitary soul out for a leisurely, late-afternoon swim-stroll - is insane.
I used to have shark dreams once a week between the ages of eight and thirty-five. They rarely ended well. I would see shadows of sharks even within in-door swimming pools, for which I blame James Bond. Strangely, those dreams ceased once I came face to face with a barracuda while snorkelling in Barbados. It swam, fast as lightning, to within two feet of my nose. Thankfully it executed an equally abrupt about-turn, but not before I was gifted with a true appreciation of how phenomenally hideous its ugly mug was.
All things are relative. It's about to get uglier.
Carthago is the name of the international corporation which trades in both gas and oil, drilling out to sea for both. In 1993 one of their drills penetrated a deep-sea cavern and all four divers disappeared. They couldn't resist investigating this new, exotic environment, and this new, exotic environment couldn't resist investigating them. Nom-nom, etc.
I cannot begin to convey to you how tense and claustrophobic Henninot renders their initial, tentative, reconnoitre, so much hidden in the impenetrable, inky black which their tiny, inadequate flares and torches barely manage to illuminate. Thanks to the two-page prologue 73 years ago, we are anticipating a certain sort of... reception... but it's ever so subtly introduced on the final, small panel of a right-hand page by a free-floating hand and attendant rivulet of blood.
Mr. Snyder, Carthago's chairman of the board who sports a fetching black balaclava, is well aware of what went on way back then. He's had video footage since day one. Now he shares it with his suit-and-tie board members, but with strict instructions that it must never be leaked lest they be hit with multiple law suits, not least for negligence. Further fears include the plug being pulled on further drilling, and their already precarious profits ($90 billion from one rig alone) will go into free-fall.
Unfortunately for Carthago, its chairman is not the only one in possession of that film. A radical environmentalist sub-cell within Greenpeace has copies too and shows one to Dr Kim Melville, fresh from discovering three-foot-long crayfish below the Sarrans Dam in France. Parenthetically her daughter, Lou, has discovered pike three times her size in the freezing waters, 150 feet down without the aid of any breathing apparatus or indeed any facial protection whatsoever.
"Lou's not like other little girls..."
No, indeed, as you will see.
We're still on the first two-dozen pages, but what follows is an ultra-competitive race between multiple factions to a) capture proof of a Megalodon's existence b) expose Carthago's less than ethical cover-up and collusion, then c) get to the very bottom of the sea's hidden depths and secrets sustained over the centuries - improbably so, since photography was invented.
Drop in the ocean? I should say so! I've not even touched on the prime mover, one elderly Mr Feiersinger, confined to a futuristic wheelchair / life-support system. An unimaginably wealthy, ruthless and obsessive collector of the rarest artefacts imaginable, he resides in Eagle's Eyrie atop the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in a vast, Gothic castle whose cathedral-like hallway resembles the central nave of the British Museum. He has in his indebted thrall the graphic novel's action hero, London Donovan. You will learn of this debt and of the expedition which led to Mr Feiersinger's current condition anon, but not here.
All these paths and many more will cross, criss-cross and re-cross again in an increasingly convoluted, full-blown sci-fi experience involving maritime survivors, monomaniacal malfeasance, more monsters than I'm willing to give away here, hereditary hiccups, ancient civilisations and, yes, the most enormous, razor-sharp teeth.
The planet is changing: it's realigning. Ice floes are shifting. Whales and dolphins are beaching themselves in what appears to be a coordinated mass suicide or desperate flight. Forces - both familiar and familial - are coming into play, and if you believe that "the blood-dimmed tide" is already loosed then I swear that you ain't seen nothin' yet.
This is spectacular. It truly is spectacular.
Delphine Rieu's colours in particular complement Eric Henninot's crisp, clean lines to perfection. Her whites and blues are bright and pure, while Henninot's faces are a little like P. Craig Russell's. His sense of scale is as thrilling, particularly when looking up at the dam or Eagle's Eyrie's interior, so rich in vertical detail. Moreover, his sharks are ferocious and, as I've intimated, they are not the only challenge present.
His successor halfway through, Milan Jovanovic, isn't quite all that but only because you've been spoiled rotten beforehand. The tidal waves are still terrifying, the underwater menaces still petrifying and there's one page featuring the most misjudged practical joke of all time which will render one young lad speechless for years.
However, honestly dictates I concede that two-thirds of the way in it threatens to collapse under the weight of increasingly ridiculous coincidences, along with improbable decisions and observational failures on the part of the cast. It doesn't, but it threatens to, especially when those cast members haven't proven so dim in the past. (Apart from Dr Kim Melville, perhaps: "Take your daughter to the seaside!" you will be screaming at her for the hundred odd pages it takes her to do so.)
As to Mr Feiersinger's younger brother... forty years younger? Okay, if he's revealed later on to be a covert catamite instead, I will whoop with penitent joy and enormous respect for the lack of hand-holding clues early on. Otherwise pfft!