Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I'm not afraid. This city already killed me once."
I love a good structure, and they don't come more cleverly crafted than this.
As with all six CRIMINAL books and the new CRIMINAL SPECIAL (also available at the time of typing as a CRIMINAL MAGAZINE EDITION complete with a fab faux letter column), this is completely self-contained but for regular readers it's time for a history lesson because, as Jake 'Gnarly' Brown says right at the start, "If you want to understand the truth about anyone, about who they are and where they came from and what they might do, good or bad... you have to look back."
And so it is that we turn back a whole generation to 1972 to discover how bartender Jake 'Gnarly' Brown became childhood friends with Sebastian Hyde, son of the city's crime boss, through an act of faith on the part of Brown Sr.. We see him fall for beautiful Danica Briggs, step aside for Sebastian, and then lose his temper when he realises how Sebastian bragged his own way into losing a stash of $50k with fatal consequences.
In the second story we see Teeg Lawless (ah yes, that Teeg Lawless) return from Vietnam in body if not soul and you bet that Sean Phillips can do "haunted". Haunted, angry and out of control, drinking his way into blackouts, smacking his wife around in front of his son, being called on a debt he took out before the war, and making a single mistake which impacts on them all.
Lastly it's time for Danica Briggs - she at the very centre of it all - and her own account of the power of her pussy. There's a brief burst of monologue there which is so specific I wonder if it consciously or subconsciously paved the way for Brubaker and Phillips' FATALE. This she discovers after you learn what awful means Hyde Sr. used to scar her soul, kill her inside and abort her relationship with Sebastian. I warn you, that chapter's even nastier than the others.
I've talked about this before - though maybe it was on the shop floor - but I also love how Sean does "period": subtle touches like sideburns and television sets. There's never too much in a Sean Phillips panel. There is precisely what you need to stay focussed on what the cast is doing, what the cast is saying and tone in which these hard-pushed people are saying it. Everything is in service to the story.
The colours by Val Staples keep it period too, no more than a couple per sequence in various tones: brown and yellow, green and yellow, purple and yellow, blue and yellow or just plain blue. Between Phillips and Staples there is a discipline and orderly restraint letting the protagonists' lack of either speak for itself. Then when a watercolour dream sequence kicks in it is startling.
As to the structure, each of the three stories informs the other like PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB: you think you know the score until each new perspective reveals a previously unseen aspect. I have a flow chart here (well, a series of criss-crossed arrows and some fifty names and incidents they link together) showing just how tight this is, and the central role that The Undertow bar plays.
Well, it's where Gnarly winds up, after all.
He's serving pints of bitter.