Page 45 Review by Stephen
Dragons are a draw.
If we harbour so much love for creatures long lost - the giant lizards of yore whose haunting, hollow, excavated skeletons loom so impressively over our heads in natural history museums, catalysing the human imagination and a deep-seated regret - how much more romantic is our notion of the winged beasties which never existed?
Freed from the confines of both biology and physics, these dazzlingly hued, fire-breathing, multiformed majesties have taken wing in our hearts and minds since mythologies began. However ferocious their threat, they've often been imbued with a certain nobility - hence perhaps the designated rank and heroic calibre of their various nemeses, and their pride of place on the Welsh national flag. There's also an aspect of tragedy involved, perfectly evoked here.
There aren't enough decent dragon comics. Fewer still are those that do something different with them, like this, and it's full of heart right to the very last page.
Speaking of "different", I applaud the aesthetic decision to bleach this book of its former colour which throws focus onto its intricate line work and the gigantic forms which fill so many pages with their tough and rough hide. It's certainly not a commercial decision. Some customers are so averse to black and white graphic novels that I have to sell them with a set of coloured pencils. The grey tone is gorgeously warm, as is the bronze effect reserved for two specific elements: the young lad's thick leather handling gloves... and the dragon he handles.
It's set firmly in New York of the 1930s during The Great Depression when on both sides of the Atlantic the economies fell apart, welfare was slashed, unemployment rocketed and what employment there was could often be described as slave labour given the wage cuts and individuals' desperation for any way to pay for their next meal. FOUR EYES manages to reflect its social setting with power and compassion.
Ten-year-old Enrico is enjoying a rare day on the beach with both his parents. If you could find work you certainly didn't shirk it, so for his dad to be there, towering above his sandcastles, that means the world to him.
"We have had a good year. I know because Mama has stopped crying so much. Papa found new work. Steady work. With real pay. "The Lord provides," he says, always with a smile, like he's telling a joke. I don't know what his work is. When I ask, he always says "Taking care of you and Mama is my job." Then he tickles me and we laugh. Mama doesn't laugh with us."
That's because she knows what her husband's work is, and who he works for. Enrico is about to find out too, and then his job will be looking after Mama because he makes a terrible mistake he couldn't possibly recognise as the mistake that it is, and his world comes crashing down around him.
I liked Enrico, and I understood where he was coming from: his burning desire to provide for a mother who is far too beholden to others for comfort. Also, his fear of the enormous beasts, nesting in their subterranean lairs - they're terrifying to behold and Joe Kelly does a cracking job of building your trepidation in advance through their handler's stern warnings of what to do and what not to do if you start to smell methane.
But there's a newspaper page in the back of the book which is worth reading quite early on, convincingly explaining the relationship between the human population and the rarely spotted, rarely threatening but brutally treated dragons, used and abused in the same we as we do other animals, by making them fight for sport and gambling. Enrico has a lot of learning to do, and the final issue here was the clincher for me. There better be more.