Page 45 Review by Stephen
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."
- William Shakespeare, 'King Lear'
Poor Cordelia, side-lined by her father for failing to flatter him!
Or, in this Cordelia's case, for being so contrary that she cannot be trusted, so unreliable that she fails to make family funerals (and then turns up plastered) and is a catastrophic liability when it comes to being hired as a magician for children's birthday parties. It's come to my attention recently that parents are now expected to hang around and make small talk with each other during their sproglets' celebrations: in our day parents considered it a few hours free babysitting and buggered off to enjoy their brief break of freedom.
Far from enjoying a brief break of freedom following her most recent engagement, chic but worse-for-wear Cordelia finds herself sitting in the back of a police car in handcuffs.
"What kind of a person gets arrested at a five-year-old's birthday party?"
"The magician, obviously."
"How the hell does that even happen? You're supposed to be in there making balloon animals and shit."
"Well, I guess it all took a turn for the worse when the mother caught me fucking her husband in the kitchen. She threw a punch. I hit her back. Next thing you know, we're wrestling on a bouncy castle and some kid's having an asthma attack."
She pauses, easing her back leather jacket back off her shoulders, eyes staring wearily into space.
"I think the moral of this story is never pour vodka on your breakfast cereal when you run out of milk."
One of the cops reads Cordelia's business card.
""Children's Entertainer. Stage Magician. Professional Escapologist." "Is escapology even a thing?"
"Take a look in your rearview mirror."
Cordelia's gone, leaving only the handcuffs.
Deliciously drawn by Olivier Coipel and coloured by Dave Stewart with relish, this is meticulously constructed for maximum hindsight-satisfaction after the three successive whiplash revelations / reversals in the final two acts. It's by far the finest thing that Mark Millar's written since JUPITER'S LEGACY VOL 1, JUPITER'S CIRCLE VOL 1, JUPITER'S CIRCLE VOL 2, JUPITER'S LEGACY VOL 2 (suggested reading order, otherwise the last one will leave you utterly baffled as to one man's motivation and its emotional core), and it's infinitely more accessible for you can file this self-contained graphic novel under 16+, horror, comedy, fantasy and yet another good old family feud. That's what King Lear's all about too.
For King Lear, I give you the patriarch Leonard, performing stunts live every night to a packed-out theatre and basking in his audience's adulation. He's father to Cordelia, Regan and Gabriel, the last of whom has left the family business after losing his daughter to said family business. The family business in question is magic; specifically saving an unsuspecting global population from the darker forces at large without them ever being aware of The Magic Order's efforts or indeed existence. They've done it for generations, consulting each other from their castle base which has been hidden inside a painting since a security breach in 1986. Now it cannot be accessed except through formal invitation. Its permanent resident is dear Uncle Edgar, who's seen better days and no longer allowed out to play. Let me be plain: he is forbidden from leaving the castle.
The feud in question stems from the slight of Leonard inheriting the family business from his Uncle Conrad instead of Conrad's own daughter, Madame Albany, another thankless child deemed untrustworthy who has since taken it upon herself to dress in flowing, funereal black and a black rubber gimp mask. With the head-of-house mantle also came The Orichalcum, a book containing the darkest spells of Old Atlantis, bequeathed to Leonard only on the strict condition that he never open it. It is housed securely in the castle's library.
Albany only wants that which she deems to be hers, and to prove her father wrong in failing to trust in her honourable intentions.
To that end she has acquired the assistance of The Venetian, a porcelain-masked assassin otherwise bearing a striking resemblance to Guy Davis's Vol de Galle from THE MARQUIS, only with a wand instead of sabre and pistols.
I can assure you that the wand is catastrophically more effective: within the first four pages The Venetian has dispatched the first of the family's inner circle by possessing his infant son, who climbs stealthily up over the contented couple's post-coital sheets like a vampire bat, before thrusting a kitchen knife up through his father's throat. There's barely time for a graveside post-mortem squabble before the rest of the family start falling like flies.
This is important: they've no time to rally. There'll be nothing new that they can bring to the table with which to defend themselves, only their resolve and character.
As to The Venetian's disposition, one of his assaults involves jamming the doors of a taxi then flooding it from the inside with a wave of his wand and the customary car-command when once there were petrol pump attendants of:
"Fill 'er up."
Now, the thing about magic is that there must be rules.
Without rules it's just nebulous, free-form hocus pocus with no room for tension.
Mark Millar establishes all the rules very early on and - like any great conjuror - he does so while distracting you so that you don't even notice. When everything's played out so satisfyingly, however, and you look back in retrospect, they've all been hidden in plain sight, I promise!
Equally distracting is all the art.
You may know Olivier Coipel from his distinctly Norse eyebrows in J. Michael Straczynksi's THOR VOL 1 (or as I call it "Loki be a lady tonight"), Marvel's HOUSE OF M and CIVIL WAR II. If so you'll know that his forms are bold and his fashion sense exquisite. Even Gabriel's affectation-free dismissal of all but the most comfortable clothes works, for it places him resolutely in the world of quotidian life, vowing never to return to that which killed his daughter in order to protect his mentally vulnerable wife. When his daughter appears in flashbacks, it will floor you.
Yet Dave Stewart has here switched to a far softer style, colouring over Coipel's precise lines in order to render them not just moody but far more ethereal, which is perfect for when the physical realms start shifting subtly and very, very dangerously. Particularly striking are Madame Albany's eyes - cold black dots on ice-white, glassy balls - and The Black Kingdom Castle ("It's rumoured to be accessed through a crack in an asylum wall. Others say it sits in the shadow of a former church."), rising brutally from sharply spiked, Stygian grey mists like a multiple-towered, ebony stake through easily giving flesh.
Meanwhile, back to Cordelia, who's been an escape artist, practically speaking, since very soon after conception.
"I don't know why I'm less reliable that the others. Maybe it's because Mom got tired of Dad's infidelities and left him for a regular Joe who didn't know her past. Maybe it's because Dad tried to abort me. But I've made bad choices my entire life, and I doubt that's going to change any time soon.
"So I drink too much, fuck the wrong guys, and try to gain my father's approval by doing the same job he does. My friends say I'm needy and they're probably right. Should I really give a fuck what my father thinks, when I'm standing on the cusp of turning thirty in September?"
We pull back on the next page to reveal whom she's addressing, shell-shocked, under banners and balloons.
"Anyways, I hope you kids had a lovely party."
Like FROM HELL, this isn't a whodunit, it's a whydunit.
But, unlike FROM HELL, please don't think you know any of the answers yet.