Page 45 Review by Stephen
Oh dear gods, this is funny! I'm quite sure it shouldn't be, but it is.
"Warning: PANTHEON contains incest, decapitation, suspicious salad, fighting hippos, lots of scorpions, and a golden willy."
There's something for everyone, then.
Always wise to read the back-cover blurb, and they're not making it up. Believe it or not, the "suspicious salad" is the worst offender of the lot, tossed without any mind to Health & Safety; in fact, quite the opposite.
But believe it or not (reprise), Hamish Steele isn't making this up, either. Although he's mined the mythology for maximum mirth - lobbing in every anachronistic, artistic armament he can find - this is quite honestly how the Egyptian legends of creation and indeed procreation played themselves out without any heed to the niceties of familial decorum, marital boundaries, genetic wisdom or avuncular beneficence.
Prompted by the promise above I immediately searched the hand-dandy family tree of gods and goddesses arranged in such a way that they are linked as sibling, married to, child of, or even same guy. I wondered how many parallel lines I would find. The only way in which I was at all disappointed was in a narcissistic failure of the "same guy" to be married to himself. Otherwise...? All bets are off.
In particular Isis and Osiris really did keep it in the family, and their expressions in that timeline - one to-camera - are priceless.
The prologue's punchline - the very act of creation - is equally iconoclastic, perfect in its pithiness, and its use of a very rude word sets the tone admirably for all that will follow; little of which is, in any shape-changing form, admirable. Still, you can't create an omelette without breaking eggs or cleaving heads and caving in the skulls of your followers, and the same goes for new worlds and new world orders, apparently. Transitionally the mortal Egyptians are to be presided over by a pantheon of four second-generation gods, Osiris being their first pharaoh married to his sister Isis, with their brother and sister, Set and Nephthys, equally entwined.
What one expects most from such tales of divine intervention and antiquity is solemnity, majesty, Dire Declarations in Capital Letters and Multisyllabic Words.
Instead you'll be reminded, again and again, that Set is the most unbelievable cock.
Here's Ra / Atum, sun-god supreme and the top-tabler in this celestial convention:
"It is now up to you and your siblings to maintain the balance of Egypt during the transitional period between the Eras or God and Man. And one day you shall join us in Duat too.
"Now, don't fuck it up."
Young Set, to camera - immediately, gleefully and not for the last time:
"I'm gonna fuck it up."
Set is the king of contradiction, his ambition for power limited by nothing whatsoever, certainly not Osiris' oblivious gullibility. It doesn't just end in tears; it begins in tears with Set dethroning Osiris almost immediately through blatant, see-through trickery and in spite of Isis' repeated warnings.
Guys, please listen to your wives!
The problem, of course is that Isis is not only Osiris' missus but his sister too, and no one listens to their sisters except sisters. Here are sisters Nephthys and Isis discussing their current conundrum:
"I'm sorry about my husband, Isis. I dunno what Set has against Osiris."
"Maybe it's to do with when Osiris kicked Set last week."
"Maybe... Or maybe it's because I've been sleeping with Osiris."
"Eww, Nephy! He's your brother!"
"So is Set!"
"He's mine too!"
Meanwhile, as I said, Set's seized power and Isis is deeply pissed off:
"That's not your throne!"
"The pharaoh is gone and so his crown passes to his brother! Which is me!"
"You'd be a crap pharaoh!"
"I know! It's hilarious! You can still be queen if you want, sis. You're a solid eight."
We're nowhere near the suspicious salad yet, although it is fruit born of similarly inbred shenanigans which are so outrageous / extreme that I cannot possible write about them in public. So instead I'm going to roll out one of my favourite words: transgressive. If you've been enjoying the three MEGG & MOGG books, BOY'S CLUB or Joan Cornell's MOX NOX and ZONZO, then I would humbly submit that this morass of family misfortune is right up your back alley.
I wonder if this is why Nobrow Publishing gave birth to its all-ages imprint Flying Eye? You certainly wouldn't want this falling into the same tiny hands as HILDA.
Hamish Steele's designs for these gods are exquisite (and perversely ever so attractive to children!), some of them sampling Matt Groenig's penchant for wide-eyed, bulbous cartooning while others like uncle Set and nephew Horus lend themselves to equally expressive mischief with Horus's head coming off like an innocent greetings-card blue tit in black; one which will certainly start singing more than the dawn chorus once Horus is on the receiving end of Set's flamboyant flagrancy.
At which point I would just remind you that although this is a mesh of many mythologies from different localities, what's here was there: Extraordinarily, Hamish is merely re-presenting these extant legends presented by and to the Egyptian populace in all seriousness (in fact, more than seriousness: with all the sacred weight which comes with the divinity they describe) in an irreverently off-hand and jocular fashion whose comedy lies in that very contrast, the startlingly sexual nature of what he's disinterred, and the lightning-bolt timing and sometimes contemporary context with which he delivers it.
Additionally, some of the jokes are more subtle than others, Steele leaving this piece of minor genius until quite close to the end when Horus comes a cropper in a manner not so dissimilar to Anglo-Saxon King Harold, as made most comically famous by the late and indescribably great Stanley Holloway.
"Horus! Your eye!"
"What are you talking about? My eye is fine!"
Yup, looks fine to me.
"No! Your other eye!"
"My... My other eye?"
This 'what other eye?' joke is predicated upon the fact that Egyptian paintings universally presented all personages in profile when it came to their heads and that those thus characterised might be unaware that they even had a second, unseen eye.
That's ever so deliciously meta.
Finally, thanks to Steele's remarkable restraint in leaving this so long, it was only at this juncture - forgive me for being so slow! - that I realised I was reading what must surely be the first comic ever to be to be conducted throughout using profile-only faces.
Except for the very next page.
You are hearing a round of rattling, full-throttle and unequivocal applause.