Page 45 Review by Stephen
Full-blooded art with some seriously fine architecture, most of it on fire or in ruins during this blue-blooded, Second World War, superhuman showdown.
Initially it's the riff-raff on the receiving end but this gets bigger and bigger and nastier and nastier, sending you down some very dark and unexpected alleys. I don't think comparisons with ZENITH Phase One are uncalled for: not just for the WWII setting and the superhumanity, but for the politics as well.
One of the many elements that intrigued and impressed me no end was how Williams incorporated so many historically recorded events so inextricably within the story he wanted to tell - how at times they even propel it - even if their execution and outcome necessarily prove different. The handling of Pearl Harbour in particular struck me as trenchantly observed when it came to the Japanese psyche. I should probably stop there before I give too much away.
London 1940, then, and the problem for young Prince Henry is that not only are his subjects on the receiving end, but they're the ones doing all the fighting while his father, King Albert, holds lavish court in Buckingham Palace and his older brother gets pissed in the pantry with his trousers round his ankles.
Moreover, Britain is losing. London is being bombed to buggery in the Blitz while the RAF is painfully outnumbered and outgunned by the German Luftwaffe. The threat of an imminent Nazi invasion is all too real.
Royal Secret Intelligence Service liaison, Lt. Colonel Lockhart, isn't exactly happy about the state of affairs, either, nor the affairs of the State. He's sickened by the champagne-guzzling elite so far from the front line, and he's all too easily goaded by the dissolute Prince Arthur.
"May I ask your Highness, why you do not enter the fight yourself?"
I'd have thought that was blindingly obvious, Lt. Colonel, even to a man of your blatant lack of breeding. But I'll happily spell it out for you. I am a Prince. My life is extraordinarily enjoyable, and the gullible proles shoot their little guns and get blown to bits on my behalf. It's a quite marvellous social system."
So what's new?
What's new is this: the royal families of Europe have long enjoyed not only the Divine Right of Kings - the unquestionable and inalienable right to rule - but also supposedly God-given preternatural powers. Naturally they didn't want to share them, hence all the inbreeding. However, after a little revolution or two in France and Russia - and King Albert being a genetic aberration, born powerless - the King decided to protect his children from jealous Bolshies by pretending his children were born without powers too. They weren't. Princess Rose was born telepathic (something which drove her own mother mad), Prince Henry was born with the power of strength, flight and a certain degree of invulnerability, and Prince Arthur was born with the ability to piss everyone off within a fifty-mile radius.
Oh yes, Rose and Henry were born with something else which no royal family in Europe had been in possession of since records began: a social conscience. So late that same night, little more than an hour after the last German plane had dropped its incendiary load, they sneak out of the palace grounds, Rose cupped in Henry's arms as they fly high above London, looking down on its black-out monuments. They are sharing a moment.
"It's like Peter Pan."
But as they descend past the dirigibles suspended in the evening sky, they see they are lit from the below, and what lies below is a holocaust of burning buildings, burning bodies and wailing orphans lost and alone in the blistering inferno.
"No, it's not."
Of Simon Coleby's multiple stunning sequences and set pieces - including the prologue set in Berlin four years later; a titanic, oceanic confrontation; a jaw-dropping piece of perspective for the penultimate chapter's cliffhanger and every single subsequent twenty-two pages - this held the most power for me: beautifully controlled one either side by both creators (JUDGE DREDD: TRIFECTA) but, in its molten core, coloured by JD Mettler so that you can feel the unbearable heat and hear the crackling corpses, it's absolutely harrowing. Cut immediately to a morning shortly thereafter and the next German squadron making yet another of their relentless, remorseless approaches on the London skyline have more than they bargained for ahead of them: dozens and dozens of British fighter planes and a very angry, free-flying Prince Henry. He is not wearing royal livery, no, nor an officer's uniform, but rank-and-file, khaki, rolled up sleeves, braces and brown tie. Nice.
It's all quite angrily written, and I like that.
The early history lesson was far from perfunctory exposition but enjoyable in its own right (not a second of this is overwritten) and, in tandem with the ominous prologue, the cliffhanger is quite the ellipsis. Prince Henry has his day in the sun, all right, blasting through German bombers and returning one giant burning fuselage, held aloft, to a crowd cheering round the Victoria Monument with its angel of victory (again, great shot, Simon) but we already know by that point what will happen in 1945 and King Albert is reading The Telegraph headline with dismay.
His scheme had been far from unilateral, you see. He had made an international pact.
"Henry, you utter bloody idiot. Do you really think that we're the only royal family with power?"
Nothing I have written here will prepare you for the brutality of what ensues or Rob Williams' closely kept curve-balls; indeed I have compounded his own misdirection at least once above.
I did that with a review last week in a sentence which gave me inordinate pleasure, but only to enhance yours when you get to that comic's punchline.