Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Look at this. 'Now you too can look like your favourite member of The A Team, B.A. Baracus, with these authentic looking neck chains.' My favourite member of the The A Team was Mad Murdock."
"What is that you're reading? Are you reading G.Q.?"
"It's a monthly magazine listing all the comics and sci-fi product to be available to specialist shops in two months time."
"It's just that I've never seen such a thick magazine before. You've got to be holding a branch right there."
"Don't be fooled. It's printed on very cheap paper. It's got to be at least eighty percent air. There's no B.A. wig. What's the point of having all the chains if you haven't got the B.A. wig?"
"I like it when you talk about The A Team."
"Oh yeah. It means that you're not rattling on about Dr. Who. Where is your magazine, anyway? Did you leave it in the bus shelter?"
"No... Look. I've always tucked my magazines into my sock if I don't have a bag, ever since I was a boy. It prevents my fingers from making them all grubby and the wind from blowing them out of good condition. Plus it leaves my hands free. Good thinking don't you think?"
"Leaves your hands free for what?"
"Well, you know... free to deal with any sneak attacks."
Haha, that really is a Diamond PREVIEWS magazine he has got stuffed down his sock! I can't imagine his sock will ever be the same after that behemoth has been tucked down it, mind you. I don't know about sneak attacks, but it certainly does prove useful in getting Cliff out of a tight spot on the bus, when caught in a quandary over whether or not to belatedly offer his seat to one of the gaggle of angry old ladies staring at him accusingly. It's not that he isn't willing to, he's more than happy to, it's just he hadn't spotted them gathering and now he can't decide which one he should proffer it to without causing offence to all the others. How does PREVIEWS help in this tricky social faux pas of a situation, I hear you wonder? Well, rather craftily he pretends it's a false leg, necessitating he remains seated!
Paul B. Rainey will always hold a place in my comics heart for his MEMORY MAN, something now lost to the midst of time - much like my own memory - that our Mark showed to me back in the veritable day. In more recent times he's compiled THE BOOK OF LISTS which did tickle me rather and he has been contributing to Viz with the chortle worthy 14 YEAR OLD STAND UP COMEDIAN (of which you can read a few strips on Paul's blog HERE). He had obviously also been working on this 350-page wedge of gently whacky very British sci-fi comedy, which I am delighted to report had me chuckling throughout.
The main characters Cliff and Barry are collector nerds of the worst possible kind. Men-children stuck in an obsessive-compulsive world of the acquisition of science fiction merchandise and paraphernalia. Plus the odd comic, to be fair to them. Unlike their adolescent crackpot American cousins in Evan Dorkin's savagely funny THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB, the rather more sedate Cliff and Barry are already well into the age where they ought to be settling down, buying a house and starting a family. But as Barry rather sagely observes during one of their many amusing self-deprecating conversations (for they know exactly just how socially maladjusted they are) there is precisely zero chance either of them actually managing to meet anyone remotely romantically inclined towards them, let along spawn any offspring.
Cliff, though, despite, (or maybe because of!) being a Doctor Who-a-holic is a secret romantic at heart, holding a flickering, stuttering torch for his landlord, the dairy product-addicted and highly neurotic Kelly. Barry, well, Barry's got his own methods of dealing with his desires. Suffice to say, there just so happens to be a massage parlour opposite their local purveyor of sci-fi tat, Ye Old Sci-Fi Shop...
So far, so funny. Where does the sci-fi come into it then? Plastic crap aside. Well, in this world, the future has made contact. Yes, people have time travelled back from generations hence, opening up whole new vistas of knowledge. In fact, there is a whole new branch of the world wide web, known as the Ultranet, where if you're not careful and start doing searches on yourself, you might well find out the date of your death. Or just how long you're going to be stuck in that dead-end boring job you hate. Unsurprisingly, though, most people use it for illegal downloading of film and television programmes yet to be broadcast! Here's Barry trying to tempt the previously temporally pious Cliff to the dark side...
"Why don't you borrow this episode of Dr. Who? It's only from next week so, legally, it's already been made and you're not cheating the 'natural order' of things."
"Well, if that's okay..."
"And look, it has the holographic sleeve with it as well, printed by me. Good, eh?"
"It is very alluring."
Barry's hooky material is provided by the third of our triumvirate of social maladroits who goes by the unlikely name of Inspector Jive, or just the Inspector for short. Struggling with agoraphobia, he's been lured out of the house by Barry to impersonate someone from the future for a crackpot scheme to make Cliff's landlady fall in love with him. Unsurprisingly it doesn't quite work out as they'd hoped. Well, not right now, anyway. For as the full version of the proverb goes, at least according to the great 16th Century compiler of proverbs John Trusler (who I'm sure was also quite the barrel of laughs at a party)... "No time like the present, a thousand unforeseen circumstances may interrupt you at a future time."
And indeed they will for I have barely scraped the surface of the crazy, timey-wimey plots going on here. There's the mildly sinister mono-horned Admiral Ogmyre from several thousand years in the future (who I am convinced may well be a little nod to H.R. Costigan from LOVE AND ROCKETS) and who also has designs on Kelly. Plus this is a story also told in two (well several, actually, but mainly two) time periods. In addition to seeing Barry, Cliff and the Inspector in their pomp, we also see them as pensioners set against the backdrop of all the world's governments deciding that the present era of humanity must retain freewill, thus all connections with the Ultranet will be shortly severed and time travel to and from the future must cease completely, to save humanity from itself.
For people like Barry, the imminent 'retrograding' represents a complete disaster, though the three chums set up a club in their community centre to rewatch and discuss historical TV classics like Babylon 5 to help assuage the loss of illicit viewing pleasures. For others, like their care worker Lara, a tourist from the future, pregnant and unable to book herself passage back to her rightful point in time amidst the mad scramble before the retrograding is complete, it's potentially far more serious than that.
Will it all work out for everyone in the end? Well, wrapping up all the loose ends in time travel yarns is notoriously tricky, but Paul's mad methodology had me guessing and gasping right up to the end. It all goes a bit gloriously Scooby Doo in a manner somewhat akin to the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky, which are two things I never thought I'd squeeze into the same sentence, but it's very cleverly done. So after restraining himself admirably on the sci-fi front for the first four-fifths of the book, which is really far more a comedy of manners with a dash of Carry On than anything else, Paul lets himself run riot portraying a future - futures, sorry - which makes even the most insane episode of Doctor Who look rather pedestrian.
If I had to sum this up in a single sentence I would have to say it's like Gilbert Hernandez crossed with VIZ. In other words, utterly brilliant.