Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I'd never been in love. Love wasn't part of my chemical make-up. So why couldn't I get this boy out of my head?"
Fast-forward four pages and you'll have a pretty shrewd idea.
Aged anywhere between a precociously self-assured twenty-two and a relaxed twenty-eight, in his pristine slacks and tight, black, concentric-ringed t-shirt, he is a full-lipped, doe-eyed beauty. More importantly, as they glance over at each other then stare fully clothed on his bed, he is strikingly familiar.
"My obsession began a week before.
"I was having breakfast with my husband at this diner called the Topspot. That's right. I was married."
She'd felt sorry for him.
Oh, she'd had plenty of suitors throwing themselves at her before - both men and women - and I can't say I blame them. Markedly more dowdy in the company of her husband (plain dress or diamond-patterned golfing jumper), Nadya, when out and about, is ever so casually chic and alluring, radiating a quiet but commanding confidence.
"I never dreamed the tables would get turned like this."
You wait until the phone rings, Nadya.
There's a clue to all this in the third tale, in case you miss it: anadrome.
If I had to summarise the mysteries of UNREAL CITY, tables being turned - both on its protagonists and on its readers - would be very high on my list. Relationships, perception, time, manipulation, reality, fiction... all these will be warped as D.J. Bryant presents you with puzzles to mess with your mind and, once again, with his protagonists'. Control will be sought, control will be lost, and in 'Objet D'Art' control may never have been an option in the first instance - whichever instance the first one turns out to be.
It's all very David Lynch, even down to the sound in 'Emordana', but with a fresh inventiveness of its own evidenced most clearly in 'The Yellowknife Retrospective' and 'Objet D'Art' which wouldn't work in any medium other than comics.
The five separate stories are presaged by the endpapers which show a man approaching a black opening ahead, one hand holding onto the wall, the other outstretched in front of him; another sat lifeless and despondent in a crowd; a dolled-up dame in black bunny ears; a youth startled outside his ornate brownstone's front door; a wild drive in the countryside; and the first man, once again, sat in a theatre's auditorium, resolutely refusing to clap as everyone around him applauds.
Bryant's art is meticulous and glossy, sexy and hypnotic; Charles Burns with more of an eye for high fashion. It's also decidedly top-shelf for two of the tales.
There's an extraordinary amount of detail in 'Objet D'Art' both at a pretentious costume party for performing hipsters and within the pages of a science fiction graphic novel which our narrator discovers in a bookshop window after returning to a city he'd left two years earlier, and to an apartment opposite the Zethus Building where he used to live. You can read its very dialogue if you peer closely enough, and it's well worth the effort for what follows because - its science-fiction setting aside - it echoes uncannily true to the disconcerted former suitor.
We immediately flash back two years earlier to the future graphic novel's creator and his wife whom he dresses up as his own female protagonist in familiar black bunny ears to attend a fancy dress party they'd been waved over to attend from the window opposite theirs. It proves to be pivotal both to their lives, the plot of the story and the plot of the husband's graphic novel. But oh, how much stranger are the final few pages several more years down the line...
There's a complete change in art style for 'The Yellowknife Retrospective' which is almost Hannah Barbera and in full colour. It sees artist Jack Yellowknife visit the Igloo Gallery with his far better informed lover, Laura.
"It's the first structure to incorporate the principles of temporal design."
Jack is sceptical, aloof and above it all. Until on the top-left hand panel of the very next page within the Igloo Gallery, he sees himself (minus the sunglasses still worn inside) racing up to greet him.
"Yo, Jack! It's me! Yourself from the immediate future!"
"What the fuck?"
"Hey, where did Laura go?"
"I dunno. What the hell is going on here?"
"It's this gallery, man! It warps time!"
The second of three tiers on that page begins with Jack and Laura entering through the Igloo door, Jack confident, almost proprietarily.
"Temporal design? I don't think I've heard of that before."
"Basically," she explains, "the curvature of the walls and the angle of the floor are constructed in such a way so that time loops back on itself from one end of the building to another."
"You're shittin' me!"
"I shit you not!"
And your eye is led down not to the left-hand panel on the third tier, but to the right-hand one as Jack spies them entering the gallery a few moments earlier then races off to see if he can interact with himself.
Now then: pull back and look at that page again: it's composed like a simple, dice-rolling board game with "squares" in place of panels in the shape of a 6 and the starting square isn't the top left-hand panel but - by dint of its being pulled out just a little more than the others to the left - the middle left-hand panel. Follow the shape of the 6 round from there up to the top tier then onto the next page and...
It has only just begun.
Lord, how I love comics!
For a comparison point to that particular page, please see Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III's PROMETHEA VOLME 3 and its Möbius Strip, along which the two women can hear each other talking through its alternate side.
One thing I've not done yet is properly address or even emphasise clearly enough the sexual content of this collection. The tale we tossed off on, 'Echoes Into Eternity' is merely playful. Beautifully playful, and it may make you grin. 'Evelyn Dalton-Hoyt' is much darker fare, starring a husband caricatured to my mind to resemble Steve Buscemi. It's in the lips and the eyes. It's an orgy of castigation, humiliation and emasculation with a Deathcrawl childhood ditty / refrain on a tricycle. It's gripping.
But perhaps the most complex of all the pieces here is 'Emordana: The Inflection Of Nothing On The Visual Cortex'. This is a structural analyst's dream, revealing the truth behind what you think you're looking at (on the very first page, for example) only as the proverbial onion is peeled away.
All I will tell you that the tale's title also doubles as a that of a vinyl LP...
"A song keeps skipping and repeating. The same beat; the name of some girl. A feat that keeps your heart beating to the same monotonous rhythm."
... and a theatrical play being performed tonight by its most reluctant trapped actors. Including the one in the audience.
Expect switches everywhere.
The only table-turning twist we don't have here is the self-reflexive. Outside of that, everything goes.
Behold a new voice that has been bubbling beneath the surface for quite some time. No single page from the original, abandoned UNREAL CITY serialised endeavour has been retained or incorporated. And there were some terrific pages there, I promise you. But, comparatively speaking, they were mere youthful notions and ideas without the confidence or complete command displayed here, and it was both brave and wise to let go.