Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Sorry about that. Punching your ex-husband."
"You only jumped the queue."
Welcome back to War Of The Wolds and the centre-piece of its trilogy. It's perfectly structured.
In WILD'S END VOL 1: FIRST LIGHT the dozy inhabitants of the sleepy hamlet of Lower Crowchurch (not necessarily in the Cotswolds, but equally green and pleasant) find skittering, metallic, spider-like creatures infesting its woodlands and click-clicking their way through its cornfields. The one thing scarier than an enemy you can't see coming is one which you can hear all around you. Lethal enough in their own right, they were as nothing to the far more formidable, lantern-topped alien which towered above them atop mechanical, octopoid tentacles. They barely survived its incinerating death-rays - some of them didn't - and that was but a single specimen.
Now Abnett does what any self-respecting science fiction writer would do and ups the ante. Considerably.
The survivors of the first encounter - ex-seadog Slipaway, local journalist Peter Minks,feline Susan Peardew and Alphie the piglet whose Auntie's now so much crackling - sought to raise the alarm, and the Ministry Of Defence is now both suitably alarmed and thoroughly paranoid. Lower Crowchurch has been quarantined by the British army, our valiant if fearful foursome have been arrested, and with no prior experience of aliens, the Ministry has lured in the only experts they can think of: science fiction writers.
The first is a self-satisfied, supercilious fat cat called Herbert Runciman who holds his more successful colleague Lewis Confelt in contempt for peddling "fanciful juvenilia" which "tarnishes the credibility of proper science fiction". But that's as nothing compared to the contempt Susan Peardew has for Lewis Confelt, for he's the ex-husband in question who's been hogging all the credit for the "scientific romance" novels which Susan effectively ghost-wrote herself.
In addition to the friction within the detainees - they're all detainees now - cracks begin to appear between the military and the Ministry who've sent a squirrel of a man called Mr Laidlaw who believes the aliens may have been around much longer than anyone thinks, and suspects they may even walk amongst them, disguised. The problem is that this paranoia extends to the heroic survivors - the only real experts he has at this disposal - whose experience he obstinately refuses to utilise.
Nothing is being done and while the clock is ticking, the fields begin clicking once more.
In some ways Culbard's storytelling here is similar to Jeff Smith's in BONE: uncomplicated character designs made centre-stage through uncluttered backgrounds and crystal-clear page compositions. Same goes for the colouring. But things really heat up which the flames start flying with all the searing intensity of a white-hot furnace.
In addition there are some spectacular full-page flourishes where you're either crooking your neck almost painfully up at the relentless, implacable invaders or looming over the relatively tin-pot army, with its tin-can tanks, from the aliens' P.O.V. which dwarfs them. Truly they don't stand a chance, but if you imagine their situation is dire, then there's a subtle piece of foreshadowing by both Abnett and Culbard which leads later on to a full-blown discovery on the final four pages so neatly reflected in the panel immediately preceding it.
Coming back both to the implacability, and the notion that an enemy you can hear on approach is even scarier than one that you don't see coming, it's noted by Herbert Runciman (who is as good as his word when it comes to extrapolation) that our invaders either don't have, need or at least use a written language. Here they show no evidence of language as we know it at all. They don't communicate. You can't reason with someone or something you cannot communicate with. That's even more frightening, and will prove Lewis Confelt's most bitter and specific disappointment.
For much, much more including Culbard's specific approach to anthropomorphism and body language, please see our review of WILD'S END VOL 1: FIRST LIGHT. Cheers!