The dread Formatitis rears its ugly little head with this issue of Phonogram, as the overall storyline of the series continues strongly within this issue, while we meet another intriguing character, Indie Dave. The formatitis in this instance is the whole “writing for the trade” concern, as the issue really feels like a chapter of one work rather than an individual issue, as if this was your first issue of Phonogram, you’d be completely lost. I know some folks argue that mini-series are held to a different standard than ongoing titles regarding “being able to understand what is going on,” and I think there probably is something to be said for that, but I think it’s more a matter of degree – a mini-series can be freer with the idea, but if you’re producing a work as an individual issue, then it should still work as an individual issue. If not, do it as a graphic novel (and yes, I understand that it is done this way mainly due to finances, but don’t try to let facts get in the way of my point!). Anyhow, this is a lot of negative-sounding talk about a book I ultimately enjoyed, so let’s get to the good stuff!
One of the funnest parts of writing books about magic (as opposed to writing Books of Magic) is that the very concept of “deus ex machina” is a natural PART of the story! I love the freedom that allows the more imaginative writers out there, and writer Kieron Gillen makes good use of this with the character of Indie Dave, and the notion of “memory kingdoms,” which are places set in the past where you are not travelling back in time not to a year, per se, but to the IDEA of that time period. Isn’t that an awfully clever idea? As Indie Dave describes it, “They’re the consensus memory of a time, a pure idea distilled from a million perceptions. With the correct ritual, you can attune and astrally project there. I spend much time holidaying in the older realms. The present offers me little. I prefer the vicarious thrills of the ghosts of London ’77 or Manchester ’89.”
This leads to a neat scene where our protagonist, David Kohl, enters the memory kingdom in a scene involving basically “dress-up.” Meanwhile, artist Jamie McKelvie continues his strong work with this issue. I love how he has this nice, clean style, as that makes the trippy stuff seem even TRIPPIER because it is being depicted in such a clean manner. It works very well.
Also, as usual with Phonogram so far, the issue has a number of other interesting characters, especially David’s “sidekick,” Kid With Knives. He’s a real hoot. When you are dealing with heady concepts, having a guy like Kid With Knives is great, because he just looks at things with the clarity of not beign too bright. Because he doesn’t overthink, he often distills notions to their most basic form, which is fun for the reader. And he’s goofy, too, which is fun.
In any event, while I would prefer that this issue pick us up on the story a bit more (not even a “previously” section!), the issue itself was fun, with good dialogue and characters. I would recommend it.
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