Reviewed by Jon A Adams
I have no idea what I’ve just read. But it sure looked good.
I’ll start with the cover, which is very eye-catching for those of us who lived through the 1980s. It is either a copy of or inspired by the prints of Patrick Nagle, an artist best known in pop culture for designing the cover Duran Duran’s album “Rio.” The interior art work is reminiscent of Dave “Watchmen’ Gibbons’ style. Realistic, yet still “comic book-y.” Very attractive. I’d recommend this on the art alone.
The story is impenetrable. Perhaps I’m too thick, perhaps it’s too British culture-centric, perhaps it’s too music-centric. They only thing that made sense was the intro. I quote from the inside front cover, “Music is magic… In ‘Phonogram,’ this is literally true. Phonomancers use this knowledge to change their lives. Generally, for the worse.” The editorial claims it’s about the magic of music (clear enough) and about growing older (I can see that).
Within, we meet a coven of phonomancers. The lead character, Emily, has sold half her personality to some sort of demon-god of music (personified as a bejeweled, gloved hand reaching out of a television tuned to MTV). We follow the bitchy yet oddly likeable Emily over the decades until she reaches a crisis point. Not to give away the climax, but over-think the classic music video for A-Ha’s “Take on Me” and you’ll figure it out.
The plot is obscure, the philosophy dense, but the dialogue quirky and sharp, like the cool kids in high school you wanted to hang around but didn’t. Many inside reference were lost upon me. This story is best understood by those who have either: 1) lived through the 1980’s, 2) know a bit about recent British culture, or 3) read the preceding series, “Phonogram: Rue Britannica” and “The Wicked + The Divine.” But this story would be best appreciated by those who go in blind and have their minds blown.
The main feature left me cold, suspecting the series may be another “Watchmen.” (Not a compliment – to me, that means excellent concepts, fabulous first three-fourths, but falls apart in the end.) What won me over were the done-in-one back-up stories, both of which conveyed vivid portraits of their protagonist’s personality despite their brevity. That, and writer Kieron Gillen’s editorial and glossary. His writing style strongly reminded me of “The Enemy,” a British alternative music magazine from the early ‘80s. (Gillen mentions he wrote for “Plan B,” a music mag from the mid-2000’s.) I have no idea who Gillen is, but I couldn’t help but instantly tune onto his wavelength. His voice feels fresh, yet fits as comfortably as a well-worn glove. It inspires faith in the direction the series seems headed.
My verdict: I recommend it. Might not make a lick of sense, but the story makes you think, and you have fun doing so.