45 Review

Publisher Com.x has been putting out unique books for the last 7 years and are most known for Cla$$war, but that book may very well be eclipsed by this ambitious Original Graphic Novel. It’s one of those superb, “why didn’t I think of that?!” ideas, and even though it’s been in the works for a while, the buzz surrounding it can only grow now that it’s out. If you’re still not convinced that Com.x is a publisher to take note of, check out this splendid trailer. OK, now before we get to the meat and potatoes of 45, here’s some perty pictures from it.

And yes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To see more visual treasures from 45 (18 pages in fact, go here. Now.) Apparently this is the first comic work of UK based graphic designer Andi Ewington. As revealed in an interview with CBR, Ewington first conjured forth this concept when he and his wife were facing the birth of their chid. From there it was a matter of convincing Com.x of it’s validity (of course, they wisely saw its potential) and then beginning the Herculean task of rounding up dozens of different artists as contributors. The attraction of 45 is twofold. Firstly, the concept of a journalist interviewing a bunch of different superpowered people to see what kind of life his own potentially superpowered child faces is brilliantly attractive as a unique narrative structure. Secondly, embracing the potential of the comic medium by giving 45 different artists free rein on one page each (focused on a particular superhero) creates a diverse array of art and makes it feel like  a portable gallery.

I recently read, or at least attempted to read, Max Brooks’ widely praised novel, World War Z. It also follows a journo as he interviews a bunch of different people across the globe. However, I soon lost interest as every interviewee sounded the same. Regardless of their relation to the future-set zombie epidemic, from scientist to military strategist to man on the street, their was no huge difference to the way they spoke. It didn’t sell the concept to me. Thankfully, Ewington knows better.

The world in which 45 is firmly entrenched begins immediately. Well after some praise from writer Jim Krueger and AICN’s comics reviewer. The foreword is written by James Stanley and it is he who leads us through the book. He’s a British journalist facing the birth of his first child in a word where “Normans” in other words non-powered individuals, co-exist with those possessing the Super-S gene, granting them unusual abilities.  Expectant parents can choose to have their babies tested for the Super-S gene to somehow prepare themselves for a possibly powerful offspring.

The first interview sets the tone splendidly, and feels like sitting down in a large, comfy chair you don’t want to leave. English couple Michael and Felicity Brown have only been parents for 5 hours, but knew instantly that their son was gifted as he began flying around the hospital room. Stanley then asks the logical question, “How did you manage to catch him?” to which Michael replies, “The midwife caught him just as his ability waned. Good hands, that one! I joked that she should try out as goalkeeper for West Ham-God knows they need one…” Classic, and a most pleasant introduction to what this book is all about. Let’s face it, “realistic” portrayals of superheroes existed long before Heroes stormed TV land. From Astro City to Marvels to Rising Stars, comics have played with the concept of more grounded powered individuals and how they affect society. However, Ewington brings the notion to the next level by filtering our experience of this world through Stanley’s eyes, or rather, questions. This combined with tantalising glimpses of the world beyond his interviews makes for an attractive and engrossing view, offered in bite size portions. With each new page turn we are presented further morsels, such as the existence of shadowy organisations taking an interest in these special kids, to government monitored S-Zones, to what life was like before the proper support was available.

Each interview begins with a quick intro of the parents and child (with names often changed for their own protection) and the location of the interview. It’s obvious Ewington has thought long and hard about the nuances of each interview. He doesn’t merely throw 45 conversations at us peppered with, “So what power does your child have?” and, “How does that make you feel?” Stanley’s asides, written in italics, let us know how the subjects feel, or what they’re doing during their brief interactions and all these flourishes add much realism to the proceedings.

For example, the Miles-Millers seem to want to talk for their gifted son Nathan and their interview comes across like a delightful Monty Python script. This kind of light humour is rare, but does offer a respite from the mainly serious tone throughout the book. In fact the very next child, Richard Lewis is kept isolated from the world by his frightened mother. When asked what his power is Richard simply answers, “I hurt things.” Creepy. Ewington knows that kids in fiction are a blank slate, used for cute laughs or Japanese horror-styled chills. The diversity of the Super-S interviewees, their personalities, family dynamics, backstories, and powers is very impressive. There’s playful twins in New Zealand. There’s an amputee called FullyArmed who is a so-called 2nd Degree, who was born a Norman but received his powers (morphing arms) via a freak accident. Major Action is a combination between Batman and Captain America. Frenchwoman Katrin Dupuis controls plants. 20 year superhero veteran, Ireland’s Shilelagh tells of giving up due to the constant criticism from the press, going into seclusion. He reveals, “It was incredibly dull. It was perfect.” Shilelagh’s story reminds me of Superman’s in DC’s 1996 epic mini-series Kingdom Come, but like every tale in this marvellous tome, it reads fresh, which is becoming increasingly difficult in this age of superhero saturation.

The words work so well that the page of art for each interview isn’t always necessary. Sometimes they grant greater clarity to the interviewee, and at other times they’re unnecessary, but most of them look great. The standout pages for me are Amy Turner by Jock, LunarBlade by Kit Wallis, and Sean Phillips’ Auroron. There’s enough artistic diversity within these pages, that by themselves they serve as a tremendous example of the variety within today’s comics. Everyone will find at least a handful of pages to simply gaze at.

Once I turned the last page (of 132) , I wanted to visit Ewington’s world again, and that’s essentially what 45 is – a new world, a new universe. With names, superpowers and identities for 45 different characters filling these pages, Ewington has essentially created a new platform from which Com.x could easily spin off an endless series of one-shots and series. For now though, this is an enchanting book and a great testament to the diversity and creativity that the medium of sequential art can fully embrace. For the naysayers out there who believe the death knell sounded for superhero stories years ago, a book like 45 is the perfect example to give hope for the future of this unique art form known as comic books.