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Alan Moore, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Shane Oakley and George Freeman
Titan graphic novel £9.99

review by J.C. Hartley

Originally printed as a mini-series by Wildstorm for DC Comics, the impetus for Albion came from artist Shane Oakley with the involvement of Alan Moore. As Moore was winding up his comicbook commitments at the time, his contribution was in the plotting, with script duties falling to his daughter Leah Moore and her husband John Reppion; consequently while we are spared the signature male violence against women we are also sold a bit short as regards the felicity of the dialogue on the page and its contribution to the narrative.

Clearly, Moore senior is given top billing, because that is what will sell the book, and to be fair Albion isn't a bad story, but what gets it the four star rating is the whole package. Neil Gaiman, as a friend of the family, supplies a fairly superfluous introduction that nevertheless leads into the notion of the admirable eccentricity of the English comicbook hero.

Danny, a comics-obsessed waster, attends at the internment of a newly caught criminal, whom he recognises as the incompetent cartoon villain, Grimly Feendish. Danny is grabbed by Penny and taken back to her secret lair, where she reveals herself to be the daughter of the scientific genius Dolmann whose remote controlled puppets brought many a crook to justice back in the 1960s. Penny has inherited her father's gift with machinery, and is engaged in repairing Robot Archie, who was last seen helping out Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's Zenith. Penny reveals that all Danny's comicbook favourites were real people, rounded up and interned by successive governments. As a counterpoint to Penny's revelation we are granted a view inside the prison where the heroes and villains are incarcerated, as former highway patrolman and now CIA agent Zip Nolan pays a visit to check on security. Penny persuades Danny to join her quest to free her father and, with the help of Victorian sneak thief Charlie Peace, that is what they set out to do.

Shane Oakley's art is interesting but perhaps not best served by George Freeman's muted palette; I've seen some b&w examples of the original art online and they are quite stunning. Where the Oakley/ Freeman art excels is in the spoof vintage comicbook pages, Penny's early life as Minnie the Minx, or the wartime exploits of Captain Hurricane, in some of the shadowy scenes featuring The Spider, and in some text-free splashes. The dialogue is overly wordy, unrealistic, and there is too much '$%�*ing' swearing; this latter trope may have been comicbook ironic but its use became annoying, if they didn't want to use the real words or were concerned that explicit language would restrict their audience then I wished they had just made their characters less foul-mouthed.

The story sort of fizzles out after the raid on the prison, and there are allusions to things that probably only a comic book polymath could pick up on, the frontispiece to the book seems to show an older Penny, slumped between her puppets, so who knows how her life turns out. The edition is concluded with a necessarily short, but excellent, history of British Comics by comics historian Steve Holland, and some sample strips from the 1960s.

Albion generated interest beyond its pages, in the issuing of a couple of classic titles, Ken Bulmer and Jesus Blasco's Steel Claw: Vanishing Man, and King Of Crooks (featuring The Spider), by Jerry Siegal, Ted Cowan and Reg Bunn, all from Titan Books; I used to own an old Fleetway edition of The Spider and never realised he was a British hero. Titan has also released Thunderbolt Jaxon (An Albion Story) from Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. Is this the end of the story, or is someone already making a pitch for a Steel Claw or Kelly's Eye movie?

Alan Moore, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Shane Oakley and George Freeman
Titan graphic novel £9.99

review by Alasdair Stuart

The Steel Claw, The Spider, Kelly's Eye, Grimly Feendish - just four of the characters created by comic company IPC, once massively popular and now largely forgotten despite the odd attempt to revive them. However, as two generations of the Moore family would have us believe, there's a lot more to these characters than simply some old comics. The secret history of this country for one...

Danny is a student, an aimless young man fascinated by old comics. Until he sees an arch criminal being arrested, a man who bears a striking resemblance to Grimly Feendish, one of the characters he reads about. Then he meets Penny and discovers that everything he knew is wrong. The heroes are real, we've just forgotten about them, but now Penny and Danny are planning on changing that.

Alan Moore, Leah Moore, and John Reppion turn in a fascinating story that melds the real world financial problems of IPC with a fantasy history just to the left of our own. The end result is both quintessentially English and skin crawlingly unpleasant at times, whether i'ts Captain Hurricane becoming the grotesque result of English gene experiments or The Spider, a man who may not even be human, controlling everything in his prison without ever leaving his cell. The authors have a keen understanding of what makes these characters work and slot them into the last 30 years of history with ease. These are the same characters, but filtered through Thatcherism, New Labour and the malaise that has settled over the Commons. They're heroes, but does anyone want them anymore?

The script handles a large cast well, and is nicely matched by Shane Oakley and George Freeman on art. Oakley is sensible enough to let the characters do much of the work but comfortable enough with the larger scale elements to really let them shine. His style is a little too caricatured for some readers but here it works well, emphasising the fragile nature of the principle characters. It's also helped greatly by Freeman's interludes, presenting the history of certain characters in the precise, monochrome style of the IPC originals.

If there's a problem with Albion it's that the story is a little too open ended. There's a sense of this being the first act rather than a complete story and whilst it's an immensely satisfying read, many readers will want more. However, this aside Albion is a fascinating look at a largely forgotten period of English comics' history, and another impressive piece of work from Leah Moore and John Reppion. Rounded out with a sample of the classic IPC strips, this is a classy package and one well worth seeking out. Recommended.

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