Friday, April 23, 2010

Defoe: 1666

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Defoe: 1666 (Rebellion, 2009)

I know what you're thinking: Really, I'm good. I don't need any more zombie comics. I don't blame you; the market's flooded with them. When you add comedy films and Jane Austen pastiches to the mix, nobody would be wrong for passing up another damn zombie comic.

Except Defoe is written by Pat Mills and features a very interesting take on the alternative history genre. What if, after a meteor raised the dead in 1666, the politics of England were irrevocably altered and the severed head of Oliver Cromwell becomes the leader of a new zombie army and occupies most of London?

Our hero is Titus Defoe, who fought on Cromwell's side during the English Civil War but now counts Isaac Newton as his greatest ally, for he has been developing weapons specially designed for the destruction of the zombie menace. Newton's just part of a truly huge supporting cast, the book's only real flaw to my mind. This a very busy comic, dense with backstory and characters serving an extremely fast-moving plot. I've found Defoe to be one of Pat Mills' most satisfying and wild creations yet, and enjoy it tremendously, thanks in no small part to Leigh Gallagher's very intricate artwork and designs, but it really demands a higher than usual degree of work from readers to keep everything in place.

Three Defoe stories have appeared in 2000 AD since it debuted in 2007, with a fourth scheduled for later this year. This collection reprints the first two, with some modified artwork and lettering, along with several pages of design sketches by Gallagher. These show a considerable evolution in Defoe's appearance before he started work on the stories. Titus is a terrific character, one of Mills' very best, but I can't help but wish Gallagher had gone with the long-haired, mustached "Cavalier" look. Nobody in comics looks like that! This book comes highly recommended.

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