Sunday, February 13, 2011


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 Leviathan (Rebellion, 2010).

Leviathan was a surprisingly short serial - only 55 pages - that ran in 2000 AD some eight years ago, but it was such an extraordinary and outre work that it has resonated with the readership ever since, and is often hailed as one of writer Ian Edginton's best stories. It concerns what happens a couple of decades after a city-sized ocean liner leaves England in 1928 and vanishes without trace. At least, that's how the outside world sees it.

From the perspective of the tens of thousands of souls lost on the enormous ship, it's the rest of the planet that has vanished, and Leviathan drifts in an endless ocean with no wind and no land. Years pass, and the toffs in first class think that they have a handle on things by keeping the anarchy contained to the hellhole of the steerage class, but a rash of gruesome and unnatural murders finally forces them to ask a detective sergeant named Lament in the second class to investigate.

There's a lot more that I could say about the plot of Leviathan, and there's plenty of it out there, spoiled, if you want to go and look for it. Knowing more than the basics, though, ruins a remarkably unpredictable and brilliantly constructed story. DS Lament is one of my favorites of Edginton's many wonderful characters, an intelligent career copper whose mind may be the only thing on the ship that has not deteriorated over the last twenty years adrift. Even his personal life has fallen apart, thanks to the incompetence of the first class and the ship's staff. I will say that getting to the bottom of the hideous murders does reveal the mystery of what has happened to Leviathan, and it's a lot more than DS Lament was ready to learn.

Leviathan is gorgeously illustrated by Matt Brooker ("D'Israeli"), who uses a remarkable stylistic choice to convey the harsh and clinical world of the first class. There's a sense of gritty reality to the sequences outdoors and in the overwhelming world of steerage, but an unreal, angular sense of artifice to the dark interiors of the first class world that leaves the characters almost popping out of the page as though desperate to escape it. Edginton and D'Israeli have collaborated on many really excellent comics, but I don't know that any of them have required quite the commitment as the climax of this story does. Frankly, what D'Israeli has to draw at the end of this story, with no room for shortcuts, is the sort of thing that would have me running screaming from the studio, and it's one of the most amazing art sequences that I've ever seen.

The series, which spawned three one-off "prequel" episodes set before DS Lament's case, had previously been collected in a hardcover edition with a substantial bonus section that featured some of D'Israeli's sketches. Newly reissued in paperback to match the rest of Rebellion's line, the collection now includes a further six-page feature, not quite a comic, but an interesting additional look at the puzzle. It is a thin book, still under 100 pages, but a very entertaining one. I have enjoyed dipping back into the hardcover edition many times before, and while I don't know that anybody who owns that version really needs the paperback for its six new pages, anybody who doesn't have Leviathan at all certainly needs to order a copy. Recommended.

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