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Victorian Patience

Reviewing comic books is different from any other type of arts criticism. A film critic gets to see the entire film. A book reviewer reads the entire book, even if it is sometimes an uncorrected proof. It’s generally understood that theater critics will abstain from seeing a play or musical during previews, lest they risk critiquing a show that has changed drastically. Only a TV critic comes close to doing what a comic book critic does: reviewing only the beginning of a work. Even then, if the subject is a miniseries or a two-parter, the TV critic gets to see the entire project. With comic books, that’s usually impossible. In my entire career, I’ve never gotten even both parts of a two-part story, let alone an entire miniseries.

What’s the big deal? Well, the first issue of V For Vendetta, for instance, would provoke a very different review than one written based on the entire series. That’s not to say Vendetta is a bad series, but the beginning is much stronger than the ending.

Which is why reviewing The Victorian (Penny-Farthing Press, $2.95) is so difficult. The art is very good — nice detail, expressive faces, excellent and evocative use of color — and the story is engaging, but hard to describe. It contains several plot threads that I’m confident will come together, but I can’t even begin to hazard a guess as to how. But that’s part of the plan. As the creators state in the back of the issue:

"It’s been promised a thousand times before, but it really is our intention to do something different. Our story is unique, our approach is unconventional, and our protagonist is not based on familiar profiles. That said, however, it is not our intention to throw you something inaccessible. We want to ‘show’ you a story through the artwork and words and actions of each character. We want you to experience the satisfaction of discovering for yourself where the story is going. You will not find characters standing around explaining what is happening…to appreciate this epic story, you will need one attribute not normally required of comic book readers — patience."

So far, The Victorian lives up to that claim. It is immensely readable — if Victorian1small.jpg (14389 bytes)not easily explainable. It’s also intelligent without being pretentious. Writer Marlaine Maddux, penciler Martin Montiel Luna and inker Jose Carlos Buelna take the concept developed by Trainor Houghton and not only execute it very well but layer it with symbolism that makes multiple readings more enjoyable, not less. For instance, it’s no accident that in addition to a reference to a "chronocorder," a character being followed is dubbed "clock" by the people watching him and time itself is a recurring theme. My only complaint is that the cover of the first is, entitled "The Synchronometry of Paranoia" by Steranko, is very different from the painted teasers by Doug Beekman. Beekman’s moody work makes it plain that The Victorian is a different book whereas the cover to the first issue is a bit reminiscent of Transmetropolitan.

What is known as of the first issue is that a man named Fitz (or, rather nicknamed. A guide in the back indicates his name is Winston Fitzrandolph), is haunted by violent childhood memories and a shadowy figure, who I assume is The Victorian. Fitz visits Laszlo Gerevich, who is very old. It’s obvious that they discussed Laszlo’s life and adventures before, but we only get fragments about his sister, a woman he loved named Lily, and some sort of experiment he was part of. We also learn that Fitz was under extensive surveillance going to and during his visit to Laszlo, but it’s not entirely clear if that’s due to Fitz or his connection to Laszlo.

A summary sounds disjointed and confused, but the tale isn’t. Quite the contrary, it’s like a mystery that is not only smart but that assumes the reader is intelligent as well. Sad to say, that’s a refreshing attitude for comic books. Not spoon feeding the reader and assuming that he or she has an attention span are not business as usual attitudes from publishers. If Penny-Farthing Press can keep this up, it could turn out to be the next hot company to watch. Hell, it might also encourage other companies to break from the crowd…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you’re tired of run-of-the-mill stories, you have to check out The Victorian. Only time will tell how the story progresses, but it shows a great deal of promise.

Review 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels.  The Victorian 1998 Penny-Farthing Press.