Now, that’s more like it, says Tony Fyler.
We began reviewing Volume One of The O Men, by Martin Eden, by saying it was the start of a journey through Eden’s early career, and noting that the first volume had a lot of ‘take me seriously’ darkness and little in the way of humour to leaven the trip.
…Well, that’s that sorted, then.
Volume Two is a much tighter, more coherent arc, that takes the first volume’s central storyline forward, but feels like Eden had a much better sense of himself and his readers by the time it was created. The drama takes the story of Molly ‘Valentine’ and her siblings, each of whom are emotional vampires that feed on a particular emotion, forward, while also pushing the ‘arch-villain Anathema’ storyline forward massively – by delivering a chunk of backstory that makes us view the previous incarnations of Doctor O’s superhero teams in a whole new light. It would be spoilerific to explain that backstory, but it’s to Eden’s credit that he gave thought here to the idea that if someone’s your arch-nemesis, you might want to wonder what you’ve done to them to make them that deranged.
Before we get to any of that though, there’s Malice. The Malice story-thread is frankly freakin’ hysterical, and, as the blurb says, brings Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie to the party. Also, Bridget Jones in the stationery cupboard. Needless to say, all the fun and games of this storyline though are the result of a cunning, mild-melting plot to destroy the O Men, or mess with their brains, before they properly get into their stride. There’s a great Avengers riff, and a fun Fantastic Four grace note, but as with Volume One, the action (and here the comedy) is all to a purpose, and the real lives of the superheroes go on in and around it, love and betrayal, confusion and questions, most of the O Men living dysfunctional lives, whether they’re with someone or not. That goes into overdrive in this volume, for reasons that become much clearer as the story progresses.
Anathema, Molly Valentine, and a villain who isn’t really a villain, but who has the ability to mess with and feed on memories turn the later stages of the volume into even more of a mind-bender than the first, and when coupled with the O Men’s (or indeed, as is mentioned here, the O Women’s, there being more females on the team than males) deceptions, reunions and multiple connections to previous teams Psi-Squad and the UK Ultra Kinghts, you have to keep hold of the story quite firmly, still, but this is a much faster, more engaging read than the first volume was, showing the growth in Eden’s storytelling skills and confidence in the arcs and the characters he’s wrangling for his audience.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the stand-out O Man in Volume One, Miss Scarlet, gets a very healthy chunk of the story here too, particularly to hook the reader all over again with questions of who she is and how she comes by the multiplicity of powers and complications she has. The idea that she hasn’t been alive that long, and has only limited memory, brings a whole new dimension of what-the-hellery, and a significant flashback brings a little Catwoman into her mix. But as the volume continues, she finds not only what might be her backstory, but also, at a highly inconvenient moment, the potential for true love, which then rips out her heart, as true love has a tendency to do.
Enjoying Volume Two of The O Men depends largely on you having read Volume One to prime yourself with its characters, backstories and most particularly the intertwining threads of its relationships, though a Dramatis Personae at the start here adds to the comparative ease of reading. As Eden’s work develops though, it’s the more assured story-arc, with much more freedom for quippery and sight-gags, that brings The O Men rather more into the generally established modern vein of superhero fare, and makes for a rapid read this time around. It also leads on to Volume Three with a fantastic cliff-hanger. Why not take advantage of Titan Comics’ Best of British season and get up to speed with The O Men now.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk