Only one shall survive, says Tony Fyler
Have you ever seen an advert for pizza on the TV, and been inspired to call your local pizza place immediately, your imagination conjuring a crisp crust with just the right amount of give, a zingy sauce that dances on your tongue, and toppings just bursting with freshness and flavour and all the hot, steamy promise of the TV screen?
Ever done that, and had your pizza delivered, and eagerly flipped open the box, only to discover a lukewarm, sloppy, soggy, gelatinous mess adhering to the cardboard, crushing your dreams in an instant?
Welcome to The O Men, Volume Three.
There’s something inherently depressing about a cliff-hanger that promises that the characters you’ve come to enjoy will almost all be dead by the end of the next episode. It’s kind of like hanging a big neon sign over your next release saying “All Of This Is Mostly Pointless, But Give Me Your Money Anyway!”
That’s how we ended Volume Two of The O Men, by Martin Eden – with the sombre and apparently irrefutable declaration that by the end of Volume Three, only one of the O Men would survive. The perverse thing is, with that sort of promise, that sort of chutzpah, you expect Volume Three to kick ass. You expect poignancy and punch to drive home the meaning of life and the struggle against evil. You expect the events that unfold across the next 262 pages to matter.
The events of that actually unfold across the 262 pages of Volume Three are oddly scrambled, with many deaths or executions on most of the pages. Some people turn out not to be what we’ve thought they’ve been, some people turn out to be raving psychopaths, some people barely make it into panels before they’re cut down to add to the massive body-count of this volume. Some people come back from the dead, some people get shot in the head, some people turn out to be evolving, rather than, as it happens, getting their brains blown out. Some people are traitors, some people don’t actually die but go a bit loopy, and some people make it allll the way to the end, and then get taken out in a bit of a clichéd, John Le Carre way.
One thing you can say for Volume Three is that it’s busy. Oh boy, is it busy.
Sadly, it’s busy in the same sort of way that a meat grinder’s busy – taking characters and churning them up, taking storylines and convoluting them beyond the point where you care, almost stumbling through a cataclysmic battle line and seeing who makes it out alive.
Doctor O, who’s always been a little high-handed in the story to far, reveals his ultimate plan here, and there’s an intriguing hint of exactly how far back his beef with Anathema goes. There’s an explanation too for why Grace and Stuart’s marriage has been going progressively down the tubes. Colin and Peri, the girl who left him when she discovered she was HIV positive, find a kind of resolution. Anathema’s ‘Vicious Circle’ of henchmates gets up and running, including some of the greatest hits of the story to date – Molly Valentine the love vampire is back, as is the utterly creepy Spider, the underdeveloped Lorelei, the intriguing Twisted Sisters, and the first ever villain in the series, Blackie, who has to kill one person a day to ensure her continuing immortality.
On the other side, a roll call of past and present superheroes is brought in to fight and, more often than not, die to try and get to Anathema, and it’s again slightly disappointing that the ultimate solution to her creepy, bloody-eyeballed menace feels a little crowbarred into this volume with the addition of a new supervillain with a very particular power, who carries his penis around in a jar.
(The pizza metaphor has entirely broken down by this point. Unless you know different, in which case, we really don’t want to know)
Miss Scarlet, as ever, kicks ass, doing a lot of the heavy supervillain-killing work in person. What her resolution is would be spoilerific to reveal, but if you’re not asking ‘What the hell?’ by the end of it, you haven’t liked her enough. Similarly, the ultimate end of the volume is likely to have you going ‘Oh well,’ rather than punching the air, the conclusion so generally downbeat as to be rather more forgettable than was probably the plan.
With Eden focused on his body-count, the pacing rather goes mad here, with the kind of rapid scene-intercutting that, if filmed, would give viewers a migraine. The artwork too feels more than a little ragged here, leaving the reader to read the dialogue for an idea of what’s supposed to be going on, and even in some instances who’s in the scene – it’s unfortunate that a few of Eden’s female characters are drawn with very similar faces, Sugar and Vixen looking almost the same, for instance, leading to the potential for reader-confusion in a black and white comic-book. There’s every chance in this volume that the pacing and the slacker artwork will conspire to conceal any true idea of what’s going on from you for much of the middle act, which makes Volume Three a less enjoyable read than the second, more tightly plotted and drawn instalment.
Ultimately as a culmination to the grand story-arc of the first incarnation of The O Men, Volume Three leaves quite a bit to be desired – clarity of expression of the undoubted fund of ideas in the work, much of the humour that had crept into the second volume, and so on. Ultimately though, the thing that’s really missing is that thing that separates comic-books from real life – a telling judgment given that Eden has a character here spit that this isn’t ‘some lame comic-book, this is real life!’
What it’s missing is satisfaction. A resolution that feels satisfying, the villain getting their come-uppance, the heroes or anti-heroes winning, however heavy the cost. It’s missing that sense of being worth it that three volumes, totalling almost six hundred pages, really needs to make the reader ever want to go back to it and check it out again. That means that while The O Men, Volumes One, Two and Three undoubtedly carry some great ideas, and a cast of characters who feel realistic within the hyper-real environment of superhero fiction, Volume Three fumbles the delivery of the ending, and leaves you wanting a do-over from the end of Volume Two. Eden’s O Men may well, in their underpinnings and idea-richness, qualify as among Titan Comics’ Best of British, but the storytelling in Volume Three is cold, greasy, limp-ass pizza in two dimensions.
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