Tony gets all arty-farty.
Let’s talk about Martin Simmonds.
Actually, hold on, we’ll get to the talking in a bit. First, let’s put up banners and wave flags in honour of Martin Simmonds.
Sue me, I’m a writer by trade, and usually, while appreciating Simmonds’ artwork, that helps bring MontyNero’s story to life in Death Sentence London, I’m instinctively all about the plotting, the words, the emotional arcs and the rhythms of the story. Well, that and the increasing popularity of the word Cockwomble, which Death Sentence London’s done its bit to promote. So this bit of flag-waving is pretty damned overdue, but in issue #5, right from the off, it’s absolutely time to wave some flags, carry Martin Simmonds shoulder high to the temple of geekery, and worship.
Right from the word go, Simmonds blows us out of the water here – the memory of a gang killing a child’s mother is rendered in rose-spattered sepia, blood spray unobtrusively visible outside the ragged, knife-cut panels, and a coppery tint bleeding outside the lines of the memory. Most readers might not notice this, but check out the wallpaper in this memory, and imagine the thought and the work it must take to get something like that right (not for nothing, the wallpaper brings to mind both weed plants and a hand thrust up to stop what’s going down in the room, as a young Roots sees her mother killed in front of her).
Slamming into the here and now, we come back to Roots where we left her – in a battle of life and death on many levels with fellow G+ Retch. His power is a touch of corruption and death, hers a power of life, spontaneously growing plants, and it’s a gorgeous metaphor that while Retch seems to kill her, the sprouts of life can’t be vanquished, and resurrect her to fight back as she calls out to her dead mother that it’s not her time yet. Simmonds brings this existential battle to life in page after page of plummeting, screaming, glorious artwork that you won’t want to turn the page away from. That’s it, you think, the issue’s signature ‘kick-the-shit-out-of-the-competition’ panels have come early this time round (they’re always in an issue of DSL somewhere, you just know you’ll come across them at a point of high tension), and after the battle, you almost beg for breath, but it doesn’t stop there. Almost casually, there’s a background shot of a street in burning chaos, like a nuclear warzone, as Roots finds out where brutalist London mayor Tony Bronson is right now.
Shit’s gonna go down, you can just tell.
Bronson and his mistress are getting highly recreational in the comparatively safe, bright, clean world of an Islington flat when Roots comes calling, doing her Jack and the Beanstalk act and pulling them apart with creepers of a nearby tree, smashing Bronson into a mirror and grabbing Tilly, the mistress. The G+ fun is only halted by the arrival of the police, causing Bronson to swear vengeance, and – as we heartily expect – to treat Tilly shabbily in the quest to protect his own image as he’s on the verge of taking control of the Conservative Party and the country. (Americans, for a Bronson avatar, think Trump. Brits won’t have to go far to find their own London Mayor-alike). Again, Simmonds is on blistering form here, the bedroom scenes having a kind of misty pink Vaseline-on-the-lens quality till Roots and her creepers come calling.
Meanwhile, Verity Fette, ArtGirl, is with the journalist Fincham, who’s planning a detailed expose on The Island (where she and rock star Weasel were trained in combat to take down despotic Super-G Monty in the original Death Sentence), and who also has damning material on Bronson. In a world where such things feel novel, Fincham is an avatar of good crusading journalism, a journalist who cares about the truth, and it gives Verity (and us) an unfamiliar hope – however briefly – to think he might prevail. She leaves his place with a crucial USB stick, but without knowing what’s on it. One thing is clear though – Verity’s been classified as dead because of something to do with her Super-G status, and possibly her knowledge of The Island. And there are others who’ve been similarly classified.
The story pushes on into new territory in this issue too – humiliated, her opinions dismissed by Bronson in a high level meeting, Tilly turns to a pair of G+ Mayfair swingers, Cosmo and Zuzu Fortescue, to enroll in something called the Praetorian programme. While she tells them they can be moral and spiritual leaders to counteract the notion of all G+ people as lawless feckless youths, they’d have to be trained on The Island before they could begin their work, and we can only ponder the nature of that training and look forward to future issues with appetites not so much whetted as slavering to find out what becomes of the Fortescues and their ‘moral leadership’ – especially since the issue ends with Jeb Mulgrew, our troubled FBI operative, arriving on The Island to begin his mission to nab the research that’s going on there into G+ and Super-Gs - research that previous issues indicated had maybe just found a cure for the virus.
No, we haven’t finished the Simmonds party yet, we just needed to fit in the story development, because of course no comic is just about the art. But here, while the story’s strong enough to move its various threads along and add new ones that make us want to buy a collected edition and just keep on turning pages, Simmonds’ work by itself explains why Death Sentence London has been called the best British comic book in years. It’s that beyond all shadow of doubt – in fact I’d say it’s probably the best comic book in years, wherever you’re from, mixing philosophy and grit, life, death, sex, art, rock and roll, the meaning of life and the power of creativity. You could make a kickass movie of Death Sentence London, but you’d need the sensibilities of an indie and the money of Hollywood, with the power to tell executives to well and truly get to fuck. The point of which is that in issue #5, Simmonds shows what a top-notch artist can do: if you made a movie of it, you’d need a team of hundreds, probably, to achieve what Simmonds delivers using art and colour, form and style to underpin MontyNero’s story in ways that elevate it into a visual language that speaks instinctively to the reader. You’d need location scouts, prop builders, lighting technicians, vision mixers, three different effects teams, actors and a kickass director to deliver just the first eight pages. By the end of page 10, you’d need half a minute of scrolling credits. This is the power of art from the mind of a creative artist on the top of their game – they can do so much more than serve a story, they can make the story tell itself on several levels all at once to your brain, and Simmonds does that in issue #5.
By no means get me wrong – there’s strong story development in issue #5 too – Bronson on the warpath, Roots victorious but in need of a plan, Verity finding and then losing hope, Mulgrew on his mission, and now the Fortescues as potential Praetorians: there’s plenty here to make you slaver for the next issue. But while you do, go back and take in Simmonds’ work again – go back to previous issues and see how he does the same there, building the power and the impact of the story without you necessarily understanding how he does it.
Then make your flag, and wave it hard. Simmonds – and Death Sentence London – rocks!
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