Tony does the happy dance.
Do us a quick favour. Stop what you’re doing immediately, go out into the streets and do your own version of a happy dance. Stomp, shout, wave your arms in the air like a dad at a disco, whatever floats your very particular boat, because today, we freakin’ celebrate, people.
The Collected Death Sentence London is now available-as-all-get-out at your lovely lovely comic-book store. So do your happy-dance, then move your ass. Line up, hand over the price of a disappointing pizza and prepare to revel in the best comic-book event so far this year, bar none.
It should come as no surprise that we love a bit of Death Sentence London. It should come as no surprise because it’s difficult to imagine being alive, and a geek, and Interested In Things, and not loving Death Sentence London. For the truly, sadly, deeply uninitiated, while you’re down at your comic-book store, pick up the collected Death Sentence and get on board, or read the bejesus out of our review before you go and remember that Death Sentence London positively strolled its way to being our favourite non-Who comic-book of 2015. So, if you’re looking for a pedigree, there you go. Any questions? Didn’t think so – moving on.
The central idea of Death Sentence is appallingly simple – there’s a sexually transmitted disease that hides in your system, then pops up when you have six months or so to live, giving you enhanced abilities for the rest of your truncated life. There are those that are simply G+ - a little bit enhanced in some way before they keel over and die – and then there are a new breed: the Super-Gs, whose powers are pretty damned special and potentially world-altering.
But Death Sentence London takes us on massively from the original premise, as it had to do – Death Sentence ended with an apocalypse brought about by the rise of the first of the Super-Gs. Death Sentence London takes us on a journey into the panic and the power-vacuum left by that apocalypse, with self-serving politicians fighting it out to see who rises to the top, using the general public as tools to advance their own ends. There are battles on the street, gangs and gang leaders rising up or being torn down on the waves of public panic and the anti-government sentiment as politicians crack down on personal freedom in a spectacularly draconian fearfest. And then again, there are strands of storytelling which advance what might be thought of as the bigger picture – a remote island location where the British government is testing G+ and Super-G DNA with the intention of (so we’re told) creating a cure or an antidote to the disease, and American agents despatched to do reconnaissance and possibly sabotage its actions. Journalists who might have an inside track on the political skulduggery and secret research labs arising from the Super-G apocalypse. Masked gangs involved not only in random mayhem, but executions, and people that all the records claim are dead. There are people, both ordinary and G+, with nothing to do but mourn their dead and try to find some way forward through the trauma.
Essentially what Death Sentence London does is take the originality of the premise of the first Death Sentence, and then realistically extend it in all the ways our real world would do – grief, chicanery and nihilistic cynicism battling hope, art and self-determination for the shape of the post-G+ world.
There are a clutch of new characters in Death Sentence London, among whom the most memorable is Roots, grower of some prime weed, whose G+ power is an affinity with plants of all kinds. There’s Jeb Mulgrew too, an American agent with problems at home, sent to infiltrate the island base of G+ experimentation. In terms of the forces of, if not darkness then at least beige, species-disappointing mediocrity, there’s Tony Bronson, the London Mayor who vies for power, using the Super-G apocalypse as a pathway to circumvent all the normal checks and balances that would usually stop him doing anything more challenging than tying his own shoes. He’s a high point of Death Sentence London in that he’s thoroughly vile, and he makes you look around the real political scene and think of what our own political leaders would do in the event of such a crisis. Ahem – not for nothing, there are elections coming up in London, Wales and Scotland soon.
Our heroes from the original Death Sentence, Weasel and Verity, are by no means overshadowed in the sequel either – Weasel is an avatar of ordinary grief with extraordinary power. Verity, or ArtGirl as she occasionally thinks of herself now, is highly involved in the thread with the journalist potentially bringing Bronson down, and also, though tangentially, with the island thread, as well as trying to find her way in a world that finally lets her artistic ambitions thrive, but slaps a giant ticking clock on her life – and possibly on society as a whole.
Death Sentence London brings realistic threads of mood to a fundamentally fantastical scenario, to do the best job that science fiction can do – teaching us things about our own humanity and our own experience of all the important things in life: love, art, togetherness and individuality. It does all that with a sense of style and brio that’s hard to pin down except to say it’s ‘MontyNero’ – the writer behind the series. Throw the street-smarts and artistic wisdom of Irvine Welsh in a blender with the people-smarts of Mark Twain and the anarchistic ‘fuck you’ of a Johnny Rotten or a Sid Vicious, with occasional dashes of Billy Connolly’s perfectly timed welder-rage or Frankie Boyle’s polemic and you’re getting somewhere close, but the joy of course is that MontyNero owns his own style, that’s all of these things and none of them. When we interviewed him, he said he was very careful who he worked with, and that’s evident throughout the collected Death Sentence London, on which Martin Simmonds delivers the artwork. Simmonds is ridiculously good, taking the artistic tone established in the original Death Sentence by Mike Dowling and bringing his own vast imagination to it, rendering a world torn apart by politics and people power, but elevated in some scenes by Verity’s understanding of art and form and bringing a gritty wonder to the whole thing that leaves you conflicted as to whether to turn pages to see what’s next or gaze, drooling, at all the work you get for your money here. What Simmonds does is render you a world that’s sensually hyper-real: when people are drunk and throwing up, there’s a raggedness about the way they look that you can practically smell coming off the page; when people make wonderful, inventive art, you soar on the smile that Simmonds delivers unbidden to your lips. When mobs riot, you feel the chill of sudden danger. And when politicians have sex, you want to briefly hurl up your lunch and then go vote for someone else.
Between them, MontyNero and Simmonds deliver a story that is science fiction only in the fundamentals of its concept, but is real in absolutely everything else, its emotions, its renderings, its judgments of the world and the people in it, and its philosophical contemplations of life, death, sex, art, rock and roll and death. This is a comic-book that makes you feel, that makes you think, and that leaves you better than you were before you read it. This is a work of true, transformative, punk-rock art.
So go. Do your dance. Sing your song. Move your ass to your comic-book store, and hand over your disappointing-pizza money. Improve every single thing about your life – get the collected Death Sentence London today.
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