"The Rudiments of Wisdom, Part 2: The Village that Walked Like A Woman"
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Trevor Hairsine (p), Paul Neary (i), Guru eFX (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics (MAX imprint)
Humour in comics is a tricky thing to get right: you can't control the timing of a line reading as you can in live-action comedy, and unless the gag is perfectly nuanced, there's a risk that the writer will look like he's trying too hard. Then there's the problem of synchronising the writing and the art, meaning that, in effect, the joke is being told by two people (or three, or four if you count the inker and colourist too). Yet somehow, Wisdom pulls it off. How can you not love a comic which dedicates a full page to A Hard Day's Night pastiche starring the "Skrull Beatles," features fake footnotes which reference non-existent issues of "Tales to Admonish" or "Journey into Misery," or in which the team's resident psychic is interrupted by involuntary orgasms every few seconds as she channels the dreams of an entire village community? It's silly, unpretentious, escapist fun for adults which doesn't get carried away by the MAX imprint's lack of limitations on language or sexual content, but isn't afraid to drop those elements into the story when they're relevant (or, crucially, when it's funny).
Sometime Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell brings a distinctive sense of humour to the book: dry, underplayed, irreverent, and very, very British. The book deserves to be read if only for the Beatles page (Skrull George Harrison going off on a pilgrimage with the Dread Dormammu? Skrull Paul McCartney wondering how "Gerry and the fucking Skrull Pacemakers" are doing?), but there are loads of equally successful and well-observed moments in there too, whether it's Ultimate-Steve-Rogers-lite in the form of Captain Midlands or the petty concerns of the inhabitants of Little Bremmington as their country village is trashed in a battle of giants ("What is the National Trust going to say about this?"). Maybe I'm a little biased - after all, I'm British, love the Beatles, and have encountered the parochial mindset of little-Englanders many times, but the comedic elements of this issue really worked for me.
However, there's more to Wisdom than its surreal Marnty Pythaarn antics. At its core, the book is a fantasy thriller in which a slick(ish) government agency, MI-13, is despatched to deal with the more fantastical threats that are faced by Britain. In this issue, the team investigates the problems caused by a military weapon which has inadvertently connected the imaginations of Little Bremmington's villagers to the dreamscape of a sleeping giant that lives beneath them. The book's easy acceptance of the fantastical combines with a poetic way of accomplishing the necessary exposition (in this case, the description of how the sleeping giants of a nation gently influence its character through their dreams), but never takes itself too seriously, with a quirky cast of oddballs keeping things interesting and some colourful, vivid and detailed art.
Trevor Hairsine's pencils are a real boon for the title. He sticks close to his usual Bryan-Hitch-influenced style here, and that similarity is compounded by the presence of Hitch's Ultimates collaborator Paul Neary as inker. Still, that's no bad thing, as Hairsine brings an impressive level of detail to the book, with many facial close-ups which show the huge amount of work which has obviously gone into his illustrations, without coming off as over-rendered either. He can also handle the large-scale sequences well, such as the knockout first appearance of the giant Pantagruel as she emerges from the ground, and her battle with the Guardians as she carries Little Bremmington along on her head - with the moody final shots of the book reminiscent of the imagery used in Ted Hughes' The Iron Man. I was disappointed to learn that Hairsine isn't going to be completing the series, and I can only hope that his replacement can capture the same spirit that's evident in the artwork here, as it's a perfect fit for Cornell's script.
Wisdom looks to be telling self-contained stories in every issue which all form part of the bigger picture, and that has enabled the book to remain fresh and funny without getting bogged down in an over-arching plot. Still, there are a couple of hints at the direction of the series, such as Pete Wisdom's references to his marriage of convenience to Tink, or the portentous opening page with its predictions of death and destruction. For now, though, it's a light, fun and enjoyable fantasy book which should be accessible to new readers thanks to its lack of any real ties to the Marvel Universe proper, and its winning sense of humour more than makes up for its lack of depth and fairly shallow characterisation.
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