"The Rudiments of Wisdom, Part 5: Bows and Arrows Against the Lightning"
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Manuel Garcia (p), Mark Farmer (i), Guru eFX (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics (MAX imprint)
After last issue's climactic kidnapping of the powerful psychic Maureen Raven, a newly-galvanised Pete Wisdom sets out to find her and rescue her from the underhand government agents who have removed her, for reasons unknown. Enlisting the aid of last issue's villain, Wisdom eventually tracks her down - but as his plan goes off the rails, he inadvertently helps to manufacture an even greater planet-threatening crisis by the end of the issue, as tension mounts for the series' finale.
Despite the grand, melodramatic nature of the plot, this book has remained consistently likeable thanks to its easy charm and lack of pretension. Writer Paul Cornell removes any possibility of perceived pomposity by punctuating his story with dry witticisms and absurd comedy moments which help to ground the more fantastical elements of the story, as well as establishing an endearingly self-deprecating tone. This is a book which manages to be self-aware without resorting to fourth-wall breaking antics, as the writer knows just how far to push his imagination without making the story completely ridiculous; whilst Cornell might relish the opportunity to have his villain conjour up an Aztec railway or a pair of giant robotic Roman Centurions to battle his hero, he's also careful to tie in his more out-there ideas to more solid everyday concepts (when Tink urgently needs to contact her father in the fairytale realm, she picks up the 'phone) and realistic-feeling London locations courtesy of artist Manuel Garcia. It's this comfortable combination of the familiar and the fantastic which briefly reminded me of Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary whilst reading this issue, and that's a high compliment indeed.
Garcia's artwork is stronger here than ever, rendering a slightly grittier and more serious story with style. His grasp of the larger-scale images and action sequences is matched by an aptitude for conveying smaller moments and character information through convincing body language and facial expressions. It's particularly effective in the quieter scenes such as the page in which Tink and Captain Britain take some time out, or the Skrull John Lennon contacts his former bandmates. Mark Farmer's inking seems slightly less slick and polished than before, and it suits the tone of the issue well. Guru eFX also tone down their colour pallet slightly to reflect the darkening mood of the story, as well as setting a great tone for a short flashback sequence by virtue of the colouring alone. My only complaint with the art is Hairsine's cover, which feels more like an alternative to the last issue than a fitting image to represent this one, but it's still a striking piece of art nevertheless.
Although the title of this issue's story will tip learned readers off to the identity of the mystery villains who have been plaguing Wisdom and his crew for the last couple of issues, I won't reveal it here - but it's safe to say that, in conjunction with last issue's references to From Hell, Cornell is likely a fan of both Victorian fantasy literature and the work of Alan Moore. Unusually for a book which has told reasonably self-contained stories each issue, this month's instalment ends on a cliffhanger, but considering the more connected nature of these final chapters, that's no bad thing. The final-page reveal is well-timed and executed, and the climax of the book feels suitably epic, gearing up for a grand finale to the book which promises to tie in many elements of the series so far: the fairies' war on humanity; the conspiratorial machinations of MI-6; and, most excitingly, a potential appearance of all four of the Skrull Beatles.
By the end of the issue, things are looking traditionally bleak for our heroes, and the stakes are higher than ever, but I'm confident that Cornell and Garcia will provide a fittingly irreverent and fun conclusion to what has been an under-appreciated series. I look forward to seeing where the story goes, and I can only encourage readers who enjoy escapist fantasy and dry humour to check it out, as it's one of Marvel's more unashamedly entertaining books of recent months and is deserving of a wider audience.
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