"The Rudiments of Wisdom, Part Six: Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow"
Writer: Paul Cornell
Artists: Manuel Garcia (p), Mark Farmer (i), Guru eFX (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics/MAX
In this final issue of Wisdom Paul Cornell brings together the disparate story threads which have been running throughout his six-issue limited series, making good on the portents of doom which have been littered throughout the book with a conclusion which unites many of his heroes and villains for a climactic Battle Royale on the streets of London. Whilst lesser writers might have been content to spend the whole issue immersed in an indulgent and hollow Big Action Sequence, Cornell doesn't take the easy road, adding a few extra wrinkles to his plot and bringing his overall story to a satisfying and conclusive end without any elements feeling like a lazy or empty cop-out as we've seen with many of Marvel and DC's more high-profile miniseries of late.
It's a dense issue which finds time to give each one of the book's major players a brief moment in the spotlight, introduces an unexpected guest-star, and allows itself quite a few musings on the idiosyncracies of how the British view themselves, but Cornell still makes room for the character-based comedy, imaginative fantasy, and undercurrents of drama that have been such a big part of this title's winning charm. In fact, this issue is skewed towards the dramatic in a way that we haven't really seen from Wisdom thus far. Yes, the silly banter and surreal jokes are still in evidence (a book which features War of the Worlds' Martians doing battle with the Fairy nation and a team of winged Skrull-Beatles - complete with perfectly-observed Liverpudlian oddball dialogue - could never be classed as completely serious), but the tough choice faced by Pete Wisdom towards the issue's end combines with the surprising and highly affecting death of one of the group to give the series' conclusion a real emotional punch that I honestly didn't see coming. Still, the book makes time to include its usual brand of hilarious one-liners and witty dialogue ("So... you're either Martians or Blancmanges. Marching on the Capital. Well... awkwardly shuffling. You ever invent the wheel, then you'll be really scary"), and raises a few chuckles with its irrevent attitudes to some of the Marvel Universe's more established properties (Captain Britan is addressed as "You Tosser!"), all of which provide welcome relief considering the downbeat nature of the book's finale.
Manuel Garcia deals with the more serious tone of the issue well. The artist is obviously having fun with the scale which is afforded by the book's opening action sequences, depicting the carnage being caused by the Martians with evident glee in a couple of great splash pages, and giving the pitched battle a real sense of energy and immediacy. However, it's with the quieter moments that Garcia really impresses, conveying the gravity of Maureen Wisdom and Pete Wisdom's later dilemma with some tense body language and grim facial expressions, and displaying a perfect knack for pacing in the issue's most important and emotionally charged sequence, which Cornell - displaying a remarkable confidence in his artist - allows Garcia to handle through his visuals alone. Even the usually snazzy colours are toned-down slightly in favour of a more restrained, muted pallete, and it serves the story effectively.
The sadness of the story's outcome and the knowledge that this title is coming to an end makes this final issue a bittersweet read, but it's a great send-off for a series which feels like it's come to a natural conclusion. Whilst some fans might clamour for a sequel, I'm more interested to see whether Cornell can bring his individual and enjoyable touch to a different sector of the Marvel Universe. After all, if the writer can take a silly sci-fi/fantasy concept and a bunch of minor characters like these and turn it into an attractive and enjoyable book, then I can't wait to see what he does next. The MAX imprint has allowed the series greater freedom with regard to sex and language, but these relaxed boundaries have never been exploited for gratuitous purposes; rather, they have allowed Cornell & co. to tell a mature fantasy story which treats its readers like adults and doesn't pretend that comics are aimed at kids any more. Wisdom has been a well above-average series, and one which deserves to find greater recognition in its collected edition, and Cornell has definitely marked himself out as a name to watch in future.
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