"Part One: Ingestion"
Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Frazer Irving
Publisher: Image Comics
Sometime in the 19th century, or maybe the 18th, the Daphne set sail from Portsmouth, headed for Australia. It never got there, as it was swallowed whole by some massive denizen of the deep ocean. But the Daphne's crew and passengers survived and managed to build a settlement inside the great beast's guts...
As you might imagine from that description, we're in fantasy territory here, and it's dark and complex stuff. I was drawn to the book by my long-standing admiration for the artwork of Frazer Irving, an artist whose style shows plenty of humour, as a result of quirky body shapes and exaggerated storytelling, but nonetheless also has a dark and foreboding tone due to the his effortless grasp of nightmarish imagery (perfectly exemplified by the front cover, which incidentally is also the first panel of the story). Here the artist has to depict decadent Puritans lording over a repressed society living literally inside the guts of a monster, and he's more than equal to the task; I'd go as far as to say that this is the best work I've seen so far from Irving, as he really ups his game in terms of giving things a solid, textured feel, going a long way to making the lunacy seem real.
This strong sense of verisimilitude also comes through in the writing. Simon Spurrier, like Irving a veteran of the mighty 2000AD, gives us a setting which is far more active and intricate than the enclosed environment might suggest. There's an awful lot going on in this comic; in terms of plot alone, we've got murder, romance, social upheavals, a quest of sorts, and numerous other mysteries, all inter-related, and all in the first issue, and that's not counting the climax, which throws the whole mish-mash in the air in a truly surprising way. The characters are interesting but do seem very lightly sketched at this point, although I'm sure that now that introductions are done with, future issues will give the cast more room to develop; even so, this cast of varied personalities with complex and believable motivations only contributes to the well-rounded and realistic feel.
This is a very good comic by any standard, but the creators don't stop there; they pack the last section of the issue with bonus material. Spurrier and Simon Gurr provide an illustrated text story in the Sherlock Holmes vein, also set in Gutsville, while Fiona Staples and Ray Fawkes give us an excerpt from a Gutsvuille bestiary. I love this stuff, as it's far from essential, and the creators could save time and money by omitting it, but both the natural history and the mystery help to make Gutsville as a place seem more well-rounded and real. It also shows that the creators really care about what they're doing, which is a refreshing sight in this world of corporate comics.
I'm very impressed with Gutsville thus far. It's not only entertaining but rich and finely crafted too, and the result is a great comic. Keep an eye on this one, as it could turn out to be the next League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
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