As tensions continue to mount between the authorities and revolutionaries, inept rat-catcher Albert Oliphant and spunky spiritualist Mary Nazarene find themselves a long way from home and facing an eerie silent killer.
That's just about what I could pick up from the issue anyway, as it's a bit of a weird one, even by the standards of this strange but usually brilliant title. It's possible that Simon Spurrier has gone a bit too far with the tripped-out weirdness, as the sequence with Albert and Mary largely failing to defend themselves against the monstrous NoSunMan barely makes much sense. That said, this creative team boasts strong storytelling skills, and so while the exact details of the uncanny witchcraft underlying the scene are left obscure (as they perhaps should be, given that it's dark sorcery), the immediate peril is not.
I'm also not particularly convinced by Albert and Mary's return to Gutsville toward the issue's end. While it's at a suitably dramatic juncture, it also seems implausibly swift given how arduous the journey out seemed. It's only a minor issue, but it becomes significant in contrast to how well constructed and thought out everything else has been in this series, and it makes this chapter's climax seem more convenient and artificial than it is.
I don't mean to criticize Spurrier too much though, as elsewhere this comic is as impressive as previous issues. The characters are all well developed and interesting, and Spurrier continues to explore fascinating socio-political themes and concepts; this issue boasts a particularly interesting subtext, made more prominent by the striking back cover, of firearms symbolizing freedom from tyranny. It's a fascinating blend of almost socialist revolutionary ideas (again reinforced by the Soviet-tinged back cover) and the modern American Cult of the Gun, and I'm keen to see where Spurrier goes with it.
The quasi-Victorian mystery text story continues in the back-up slot, and while it lacks the exploration of ideas of the main strip, it is arguably more immediately entertaining. Spurrier's pastiche of the style is convincing, but he also allows a wicked sense of humor to creep in at the edges.
Frazer Irving's unique and evocative art is surely a big draw for many, and he doesn't disappoint here. His depiction of this strange enclosed world is suitably creepy and slimy, and he has a gift for characterisation, particularly facial expressions. The action sequences are also very strong, and the battle-turned-rout with the NoSunMan is thrilling and even beautiful in places. Fellow 2000AD alumnus Boo Cook provides good spot illustrations for the text story, and while there aren't many of them, they fit the piece well.
There are a couple of disappointing glitches in this issue, but Gutsville remains one of the most unique and interesting comics being published right now by the big US publishers.
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