August 6th, 2010

Forty Five

Written by Andi Ewington. Published by ComX

Review written by Denis-Jose Francois

The first thing to say about Forty Five is that this is not a graphic novel in the traditional sense. It's a graphic novel in the literal sense. Or to put it another way, it's not a comic (or collection of comics) printed and bound nicely. This is words... with pictures.

Forty Five is a collection of interviews with superheroes. The interviews are all done by one journalist - James Stanley - who is on a personal quest to find out about what it's like having superpowers and living alongside others who do. He's doing this because he wants to prepare himself for the possibility that his very pregnant wife will give birth to a super powered child.

None of the characters that appear in Forty Five are taken from the regular superhero universes that we are familiar with. The book is written by Andi Ewington and published by ComX. ComX are a small British publishing house that has been around for about 9 years and produces its own original titles. I believe all the characters that appear in 45 are original, first appearances, but not being familiar with the ComX universe (if there is such a thing) I'm not sure if we'd find some of the characters in other titles. Some of them definately deserve to be.

At first, the unfamiliarity of the world makes reading a bit of a strange journey. You can't dive into this book the way you could if it was a Marvel or DC publication, with foreknowledge of the world and characters and their relationships. There's a lot to take in. But the world is presented to the reader carefully and slowly. At the beginning of the book there's a very handy glossary, which serves to 'translate' some of the terms which are used. The author took great care not to reuse common superhero nomenclature and spent the time to thoughtfully prepare his own (this could also have been a copyright issue of course!). This worlds powered beings are called 'Super-S', '2nd Degrees' and 'Exo-S'. Whatever the reason, it adds to the rich tapestry that the series of interviews weaves.

And whilst it's not immediately apparant, there is a story thread that slowly unfolds as the interviews continue. By the time you read the last one, the world no longer feels alien and you have a good sense of the politics and social aspects of the ComX world.

Each of the 45 interviews (hence the title of the book) is accompanied by a full page illustration, each by a different artist. Some of them are fully painted, others have elements of sequential art and montage in them. All of them are fantastic. It's a bit like reading a book with 45 front covers between the pages, for 45 different characters. I can't say I was particularly familiar with any of the artists, but that didn't matter either. I will certainly be looking out for all of their work in the future. Most of them are British and many have worked on titles such as 2000AD and Judge Dread as well as working for 'the big two'.

What makes the book interesting is that the interviews are not just talking heads with super powered beings. Some of them are interviews with the wives, husbands and children of heroes. The interviewees range in age from 5 - 75. The intrepid journalist travels the globe - UK to USA, Japan to France - talking to people on every continent and from every walk of life. He even travels to Hawaii, fails to get an interview and instead ends up talking to a barman. (This particular piece is presented at the end of the book as an appendix, but could have been included in the main set of interviews, with the title renamed Forty Six. The fact that it wasn't only adds to the completely real feel of the collection.)

It's hard to say which my favourite interview is. Perhaps number 17 with the young German hero Militar who uses the interview to reveal to the world his homo-sexual relationship. Or it could have been interview 31, in which the journalist attends the birth of a child who is the product of two other Super-S... which goes horribly wrong. To be honest, I pretty much enjoyed them all. A few actually gave me something to think about as there are definite undertones and reflections on the world we live in now.

In all, Forty Five is a well written, breath of fresh air in the often stale arena that is the superhero comics genre. A very good read and definately value for money, both in terms of story and visuals. I look forward to seeing more from ComX and the world of the Super-S in the future.

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