Before there was Young Avengers & Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie & Mathew Wilson did Phonogram. Critically beloved and with a cult fan base, Phonogram is partially what led to the creators ascension to the level of fame an notoriety they are currently experiencing within comics. But while Young Avengers & The Wicked + The Divine are certainly more commercially successful, they are also probably better then Phonogram was as well. This isn’t a knock on the series, more just that it wasn’t the creative teams Illmatic per say & they’ve managed to elevate their craft in the intervening years since they all debuted together. But they’ve brought Phonogram back for 2015 and it feels like all the time spent owning their craft has paid off well as it proves to be a splendid opening chapter to the series third volume.
Immaterial Girl follows the character Emily Aster, a women who displaced her natural depression that made her want to cut herself into the world of A-Ha’s iconic Take On Me Video. It looks at Emily and her displaced half before one manages to switch the other. Gillen does fantastic character work in the story to both update readers of the first two volumes of Phonogram while engaging fans that are new to the series. Nothing is as bombastic or otherworldly as YA or WD but with more subtlety also comes a deeper look inward. There is a very lived in feeling to all of the writing that Gillen always brings to his best work and you can feel how personal it is for him here. Illustrator McKelvie brings his singular style to the book in a way that really establishes the tone and style of the issue. In Immaterial Girl, his work is more about giving a sense of place while making the moments of surrealism feel commonplace within the ordinary. He & Gillen continue to be a great team in character studies as his use of acting in his illustrations helps to accentuate the mood of the writing. Mathew Wilson keeps Phonograms look consistent with the bright SEPTA-color sheen that permeates his work with the rest of the team and add’s life and vibrancy to the visual narrative. As a whole, there is a synergy felt between the three here that comes from a combination of shared passion and experience that is felt in the final product that makes for an immersive reading.
In addition to the main story, Immaterial Girl also features two excellent back up features written by Gillen with art from Sarah Gordon, Clayton Cowles & Kelly Fitzpatrick respectively that provide modern updates on other pieces of the Phonogram mythology that are equally as excellent and affecting as the main story. Sarah Gordon’s work on Logos aka Loyd is particularly haunting in it’s portrayal of the character being hypnotized to a Taylor Swift song in a stunning black and blue chromatic style. Immaterial Girl is a worthy return for the series as Gillen, McKelvie & Wilson have all leveled up in the years since the last time they did Phonogram and it really shows here. In a post Young Avengers/Wicked+The Divine world, we’re getting the Phonogram we deserve.
A week ago we had a comment thread where we were discussed comics that we thought were the best to a new reader. After I made my list I immediately contemplated and ultimately regretted not including Secret Avengers on that list. Bottom line there is literally no other Avengers book or comic like this out right now. It has a hyper Kinect compression to it’s stories that dances across the page as the story unfolds while literally distilling all the nonsense of typical super hero comics to give 20+ pages of action, adventure and humor. This is entirely a credit to the creative team of Michael Walsh and Ales Kot as their connection and style appears seamless with continuous improvement in each issue. Walsh had already established his strength as a illustrator on past Image work but I think it’s safe to say that this is the best work of his career. The panels and layouts vibrate with action and intensity having just the right touch for the tones match of humor and high stakes espionage while his use of facial expressions is literally telling the reader everything they need to know about the character’s in the story. Similarly this feels second to only Zero in terms of quality of the overall output in his young career in comic creation. The story maintains the series through line of telling tense and tight one and done stories that manage to give equal parts excitement, intrigue and hilarity. Everything feels self contained while connections are seeded all over the place and as has been this series MO the ending always leaves me wanting more. And again I didn’t think MODOK could get any better but this week Kot makes a reference to a sub culture, of a sub culture, of a sub culture, of a sub culture with his “based MODOK” comment and I almost jump out of my seat on the train in delight. This is the best Avengers comic, one of the best super hero comics and one of the best ongoing series being published right now. The train may move at a break neck pace but you should get on as soon as possible because the ride is like nothing else.