After a teaser image in 2013 trailing the return of Phonogram, things went a bit quiet as Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie continued their quest for world comics domination with The Wicked + The Divine. Yesterday’s Image Expo announcement brought good news to those of us who’ve been patiently awaiting ‘The Immaterial Girl’. Here’s what the press release had to say:
“New York Times bestselling writer Kieron Gillen (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, Young Avengers) and artist Jamie McKelvie (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, Young Avengers) return to the beloved, fan-favorite PHONOGRAM with an all-new story arc that explores Emily Aster’s origins.
Emily Aster’s the hyper-acerbic cover-queen whose one liners are sharper than her fringe; she’s been the one people love and love to quote. In this new chapter of the PHONOGRAM series, readers discover how she got that way, and where it got her. She sold half her personality for power. This is what happens when that Faustian deal catches up with her, and what that half her personality has been doing all these years.”
My love of Gillen & McKelvie’s work is no secret (my first published work as an artist was in a Phonogram fanzine, I’ve had the opportunity to interview the boys a couple of years ago, and I sung the praises of WicDiv on this site last year), and I’ve been champing at the bit for a solid release date for Phonogram Act 3.
The first volume, ‘Rue Britannia’, a black & white release that has all the magic of the team’s later work, albeit in a slightly rougher form, was a celebration of the power music has to act as a reservoir of memory, and the downsides to becoming beholden to the past. Using the “music as magic” theme, Gillen was able to explore the mythic landscape of personal history, as David Kohl tries to rescue Britpop goddess Britannia, learning some harsh truths about the strutting, masculine nature of his own identity along the way.
‘The Singles Club’, volume 2, was a different beast. A “folded narrative” with each issue taking place on the same night, concurrently, as viewed through the eyes of a variety of new characters and old favourites from volume one, it saw the emergence of the experimentalism and character development that would finally bear fruit in Young Avengers and WicDiv. It was also the first Phonogram volume to be released in glorious colour.
In contrast to ‘Rue Britannia’s exploration of masculinity (and its flaws) as seen (or heard) through the lens of Britpop, The Singles Club had a playlist consisting of CSS, The Knife, Robyn and The Pipettes, among others – an antithesis to Kohl’s journey through braggadocio and machismo. This volume was less about the memory of music, and more about its newness, and its transformative ability.
Volume three is an exciting prospect for fans because it centres on Emily Aster, the none-more-glacial queen who’s kind of been on the periphery until now, stalking the edges of the narrative. While she takes the lead in ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ from ‘The Singles Club’, we see her spend the issue suppressing her younger indie self, “Claire”, she who loved The Smiths and Elastica, and who was a “cutter” at school. Emily banished a portion of her personality in order to transform herself, and Claire now resides in the mirror, taunting and teasing Emily as a constant reminder of what she’s suppressed.
While a scene where Emily verbally (and magically) eviscerates a former schoolmate reveals a tonne of information about who the self-created Aster is now, we’re left with more questions than answers about this character than any other. And those questions are “deliciously perverse”…
As promised in ‘The Singles Club’, Dark Aster/Claire is coming back through the mirror, no doubt to exact the price for this Faustian pact she’s made with herself. The volume title, a play on Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, and the latest image released which riffs on the cover of Duran Duran’s ‘Rio’ suggests we’re not just exploring Claire’s indie phase but also, perhaps, her earlier self, who grew up in the 80s listening to plastic pop. How she gets from there to hear, and the price she’ll have to pay for transforming herself by suppressing her past, makes Emily the most interesting character in the entire Phonogram family, and is why volume 3 has so much potential.
That and Gillen has teased that all of the characters, Kohl included, will find closure of some kind, making ‘Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl’ one of my most anticipated books of 2015.