Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Will Tempest
Released: 29th July 2015
It’s difficult to precisely quantify what Material represents – to quote the Dark Knight’s true nemesis, he’s a mystery, broken into a jigsaw puzzle, wrapped in a conundrum, and hidden in a Chinese box. A riddle, then, and Material is certainly that, if nothing else.
If there is a main thrust of the plot of the series – and to be quite honest, the thrust could well be that there is no spoon… I mean thrust – it appears to be about the disenfranchisement of no less than four wildly different people who’re just trying to deal with their respective existences. It’s got an air of an Alejandro Iñárritu flick – albeit in, of course, graphic novel form, and with the existentialism worn rather more prominent on its sleeve.
The writing is beautiful, if perhaps a little philosophically dense – Kot has a bone-dry wit, and the same premature world-weariness that a lot of the current generation of 20- and 30-somethings have had forced upon them. Though unlike the rest of us, Kot’s is honed to a molecule-thin edge – though whether it be due to the veritable litany of philosophers that he references throughout, his rage at the recent cascade of police shootings in the US (there’s at least a page per issue wherein the footnotes are simply names of victims of such incidents), as well as their treatment of terrorists, or just being a plain old clever cat, it’s difficult to say. What is easy to say is that nothing is safe from being flayed by it – from Hollywood age politics right through to waterboarding, it’s all fair game, and somehow with his choice of cast, he covers every possible base.
The art is a little more problematic. Whilst it’s incredibly striking – with gorgeously contrasting colour-work that does a terrific job of setting the tone of the dialogue as it sounds in your head – it can on occasion be a little obtuse, with odd, lilting perspectives, and characters who you are clearly supposed to recognise, but only do so when they’re named in the script. Still, it has a curiously ethereal quality it to it that meshes rather well with Kot’s contemplative writing.
Overall, it’s difficult to say whether or not this is a good comic. On the one hand, it’s certainly a fascinating read – each character’s descent into their own existential hellhole is ingeniously conceived, and incredibly well-rendered, and clawing at all the right wounds in the Western psyche – police brutality… government brutality… the pointlessness of it all… fuckin’ Buzzfeed. And there are great moments – moments where you’ll laugh, snarkily or otherwise, moments where you can feel genuinely empathy for the characters on their tragic arcs. On the other, there’s the fact that, like Iñárritu’s body of work, it’s hard to say that the series is fun to read. But as a demonstration of quite how – just like prose, just like motion pictures, just like poetry – comics can be used to explore deep philosophical themes, this should be held up on a high pedestal.
Beautiful, haunting stuff, but hard to properly recommend. If you’re in a dark, brooding frame of mind, this’ll suit you rather well. If you’re just in for some be-tighted super-heroics. best look elsewhere.
The Writer of this piece was: Ross Sweeney
Ross tweets from @Rostopher24