Sunday, 11 September 2011

Comic Review - The Mystery Play

They told me it was a murder mystery. The characters spoke to me throguh the blurb, talking of a killer on the loose. There was even a murder at the start of a story, and a policeman is called in to investigate it. Yet to introduce this as a murder mystery is to start off on the wrong foot. Even psychological thriller does not quite fit the bill: what, exactly, this story is is still unclear. Seventeen years after publication, and nobody is quite sure.

Meet Detective Frank Carpenter. He's a man sent to the town to investigate the murder of an actor playing God in a medieval mystery play. The town is rife with corruption and buried social anxiety, and Carpenter himself is hiding something. The real protagonist, perhaps, is Annie Woolf, a woman who works for the local paper. She's looking for her big story that'll catapult her into the world of journalism as a rising star, and she reckons this case could make her.

But perhaps I'm not doing a good job of talking about the story - that last paragraph was akin to introducing you to someone at a party by describing what they are wearing. Rather, it's more accurate to say that this a heavily allegorical story that blends religious imagery and hallucinogeic sequences with a reality that never quite seems right.

The artwork is beautiful and very fitting.  Jon J Muth's art is at times reminiscent of Alex Ross's photo realism, yet conveys a strange ethereal atmosphere even when there is nothing openly odd about events. The characters almost look like smuged photographs, half remember faces and ghosts of the past. When the story is rather less than grounded in reality, which is rather a lot of it, he shows an ability to give us abstract and surreal images that help make the comic as good as it is.

From the sinister nature of coats to the never completely made Nietzsche refences, The Mystery Play is something that you can't really talk about without giving something away or in some way biasing the experience. It's a story that requires a lot from it's audience, but nonetheless it's worth the investment of your time and focus. Terrific stuff.

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