The evening's real post.

God Save the Queen


A new original graphic novel from Vertigo, just out in hardcover the other week, $19.99 at 96 pages.

This, unfortunately, is an awful comic. And I know writer Mike Carey and artist John Bolton aren’t generally awful talents, as much as some of their individual works might not be to my personal taste. But this is as bad a comic as any I’ve read recently, coupling bizarre, disconcerting visual choices with a dull, formulaic script, all toward an unpleasant result. There is neither originality nor inspired use of studied formula at work. It is bluntly moral in the manner of a schoolteacher lecturing small children, haplessly literal in much the same fashion, and prone to repetition of themes that aren’t particularly compelling the first time around. It is kind of a chore to read, is what I’m saying.

God Save the Queen initially sports dual unimpressive plotlines: an evil revolution in a fantasy kingdom, and a rebellious young woman’s descent into drug abuse with the Bad Crowd. They eventually meld into an equally unimpressive whole, in the manner of 1 multiplying into 1. The fantasy plot concerns the return of wicked Queen Mab, the former ruler of the Faerie realm, who seizes the throne away from one Queen Titania - don’t get too caught up in the fairy lore, since just about everything beyond surface details and plot twist necessities operates on the plane of broad fantasy clichés, from the evil former ruler returning to wreak havoc, to everyone’s salvation laying with a rejected-yet-gifted one from beyond the immediate confines of the realm, whose responsibility it will be to save the queen. Because that’s the title, you see.

The title also comes from a Sex Pistols song, of course, which ties in the our second plotline, that of young Linda. She’s enamored with her dad’s music (and isn’t that the essence of punk rock?), since it reminds her of more stable times, but she’s currently living unhappily with her emotional ruin of a mother, a designer of buildings who hasn’t been getting much work done at all. Linda, as these things go, has a nice local boy who’s sweet to her and wants her to study her school lessons, but she eventually falls in with some unsavory types she meets at a club, including a smoldering bad boy in shades who dresses in black and turns her on to the dangerous world of… Dope!

I like a guy who’s a bit dark. A bit - somewhere else.

But then if I’m honest -

“- I guess I like a lot of things that are bad for me.”

Unfortunately, our heroine narrates much of the book in a similar manner. It also turns out these bad new friends are actually from Faerie, and happen to be dealing in a nasty Faerie drug, Red Horse, which requires a certain type of blood to cook. Linda’s got the right stuff, and soon she’s using with the rest of them, and even dragging her nice local boy-who-is-a-friend along into the gutter! Tragedy and personal growth awaits!

You can probably already tell where this plotline is going, so it’s sufficient to note that this is just the sort of comic where, as Linda shoots up for the first time, an image of a wild red horse bucking around is actually drawn on the page. Because she’s using Red Horse. You might think, ‘oh, well at least nobody drew a screaming face on her arm or anything.’ No, that’s a few pages later. She does not, however, actually chase a dragon at any point, but did I mention she goes for a motorcycle ride with Bad Boy and literally lets her hair down?

Meanwhile, we occasionally jump back to Faerie, where mythic thingies speak in riddles and sullen characters with flowing hair utter lines like “That cursed recreant! How he will bleed and scream when the true queen returns!” Three guesses who has the hidden power necessary to make things right.

All of this might have come across as slightly less banal had there been some inspired art choices, but this is not the best I’ve seen of John Bolton. Frankly, many of the aesthetic criticisms I’ve seen levied toward superhero heavy realists like Greg Land apply just as much here, though Bolton works his photorealist characters through a sheen of painterly smudge. Still, there’s the same stiffness to the characters’ postures, and a nasty tendency toward jarring ‘overacting.’ Facial expressions occasionally don’t seem to match what’s being said in the dialogue, and characters on the same page sometimes don’t seem to be occupying the same reality. There’s inconsistencies in character depictions, occasionally on the same page - I know Queen Mab has some shapeshifting capabilities, but why do small things like her lip color and the bone structure of her face change from panel to panel? Also: why does Our Heroine, when faced with a no-doubt dangerous journey, change from her pants into a little skirt and a belly-baring top?

You see, most of all, there’s an overabundance of glam. Bolton is a very glam artist, and he positions his characters in glamorous poses, sometimes regardless of what’s going on in the story. Evil villains attacking the palace? An escaping fairy takes the time to cross her legs in mid-air, and winsomely tuck her hands beneath her chin. Soon after, another fairy is swatted out of the air by Queen Mab, causing her to luxuriously careen through space with her eyes sensually pursed shut and her back arched to accentuate her bust.

I could imagine this acting as an affectingly arch sort of style in a more tongue-in-cheek book, but this story is so thuddingly literal that each added layer of glossy sass and sex only irritates more. Needless to say, the drug abuse bits offer several opportunities for ravishing decadence, though young Linda is almost always positioned under the most admiring of gazes. Even when she’s had a barbed arrow as long as her forearm plunged through her shoulder, she sits patiently on the leafy grass, head tilted to one side, solemnly lolling, as if attempting to remain awake during Sunday mass or contemplating a poem. A glamorous poem!

The apex is undoubtedly reached in a sequence directly following the obligatory WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THE TRUTH bit where the girl confronts her mother about her secret nature. Linda is lounging around in her underwear after sex with her Bad Boy crush object, only to pull on her boots (and only her boots) to confront the fairies’ monstrous drug hookup, her pantied butt at the center of a dramatic splash page. But the wicked trafficker tells her death is afoot, and Our Heroine runs, runs in her bra and panties and boots, only to find her poor nice local boy pal dead -- dead from Dope, dear readers -- the tragedy of which causes her bra to spontaneously disappear as she places her left hand over a nipple and blushes in the reader’s general direction.

I wouldn’t give a name. Or any address except the squat. So they took me in.

A white car like a slab of ice. Red lights. Like love. Like whores.”

Some of those words are underlined for extra impact, by the way.

As you’ve picked up by now, Linda eventually makes her way into the world beyond as a determined fighter, encountering allusions to the hit Sandman comic book series while uncovering Queen Mab’s dastardly drug-related scheme, eventually learning to respect her mother while destroying evil in a clankingly literal ‘symbolic’ manner that doubles as both tossing away her drug paraphernalia and harnessing the power of love. I couldn't tell you who this book is aimed at, but its determination to avoid any trace of subtlety in the process of hammering at themes of love and regret and family evokes a certain brand of edgy-yet-wholesome young adult literature I do seem to recall from junior high, though maybe I'm just imagining things.

It is the type of book that gets the mind wandering away from it - everything is all better in the end, Linda is confronted with Dope again but she Just Says No, and the book concludes with her and her mother apparently riding motorcycles across an idyllic bridge of enchantment, unless that’s some other people on the bikes. I could have gone for Death popping up from the bottom of the page to declare “Winners Don’t Use Drugs” while John Constantine waves a banana with a condom on it, but even that tiny pleasure was robbed from me. Damn my earthbound head!