Do you ever have those nights where everyone is asleep but you, so you decide to watch every music video you can think of that you remember from childhood? That kind of satisfying nostalgia tour is what the story of Emily Aster brings to mind this month in Gillen, McKelvie & Co.’s Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #2. The story follows the two divergent lives of Emily Aster and Claire after their bodies are switched. When last we left Emily, she was trapped in the video for “Take On Me,” (a truly horrifying fate if there ever was one); over the course of this issue, she ends up in the “Thriller” video (where more is revealed about the King Behind the Screen), and the video for “Material Girl.” All iconic, and all lovingly rendered by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson. Meanwhile, Claire makes it her mission in life to go full goth and ruin Emily’s life, and all she holds dear, including the coven. The B-side for this issue is a quick, wordless tale by Jamaica Dyer, whose watercolored style brings to mind a more abstract style like Jeff Lemire or Matt Kindt, and it plays exceptionally well off of McKelvie’s highly-polished style.
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is staring to play out like a riff on the Freaky Friday concept: instead of trying to make each others’ lives better, Claire is trying to murder Emily (literally and socially) and Emily is trying to get out so she can, presumably, beat the shit out of Claire for taking her life over again. The story is much more streamlined than Rue Britannia, but it doesn’t descend to the one-off status of any of the stories in The Singles Club. As I said in my review of the first issue, it’s walking a line between the two, fully addressing both plot and character instead of one or the other, and in the process, it’s becoming the comic Phonogram always knew it could be.
Both the creators of Phonogram are at the height of their powers right now. After doing so much Marvel work (and some legitimately chilling stuff in Darth Vader), Gillen is leaps and bounds past where he was when they launched Phonogram almost a decade ago. His philosophical ramblings about pop music while Emily runs through a variety of hellish versions of videos from the golden age of MTV are right on the money, tonally and critically, and it’s a fun counterpoint to things like vampire gentleman Dave Kohl trying to murder Emily Aster-as-Madonna-as-Marilyn Monroe. Meanwhile, McKelvie’s artwork shines in every page, whether he’s letting the static of the King Behind the Screen bleed into the gutters, or he’s recreating the music videos of our childhoods, it’s a pleasure to read. Especially with something as visually distinct as the video for “Take On Me,” seeing him live inside the confines of another art style like that, and use it to his own advantage is a delightful experiment.
Jamaica Dyer’s piece is a short one, but it is stunning. Her watercolors and the soft drama of the characters feels like a short acoustic piece on the heels of a synth-pop driven fever dream in the main feature. I don’t want to call it a palate-cleanse, because I don’t want to imply that it is somehow a lesser-piece just because it’s short and to the point; this is a short that, on a surface level, seems quick and done with. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not giving it a close reading--Dyer’s visual symbolism and facial expressions really make this piece shine.
This book is everything I want about pop music from comics. It’s a demented character study through the lens of an outsider who’s literally been trapped in a box for decades taking her revenge on the people she only knows superficially, dressed up in a metaphysical journey through the roots of MTV. Anyone who doesn’t at least giggle at the ambition of this book (that it reaches every issue) is no fun, and you should not be associating with them; they’re not allowed in your coven.
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #2 Writer: Kieron Gillen Artist: Jamie McKelvie, Jamaica Dyer Colourist: Matthew Wilson Letterer: Clayton Cowles Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 9/9/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digita