(2007) Alan Moore, Leah Moore, John Reppion, Shane Oakley & George Freeman, Wildstorm (US) / Titan (UK),
£9.99, trdpbk, 176 pp, US ISBN 978-1-401-2-0994-0 / UK 978-1-845-7-6351-3
'Albion' is the term for the British Isles whose origins can be traced back to the Celts. More recently its usage has been used to denote Britain and occasionally (indeed oddly given subsequent Angle and Saxon migrations) England. Now it is also the title of a series of comics and their graphic novel collection, which, not surprisingly, is firmly linked to something British. All right so far? Let us move on...
What happens to old super heroes? This is the basic premise behind Alan Moore's (and family and friends') Albion. Characters from the great British comics of the 1960s have not gone with their comics' demise but are actually today hidden away in a remote castle. Most people have forgotten British weekly comics such as Lion, Valiant and Buster. However those genre enthusiasts of a certain age will remember them fondly. You may not know that Great Britain had its own 'Iron Man' in the guise of the Robot Archie and the Brits also had their own 'Spiderman' in the form of The Spider, not mention a (more fun and gung ho) Nick Fury in Captain Hurricane. British comics even had a Yank motorcycle cop, Zip Nolan. Those were the days. (Pause to wipe tear welling in eye.)
But why did they go? Could it be because the comics had ceased publication? (Indeed why did the comics cease publication?) Now, Albion reveals all. Apparently these heroes were not thought safe to be allowed to mingling with the public. Furthermore some of their devices were also too powerful to be anywhere but under secure lock and key... And so it was that these heroes vanished from the public eye. But wait, someone is on their trail. Could it be time for a mass break out attempt..? You bet.
I'll stop with the plot outline there as there is simply too much interlinked and loads of buried references in the detail. Suffice to say that along the way we learn the 'real' origins of some of these characters. One negative point though. Why, oh why when producing an 'English'-based graphic novel, are American spellings used? Come on Wildstorm, get with the plot. Dare would never ever have been part of a 'space program' (sic).
Albion is a fantastic modern tribute to our heroes of old. It is also a warning that we need to choose our heroes well. It warns we should be aware that those who forge our culture and those in charge -- them folk -- can use our nation's heroes for their own nefarious purposes. Yes, even flag-waving Prime Ministers.
Albion was first published as a six-part comic over 2005/6. It has to be said that this was a protracted affair with delays causing gaps of many months between some issues. Alan Moore's reputation probably kept the run of comics viable, but it also almost certainly meant that a good few missed out on getting the complete set. However now (2007) there is this collected edition. This compilation is far better as it -- not only not have all that advertising clutter but -- includes episodes of the some of the original stories reprinted from four decades ago. This means that Brits (particularly aged around 50-55 in 2007) can wallow in nostalgia, while other nationals can get a feel for the backdrop as to what this is all about with glimpses into the worlds of Dolmann, Hurricane, Janus Stark, The Steel Claw, and Kelly's Eye. On each page beneath these reprints is a box containing a few lines of text of background explanation. (The Steel Claw 1967 adventure reprinted seems to have been one previously rescued from archival hell as this particular story also appeared in the 2000AD summer special back in 1980. (Oh dear, I seem to be wearing my anorak indoors.)) Albion also has an introduction by Neil Gaiman and a more useful, but sadly all too brief, appended article on some of the inspirational source material.
Whether you are into Albion as a homage to the comics genre of yester-year, or a great modern fable with a dark edge and a trace of political humour (Margaret Thatcher and Tony & Cherie Blair make appearances in their jim-jams), with Albion you are in for a treat. Fantastic stuff that is so packed with detail that older Brit buffs will have to read it more than once to stand any chance of getting all the references and visual appearances. (These last include Perky (from Pink & Perky), Ben (the flowerpot man), a cyberman (from Dr Who), The Trigan Empire, a 'legal'Eagle (a reference I suspect to Eagle being one of just two comics approved by teachers for reading in British (boarding) schools), among many, many more... Even many of the places are real and, yes, there really is an FAB sci-fi-themed bar in Manchester (in Oxford Street and well worth visiting despite the lack of real ale).) Albion is doubly recommended to die-hard North American comics fans, as well as younger British enthusiasts, seriously interested in comics and wishing to have more genre-awareness than the rest of the pack. Conversely younger, non-buff readers simply will not get the references and so be likely to struggle to appreciate what all the fuss is about.
See also the Albion's Wikipedia page here for more insights.
A less favourable review of Albion can be found here.
Two of the classic Brit comic strips referred to in Albion have separately had recent collections published as: The Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man and The (Spider:) King of Crooks. Get these while you can.
Many other Alan Moore graphic novels are reviewed on this site including:
The Ballad of Halo Jones
Tom Strong Book Six
The Complete D.R. & Quinch
Promethea Book Five
The Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 2)
and Swamp Thing: A Murder of Crows
For still others see our fiction reviews index under 'M'.
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