Phonogram Volume 3: The Immaterial Girl
Kieron Gillen, writer; Jamie McKelvie, artist; Matthew Wilson, colorist; Clayton Cowles, letterer
Image Comics, 2016
The long-delayed conclusion to the Phonogram series, with the focus shifted to music videos. Phonomancer David Kohl's efforts to save his Britpop goddess, Britannia, was the focus of the first collection. David's coven leader, Emily Aster (and her struggles with her dual personality) was the focus of one issue in the second collection. Emily is the Immaterial Girl of the title here: the story is an explanation of her dual personality, and what she does to resolve it. David is present again, mostly as an observer, but he provides some continuity to the entire series as a supporting character.
The current action starts in 2001, but the primary musical references date back to the 1980s, when Emily made her deal with "the king behind the screen," a kind of video god. The video for A-ha's "Take On Me" is the central image of the miniseries: it's the basis for the second issue, and recurs throughout. Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1 (Precious Little Life) gets an homage in the mostly black-and-white issue four. Other references include the videos for Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing, " and Madonna's "Material Girl" (obvious title reference there).
Emily's struggle to resolve the two sides of her personality is an extended one, and offers plenty of visual possibilities. It happens in both the real world and the video world, so the characters interact with all those famous video images. Regardless of how much the reader loves pop music--and Gillen is clearly completely obsessed with it--in the end the story revolves around magic, so there has to be considerable suspension of disbelief. There is a lovely bit near the end where David uses some of his remaining magic power to send Indie Dave to New York City, a place dear to his musical tastes but which he had never visited.
There are tons of references to other pop music of both decades as well, and in case you didn't catch them all there's a Glossary at the end that lists them alphabetically. I don't think you need to get all of those allusions to follow the story, but it's hard to image it having much impact for anyone who doesn't remember those music videos. I was disappointed that Phonogram appeared to be over after the second series, so I had high hopes for this one. It's a nice bookend to the story, which wraps up some important character's stories. I look forward to rereading the whole thing some day.
Hey Mark, did you review any of the previous volumes?
The previous volumes predate both my blog and my habit of reviewing things here. Here are my 2010 comments on Vol. 2 in the "What comic books have you read today?" thread:
Also started Phonogram Vol. 2: The Singles Club. The concept of each issue depicting the same night in a club from a different character's perspective sounds gimmicky, but I thought it worked really well.
Things come together nicely at the end...Same with Phonogram, even though I thought the 6th issue was weak (that's the one featuring Lloyd, with lots of text). Shame that there probably won't be any more.
Okay, I was just wondering. I'd read the first two volumes, and wondered what you thought. I liked vol. 2 better, although the first volume was fine, if owing perhaps a bit too much to Hellblazer.
As I mentioned in the review, it's been a long time! Clearly the David Kohl character was memorable, because I recognized him right away. Since I'm both a musician and a critic, I suppose I identify with him on some level. The third volume definitely moves away from the kind of magic I associate with Hellblazer--at least I don't remember video playing a role often. If you read the first two I certainly recommend the third. It stands on its own pretty well (you don't have to remember the previous stories in any detail to follow it; there's enough context given), and does wrap things up in a satisfying way. Not so final that it closes out any possibility of future sequels, but there don't seem to be any planned.