52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Dan Abnett is yet another wildly imaginative comic writer from the UK, finding success with the title 2000 AD, which resulted in a plethora of doors being opened to other publishers. Working with Marvel, Marvel UK, and DC Comics from the 1990’s onwards, Abnett has produced more comics than you can probably wrap your head around. He is also an accomplished novelist, working for Game Workshop’s Black Library to produce Warhammer books, as well as releasing his first series of original fiction novels through Angry Robot Books back in 2009.
Wild’s End Volume 1 – First Light
Set in the small English community of Lower Crowchurch in the 1930’s, Wild’s End follows the adventures of this community’s citizens as they try to survive a peculiar alien invasion. When a mysterious light crashes into the ground and promptly burns Fawkes’ best friend to death, Fawkes races into town looking for help from whoever will listen. Labelled as a mischievous drunk, Fawkes is shooed away by the town’s folk with no help or insight. It’s not until Lower Crowchurch’s newest citizen, Clive Slipaway, intervenes and decides to go searching for Fawkes that others begin to take interest. With the town’s solicitor, Gilbert Arrant, and local journalist, Peter Minks, in tow, Clive sets out to search for Fawkes before quickly stumbling upon what he surmises to be an alien invasion from small, oddly shaped saucers and lamp post like beings who torch the Earth around them. Assembling other members of the English countryside, Clive and his unlikely allies fight for not only their own survival but for that of Lower Crowchurch as well, as they frantically try to lead the invaders away from the town while trying to figure out a way to stop them entirely.
Dan Abnett takes The Wind In The Willows and combines it with War Of The Worlds to give readers an anthropomorphic sci-fi story that will startle you with not only how deftly it is executed but by how much you fall in love with it as well. Abnett, a local of the UK himself, sinks into his roots and uses it for a comic presented towards an American audience in a way that shouldn’t succeed but still does, a strong credit to his fluent writing capabilities. When you think of Sci-fi alien invasion style stories, the last thing you’d ever really expect is one with animals and, to an even further point, you’d never picture it the way Wild’s End does it. This is a story that could easily read for adults or children, never skating near the line of being too gratuitous or over the top for any age range of reader. Wild’s End is the type of story that, as an adult, you can appreciate the fine inner-workings of but still see the gleeful enjoyment a child may take from it due to the fact that it has talking animals who walk upright and dress in clothing like something out of the Bearstein Bears…but don’t worry as I can’t state this enough, this is an adult book that can work for children as well and not the other way around.
To start with the characters, Abnett does a phenomenal job from top to bottom. He casts his characters as animals that suit their personalities, as their physical appearances only help to heighten one’s reading experience. Your lead character of Clive Slipaway is a retired old war dog, whose years of service are clearly outlined on his face. He’s a dog who has seen his fair share of horrors, with the war having hollowed him instead of hardened him. With Clive you get a man who doesn’t recognize things like bravery or heroism, just the sheer visceral thought of survival and the toll it can take to achieve. Clive ends up being an almost tragic character who veers into the territory of being a predictable survivor of war but shows the darker, unspoken side that you pick up through subtlety instead of blaring it in one’s face. In the case of Clive, it is truly better for him to say little, which in turn says a lot about him instead of it being the other way around.
Behind Clive stands characters like Fawkes the fox, Peter Minks the mink, Ms. Peardew the cat, Alpherd the pig, and Grant the rabbit. Again, each one of these characters and their personalities is further represented by the animal they are cast as, embodying some of your average characteristics you’d find in the animal. For example, Alpherd and Peter, who are a pig and mink respectively, both come off easily as cowardly characters, never so filled with fear that they’re struck into inaction but still scared enough that they can be seen as part of the annoying crux of the group. With characters like Fawkes and Ms. Peardew though, you get some surprising character traits that show you this isn’t a cookie-cutter style story where you can predict every beat that comes your way. Fawkes turns out to be a stand out amongst the cast as, although his mannerisms suggest he is sneaky and untrustworthy, he is also brave and steps into action whenever needed. Ms.Peardew is a nervous wreck, suffering from agoraphobia, which makes her an almost jittery and unstable character. Abnett characterizes this through her constant need for a cigarette in the face of danger, a trend she appears incapable of bucking even during the downbeat moments of the story. Yet, she is still portrayed as intelligent, showing that even behind her diagnosed fear, she can be a strong character that stands out on her own and not even when she is necessarily needed to. It’s not even a stretch to say that she is the most intelligent of the characters, hammering home the fact that just because you suffer from an “illness” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re weak.
The next part of this comic wherein Abnett succeeds is his story, having already been stated as being appropriate for both children and adults. Let’s get this out of the way now though parents, there are characters who perish in the pages of this comic but this feeds into the reason why I state this comic is appropriate for children as any character death is never morbid or gratuitous, with Abnett and the artist I.N.J. Culbard going to great lengths to making the style of this book accessible for all. Scenes are tense, dramatic, saddening, and surprising with no degrees of inappropriate language or sexual content. The worst thing you’ll see a character do is consume alcohol but even then it feels like it’s done in a tasteful way that suits the character. In all honesty, this is the type of story that might make you or your children sad if you read it to them simply because of how attached Abnett makes you to these characters and then what he does in return to some of them. Going into the second issue there was a moment that I never would have predicted could happen and it’s these sort of things that keep you on your toes as a reader and make you want to keep reading. The idea to make this an anthropomorphic story with sci-fi elements is a simple but brilliant touch as it actually makes you invest more in these animal character than you might have been able if these characters were humans instead. Just think of it this way: how would you feel if this was your cat or dog in this story fighting for survival from an alien presence that could light them on fire? Yeah, you can remove your heart from your throat now.
One of the defining pieces to this well orchestrated puzzle has to be Abnett’s use of dialogue. Casting the story in the 1930’s is going to drastically change the way characters use language now versus language from back then. The difference between the two types of language is night and day in a lot of regards, with our culture relying far more heavily on slang terms than what you’d see in the ’30’s. Abnett then takes it a step further by also having the story take place along the English countryside, where there are worlds that your average American English speaker won’t even know, let alone understand. It’s a bold choice that Abnett goes all-in on and it works to a marvellous degree as it immerses you deeply into this story about characters you fall in love with. That’s not to say there are no common words that we’d understand, as there are plenty of common phrases we use everyday in this story. It’s just fantastic to see these characters talk like they’re on an English countryside in the 1930’s instead of Manhattan in 2015.
Collects: Wild’s End #1-6
Best Character: Fawkes
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Revenge has no place in a man’s life. And as for courage—courage, heroism—they’re not simple values, Alph. Put them out of your head.” – Clive Slipaway
Best Scene/Moment: Caught in the cornfield – Issue 4
Best Issue: Issue 4 – Upper Deeping. Issue 4 opens in lightning fast fashion and shows you a lot of important details about all the characters present in the cornfield. It’s one of the larger action set pieces up to that point in the story and it’s one you’re sure to remember. From there, Abnett slows down the issue to give some emotional resonance to a discovery the group makes only to then rip the carpet out from underneath them in the final few moments of the issue.
Why You Should Read It: Wild’s End is an intelligent piece of literature that will make you forget it’s a comic book for a moment or two. The character work is excellent, the dialogue is perfect, the story is compelling and interesting, and if that isn’t enough to sell you, it’s appropriate for readers of almost all-ages. Abnett shows why he’s one of the best in the comic industry with a brilliantly simple premise of “animals + aliens + 1930’s English countryside = awesome”. Don’t even get me started on all the wonderful back matter at the conclusion of each issue as they are fantastic inclusions by Abnett and Culbard. If you don’t plan on picking up Wild’s End and reading it, I briskly shake my head at you in disappointment.