Written by Charles Soule, illustrated by Renzo Podesta and published by Image, 27 tells a story of a extremely talented rock musician, William (Will) Garland who at the age of 27 suffers from incurable nerve damage and faces the premature end of his career. Mirroring the lives and careers of Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin who all passed away way too early at 27, Will finds himself running out of cures – before finding a certain Dr Swinthe who promises to cure him with an… “alternative” method. With revived fame and glory beckoning, Will says yes a little too quickly, and you can almost guess what happens next… or can you? With crazy spirits, weird body modifications, an amp that goes up to 27 (these days 11 doesn’t cut it), numerology (all about the number 9) and a crazy dose of odd cast members, 27 brings you on a ride that’s promises to rock!
27 has been making impact in the indie scene ever since the release of the first issue in December 2010, where it sold out and had a 2nd printing ordered even before the actual release date, and since then issue #2 has also gone for a second print. Issue #3 is to be released tomorrow in Singapore (or around now in the US) and promises to be just as sought after. Sadly, I suspect the number of copies available in Singapore are limited to begin with, so if you’re interested in getting your hands on past issues, do ask your favourite retailer and be prepared to get the second print. Else you can try hitting eBay, but good luck with searching for “27”. #4 is set to be the last issue of the series (unless the rumours are true) – so maybe you might want to wait for the trade if copies get too expensive.
So, what about the issue itself? Reading #1 and #2 one gets a sense of Soule’s craft – words flow easily on the page, and you really get a sense of Will’s voice. With the oversized format (yes, it’s quite a bit larger than a regular comic book so that can be a pain) Argentinian artist Podesta’s art really gets to breathe – and it’s impressive. While the page layouts are pretty straightforward (with one somewhat confusing double page layout early in #1) Podesta begins to spread his wings by #2, and it’s #3 where things get really quite impressive. I won’t go too far into specifics, but there’s some very impressive moody artwork especially in the middle of the book. Top this off with very clever plays on song titles – I managed to guess a few of them, but kudos if you guess them all (The first one gave me a good laugh because I totally did not expect it) – this becomes a very fun issue to read. With only 1 issue left it appears #3 leaves a lot of doors open, which is a bad thing if this book ends at #4, since Charles Soule has crafted a world where I just want to experience more – whether Will gets into weirder worlds, what new powers manifest or which luminary Will gets to meet next. The secrets behind the number 9 – and how else all this plays into Will’s life are far from being revealed, and with the time running out on Will… what then?
That is not to say Soule writes a perfect book – from what I understand this is pretty much his second outing as a comic writer, the first being Strongman (the 2nd book comes out today!) While dialogue and characterisation for Will is strong and unwavering, as it is for some of the other characters, some of them, such as the cop duo, come off early as simply sketched characters. The plotline involving the children, while hinted at, made a sudden reappearence, without much buildup. Maybe the epiphany that he could be a hero suddenly struck Will – but at first reading you definitely wouldn’t have thought he had altruism in him, unless he’s actually aiming to use this to revive his glory days. What this also means is that pacing seems to suffer a bit, and with one issue left, one really wonders how all this is going to be settled.
Finally let’s get to the elephant in the room – 27 and other music comics. Namely: Phonogram. I was definitely drawn to 27 thanks to my love of Phonogram, and with promises of crazy rock antics and with magic interspersed within I knew I had to try 27. Getting it I realise it’s a very different beast – not an inferior one, mind you, but if you were expecting Phonogram you’d be disappointed. While Phonogram delved deep into the history of Britpop and the rise and fall of it, what drives 27 forward isn’t so much the music – instead it’s the number 9. What this means is that Charles Soule has a lot more space to explore the nature of the number 9 and its effect on creativity within and beyond music. Just as you have Will building sculptures in issue 1, and imagining a new language later on – this is a route not travelled yet, and I think we can trust Soule to lead us down to the crossroads.
Like I’ve mentioned, 27 #3 might already be sold out – but if you can get your hands on the first 3 issues, I’d say 27 is a fun read, and if you’re a particular fan of music and its history or have studied music theory before, close readings of the book will reward you deeply.
We managed to get our hands on an early review copy of 27 #3 thanks to the generosity of writer Charles Soule, and so this early review is all thanks to him. Want to find out more about artistes who died at 27 and maybe solve Charles Soule’s contest? Check out this book here just about this very topic! And if the 27 thing doesn’t impress you yet – how about the fact that U2 came up with The Joshua Tree when Bono was 27? That was possibly their best work ever – or at the very least their best selling. Does everybody peak at 27? Does that mean that I’ve peaked and I didn’t know?!