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Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 review

It’s been a five-year hiatus and finally the band is back together: The trio of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Matt Wilson are back with a new series of Phonogram. Subtitled The Immaterial Girl, issue one is a grand step into the grand club that is the Phonogram universe, and a slide into the exploration of how people experience and music.

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The cover of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1. (Photo: McKelvie/Wilson/Image)

Yes, I’m horrible at referencing to dance moves.

Phonogram 3 tells the tale of Emily Aster – who we last saw in Phonogram: The Singles Club #3. Emily, who sold half her personality for the power to lead a coven of phonomancers, and as with all deals of this nature, something will come back to haunt her. It’s delightfully Faustian, as is quite a few Gillen books these days, and it works.

The trio have recently been busy with the critically acclaimed The Wicked + The Divine (which you also should read), but yet most long-time fans of Gillen and McKelvie have been clamouring for the return to the hits of the Phonogram universe. We did ask writer Gillen about Phonogram 3 back when he was in Singapore for STGCC (where he also discussed a little about the recently-released Mercury Heat), and finally, we see the result of all that waiting.

And what a wait it’s been. While I’ve been enjoying Gillen’s and McKelvie’s work in the intervening years, Phonogram, for me kick-started the silver age of comics for me, revitalising my enjoyment of both comics and music at the same time. At the time, it was lightning in a bottle – with the idea that music is magic especially ringing true even as my musical tastes started to evolve (mature? nah). Volume two, The Singles Club, brought a new dimension … and then it was the interminable wait for volume three.

But! If you’re not a long-time fan or have an idea what on earth music is (yes, you, the one who listens only to white noise), Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl works just as well as a comic book! There’s adventure! Stuff happens that is intriguing! So, you don’t have to be a hipster and pretend you’re into all of it – it works very much as the story of Emily.

That said, the wait has been worth it. At first, it’s a bit weird to step back into this world, especially after reading about gods and hubris in WicDiv, but a few more pages in and it’s like you’re just meeting up with old friends after a few years – past the initial moments when you’re unsure of what to talk about, and right into the point when you’re just drunk enough to just hang out again. The gang’s all back, whether it’s an older David Kohl or Seth Bingo and his hijinks again – and this isn’t just wearing old socks.

The return of the Phonogram magic isn’t just about treading old ground again. The trio have evolved in various ways, whether it’s in terms of storytelling, skills, or just working together. Artist McKelvie is once again in fine form, and Wilson’s colours complement McKelvie’s bold linework well. McKelvie has definitely evolved in the 5 years since Phonogram 2, but at the same time those familar with his WicDiv work will find some similar … hairstyles. All that gets thrown out the window at the book’s “a-ha” moment – we haven’t really seen him do anything like this, and it’s astounding. In Phonogram music is magic, and in WicDiv musicians have magic – it’s all the same but different, and it’s interesting to see if they do anything more with this overlap.

(Image: McKelvie/Wilson/Image)
(Image: McKelvie/Wilson/Image)

The enjoyment’s also thanks to the series’ new theme. In the world of Phonogram, music is magic, and the books have delved into the history of britpop and the effect a single song can have on a person. Now, another aspect of experiencing music comes into play, and rightfully so – you might not have known it, but at the end of this issue, you’ll want your MTV. In this YouTube age music videos are another way of discovering new music (or sometimes you’re also stuck in the middle of nowhere with only VH1 to watch – long story), but the exploration of how visuals can affect our enjoyment of music (I’m look at you, Total Eclipse Of The Heart) definitely has my interest piqued.

After all, the moving image can easily ruin, enhance or entirely change a song. Britney Spears just saying “oops” might not have the same effect as us seeing her asking to be “hit one more time”, while Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem totally transcended the source material. And would OK Go have been as popular if not for treadmills and Rube Goldberg machines?

Video, of course, killed the radio star, but Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is a book for the modern age. It’s still early to know where the tale is going – and if the whole video thing is a gimmick (if it were, which I’m thinking it’s not, it’ll be really sketchy of Gillen) – but as of right now the story of Emily Aster has got me, well, hooked.

Not sold? Well, Phonogram 3 does have the most Kieron of jokes. Surely worth the price of entry itself!

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The technological backbone of HereBeGeeks.com, Alvin’s machinist-nature also ensures that this blog remains alive when the unpredictable Murphy’s Law comes into effect.

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