The world in which we live is a strange place. There are millions unemployed in Britain alone, and the government’s main concern seems to be bailing out the banks that caused the crisis. There are now more people dying of obesity in the world than starvation (and yet people are still starving); the working class are throwing bricks and voting Right; and technology is racing ahead. Arguably the only difference between our world and that of Brett Uren’s The Vale is that we don’t have Elder Gods to blame for the situation.
The Vale takes place in Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, which the author/artist describes as one of the worst-off towns in a hugely wealthy and historical part of England. There’s a culture of binge drinking, high rates of youth unemployment, and plenty of housing estates. It’s here that we meet Jan Czernowicz, a disaffected young guy who spends his days queuing at the dole and downing pints at The Black Swan with his best mate, Shugg, a green-tentacled wannabe rasta. As set-ups go, it’s an intriguingly weird one and Uren’s twisted, baroque ink drawings – Moebius meets Gregg Capullo’s Spawn or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy – certainly set the tone. It’s social realism meets H.P. Lovecraft, and, if that sounds like a curious mix, it’s certainly a promising one.
In this world, scrying has replaced social media and basic sorcery, such as banishing an errant demon, is the order of the day for a talented kid looking to make £50 on the sly. Jan, however, has had enough of just dossing around: he’s looking to bring down the Elder Gods, including Shugg’s overbearing Black Council father. There’s a certain exuberant flamboyance to The Vale, ideas and visuals spilling out all over the place, but, based on Issues 1 and 2, it may be too big, too much, too soon.
In Issue 1, Brett introduces to the eponymous Vale, and, by the end of Issue 2, Jan is on the run as a declared terrorist. Despite the endearingly broad social satire, there’s little fine detail to orient yourself around. Though less esoteric by far than Kuzimu, Brett’s previous project, The Vale isn’t focused enough yet to be truly compelling. There’s a lot of brilliant world building/scene setting, but it’s difficult to filter out the plot from the jokes. Brett has promised a cautionary tale about the world in which we live and I believe he can definitely pull it off: once the momentum picks up and we get to know Jan and Shugg a little more beyond the rude-boy archetype, The Vale could well become Hellblazer meets Mock the Week. Based on our interview with him, Brett clearly has grand ambitions for the project, but at this early stage less could well be more.
Verdict: Rich and fantastical, the first two issues of Brett Uren’s The Vale are a heady brew, but one in which the subtler flavors may well be lost in the mélange. With a little more refinement, though, this could be a strong Horatian satire as opposed to just a whole lot of indignant fun. ***
Get your hands on a copy of The Vale and read more of Brett’s work at http://thevalecomic.com/.