Comics Features

REVIEW: The Many: Once Upon A Time In Utopia

Written by Mark Russell

To err is human, and to forgive, divine. But you won’t find any forgiveness from Thomas Darker, who will rip out your heart and eat it too. Literally. The Many: Once Upon A Time In Utopia is a dark, violent and thought-provoking fantasy horror graphic novel, and only the first issue in a series. The story is created by Charlie Gillespie, a clearly talented writer and artist who has had an extensive history in illustration, comic book art, and computer graphics. Among his works are contributions to Judge Dredd, Magic The Gathering, and Call of Duty, but now this London-based writer/artist makes his arrival in the comic industry with this intriguing piece of fiction.

Thomas Darker is a snarky, long-haired, shades-wearing British man who is politically-minded and tired of the “military industrial illusion of democracy” that he and his friends are stuck in an alternate, near future version of the UK. When his conspiracy theorist friend David believes that the ongoing war in Turkey is a big lie, Thomas and his pals Dave, Jack, and Big Man, decide to actually go overbroad to get the lowdown. The graphic novel actually starts with the group of friends being held captive in a war torn Turkey, and Thomas is stuck in an empty well with a crazy old man. Thomas and Big Man escape but not before Thomas is goaded by the old man into murdering him and eating his heart, before seemingly gaining supernatural powers and disintegrating a military plane with a swarm of bugs. It’s quite surreal.

Meanwhile, in one of many interwoven subplots, the American government has changed a bit too and the President is now Sara Palin(!). Okay, that’s a rather minor detail. The real mysteries surround strange goings on in the Pentagon where a charismatic blonde guy known as “Number 5” , is a member of The Circle, an ambiguous order consisting of the American elite and army generals, who are plotting the arrival of a certain equally ambiguous man named Rothschild, or “Number 1”. Number 1 himself is a potentially demonic man despite wearing a crucifix, and has plans for a young boy after he is abducted from a woman named Lena, who ends up in a coma and hospitalised in London. And while that is going on, Thomas decides he will destroy the UK’s current democratic state and rallies those like him to help vote him in as a Labour MP via a political rally in Hyde Park – with a little bit of help from a blood-made trigram to get the attention of the people.

Okay, I will not deny that the story is very hard to follow and understand. There is a lot going on, a lot of characters to introduce and follow, world building, and the politicial subtext as well. The first sections of the story are told in a non-linear manner so it is a bit confusing what is going on for the first twenty pages or so. The large number of subplots help build the world, but at times feel a bit clunky. While Thomas’ desire to change the western political state is the major story in the book, there is the looming dark mystical, potentially biblical goings on behind the scenes orchestrated by the mysterious “Number 1”. The narrative is a bit slow or jumpy at times, and the pacing of the story jumping back and forth between plots can be a bit jarring.

But don’t get me wrong, The Many is by no means a bad graphic novel. The writing is very good, with colourful dialogue, and helps flesh out the unique world of the story. Thomas Darker is a pretty cool character, being very outspoken about his political views and thoughts on democracy and capitalism, walks around with long hair, wearing shades and a leather jacket, and has no problem with slaughtering an entire building of partying so-and-sos to get enough blood and guts to use a black magic trigram to boost his political rally. Yeah, it is never explained why he suddenly develops powers or why he eats hearts, but it is pretty cool and how he exploits them for what could be considered the greater good.

The story’s version of the UK is explored a bit, but is also used as an examination of the country’s real life democracy and government. The government apparently don’t give a toss about the people, the BBC has been sold to the Murdochs, the elite have connections to Rothschild’s Circle, and the Cabinet members themselves get up to some…interesting hobbies. Oh, and the Prime Minister may be connected to a mysterious woman living in Down Street who may or may not, at least in my mind, be a certain Iron Lady. There are also some cameo appearances from former British PM John Major, and the UK’s favourite fire from the hip anchorman Jeremy Paxman.

The graphic novel has some pretty cool imagery and ideas – all the bugs across the sky and popping up every is disturbing. A black-furred, red-eyed goat man who may be a demon or the personification of death haunts Lena when she is hospitalised and then follows her friends. And then Thomas resurrects Karl Marx from the dead, whose skeletal face is wrapped up in bandages, making him look like the Invisible Man posing as an activist. There also a pair of oddly-dressed teenagers simply called “D” and “M” who hang around Thomas’ group, and turn out to have a violent streak and make a pretty awesome tag team. The art style, character design, and illustrations are all detailed and each character stands out from the other. There is the odd occasion where character designs look a bit off or weird, and the scenes in Hyde Park with the crowd offers some really wacky looking residents. I knew the UK had some weird people in it but not all together at once. One looks a bit like Mary Whitehouse if she had attended Woodstock.

In conclusion, The Many does have its flaws, but is a fun, thrill ride that has plenty of potential to it. The central characters are an entertaining bunch, the story’s universe has a lot of mystery and intrigue to it, and while there is political discussion, the debates and philosophies are not forced down the reader’s throat. The Many will be available on April 23rd, and can be viewed at this link: http://cmxl.gy/Qq6cRd

Would you be interested in reading The Many? Do you enjoy stories with political topics, but also an engaging story and universe? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

About the author

Mark Russell