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God Save the Queen
posted April 26, 2007
Mike Carey, John Bolton, Todd Klein
DC/Vertigo, hardcover, 96 pages, April 2007, $19.95
Despite its reliable pedigree, the new graphic novel God Save the Queen
proves to be a total mess on just about every level. There are so many talented people working at such cross purposes in so many ways that to track any individual creative impulse is like trying to finger trace a single piece of licorice across a ball of melted candy. Although I'm largely unfamiliar with the post-Sandman
Vertigo output, it seems as if the company after Gaiman's departure from month-to-month duties has been driven by competing ideas. One avenue of pursuit has been to seek out new genre series from individual writer or writer-artist teams and give readers the same sense of discovery and periodical entertainment that Gaiman and his collaborators proved could be lucrative, albeit with a high degree of difficulty. The other path taken has been to expand on and protect a kind of Sandmanverse of fantasy-horror and faerie-tale conscious adult fantasy, frequently with supporting characters from that original series. This project would seem to be of the latter, and perhaps it's telling that enough time has passed that I'm not 100 percent sure.
The plot creaks with familiarity. An alienated child acts out, suffers the consequences, regroups with help of an element of her life she rejected during her rebellious period, does something heroic, and lands in a place of greater self-acceptance and something closer to peace. What pushes this story from classic form into tired re-run is that the component specifics are drawn from elements of past Vertigo books: disputes in the faerie court and modern music and the allure of clubs and sexual longing and sexual leering and old people that aren't what they seem to be and roguish characters acting in their own self-interest and magical parallels to out-sized human behavior. Because Carey and Bolton fail to ground these borrowed elements in new specifics, let alone refashion an expected plot development in a way that thwarts our expectations, it just feels like a tired re-hashing of old stories. Could it be that not enough time has passed? Whatever it is, it's a dull slog for anybody who's ever seen this kind of comic before.
Carey, a smart and engaging writer with a wider range in terms of story structure than many of his peers, provides a mostly perfunctory script. Some of the more florid and cringe-worthy lines -- "A white car like a slab of ice. Red lights. Like love. Like whores." -- could be an accurate reflection of the protagonist's age and self-seriousness except that Carey never goes far enough to suggest this level of awareness should be part of our reading. It's not a career killer, but the script of God Save the Queen
certainly won't drive readers to his better books.
The truly bizarre creative choices seem to be left to artist and painter John Bolton. Bolton makes some fine fantasy images and some really disconcerting, awful comics here, sometimes on the same page. His depictions of time and place are so broad it feels like most of the story takes place on a stage rather than a pair of fascinating worlds, which hinders the script between making a strong contrast between the two places. Bolton's photo references lurch from the elegant, soft-light depictions he's shown in past work to an over-realism that stops entire pages cold. Individual scenes aren't staged like one might find in a film, but posed more like one might find in a photo shoot designed to emphasize a figure. There's an over-reliance on exaggerated figures for effect, while none of the fantastic images are as arresting as he's capable. Some of the off-hand pieces prove more interesting than the climactic ones. Similarly, there's a decided lack of continuity in his depictions of individual characters, which becomes a thorny issue in that outward appearance and changes in same are a big part of how the reader might want to track the story's themes. If you're a fan of Bolton's work, God Save the Queen
will like prove a huge disappointment. If you're a fan of the Gaimain-verse half of Vertigo in general, this book might be one to skip. You've certainly read it all before.