Beek's Books - an ongoing collection of comic book reviews
 The End of the Century Club (Panic!)
Book One, by Ilya (aka Ed Hillyer)
Rating: good, Content: [beyond genre]

 On a recent trip to London, I wanted to pick up some distinctly British comics... other than just 2000AD (which was about to reach a landmark issue #1000, I might add). I happened upon this 100-page TPB at a shop in Soho, and quickly concluded that it would do nicely. It was set in London, and most importantly, cost only four quid. Also, what better to enhance my snob appeal than a chance to review a limited-edition item most yankee fanboys will never get their mitts on? {grin}

 I've read enough Seattlesque slacker stories for now. Reading about the lives of the young, cash-starved, and aimless tends to get a bit dull after a while. But whether it's the different setting of turn-of-the-(20th)-century London (thereby losing the overdone references to "nostalgic" 1970's Americana), or Ilya's storytelling and characterisation, I really enjoyed reading The End of the Century Club.

 The story focuses on a handful of underclass young people (ages teen to mid-20's I'd guess) and their attempts to get by... and get along with each other. Most of them live together in an otherwise-unoccupied row house, which bears a frightening similarity to the quasi-communal conditions I lived in during my first few years out of school. They each have their own personalities, hang-ups, and even a few virtues, and the interplay between them - sometimes digging, but always friendly - is a large part of the appeal. The characters are a bit broadly drawn (both visually and in characterisation), but that's what makes it fun. In setting it in the all-too-near 1999, Ilya also does a little bit of extrapolation about the direction of society, which strikes me as cynically spot-on.

 The art is pretty effective, though it occasionally gets a bit difficult to read in places. The level of detail in the inking varies throughout the book, sometimes for visual effect, other times probably depending on how much Deadline pressure Ilya was facing at the time. But his facial expressions are pretty consistently effective, and when the art successfully conveys the story without the help of narrative captions, just dialog.

 Most of this TPB appeared in serial form in Deadline ("the UK's indie comics anthology cum Style Magazine For Underachievers and Home of Tank Girl, now just Dead" as the author describes it). This compilation represents an attempt at self-publishing the material, and includes as much of the story as he's finished to date. So while the last page presents a certain visual closure from the opening page (you'll need to see it to understand), it leaves the story very much unfinished. I'm eager to see more, which is perhaps the best praise I can give to any series.

 Ilya isn't afraid to have some fun with this series. For example, there's a crowded (imaginary) bar scene in which I spotted Kirk and Spock; Will Robinson, Dr. Smith, and The Robot; Zot, Jenny, Peabody, Dekko, 9-Jack-9, and Butch; Darth Vader (with party hat and noisemaker); an ape from the Planet thereof; Judge Dredd and Robocop; Astro Boy; a Dalek (and perhaps one of the Doctors); Marc Bolan (of T.Rex); some body builder with a on his chest; Tank Girl and Booga; and a bunch of others that I'm not quite cool enough to recognise.

 By the way, Ilya also did the art for The Unseen Hand, a limited series written by Terry Cud LaBan for Vertigo's Vérité subimprint. I understand he's not especially proud of the series, but I think that's mostly the story he's unimpressed with. Check out The Unseen Hand and if you like the art, hunt down The End of the Century Club.

Barnes & Noble GET IT: This book is available in comics shops (call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK or check your local yellow pages to find one) and many mainstream bookstores. Or you can order it online from Barnes & Noble here (and help support this site through the small commission we get on each sale).

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