Retro Review: Phonogram

Phonogram Vol. 1: Rue Britannia

Words: Kieron Gillen
Pictures: Jamie McKelvie
Publisher: Image Comics

Have you ever read something, then looked back at it like “What did I just read?” Phonogram started out that way.

Phonogram Vol 1

I like Gillen’s more recent work; The Wicked and the Divine is an amazing book, he’s had some of the best Vader moments outside of movies, and he’s done some great work with the X-Men. I don’t consider this book at that level, but it’s not the worst book in the world.

My main issue is there is no set up for what is going on. You meet David Kohl, a phonomancer (aka a wizard who channels his powers through music), right off the bat; he’s a pretentious ass, which Gillen makes obvious. What’s not obvious is his power source and why he’s important.

I got through 2 issues and almost put the book down. Instead, I went to Wikipedia and started to research why this was a beloved book. It provided a little clarity: David was a follower of Britannia, who had died 10 years ago. He discovers someone is bringing Britannia back from the dead, which will destroy reality.

This cleared it up a little bit and gave me hope that I’d understand the story better. And I did.

The cast expands to many other mages, regular people, and Britannia herself. The story was a little easier to follow.

The biggest flaw of the book is the lack of backstory; Gillen has some wonderful books and can build a universe (or explore an established universe). I’m chalking this up to being one of his first books. Another issue for some (I’m mixed on it) was the pop culture references; if you were outside of England in the 1990s, some of the references are lost on you. The flip side is there is a “glossary” of bands, people, and events that can get you caught up. I’m using it to explore some new music and hopefully re-read the book afterwards.

McKelvie’s art is simple, but fits well with the story. He does good work with shading (as the book as black and white). One normal issue with some black and white books are the characters are indistinguishable; that’s not the case here.

I’d like to read Vol 2 and 3. From what I’ve been told, this is the toughest read of the series because of many of the issues I had. I like the idea of phonomancers and look forward to seeing the idea expanded on.

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