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Friday, March 13, 2020

Comic Cuts - 13 March 2020

The latest comic history/index from Bear Alley Books, Rocket: The First Space-Age Weekly, should be out within the next couple of weeks. I'm trying to double-up on a couple of projects to reduce costs, so I'm working on three books at the moment (updating the Hurricane/Champion index and Eagles Over the Western Front being the other two) to cut postage costs for getting printed proofs.

At this precise moment, Rocket has been visually proofed and all I need is an advert for the final page (page 84 for excited pagination fans!); all the updates for the Hurricane/Champion are written and designed and just need proofing; and I should get to work on Eagles this weekend.

I'm also trying to get a second project, reprinting some old crime novels, completed as well as finishing off another reprint that was potentially going to be the very first Bear Alley book, way back in 2008! I've had a proof copy sat on a shelf for 12 years and now seems as good a time as any to get it finished. More on that soon.

The column header is an illustration from Rocket by Harry Winslade. To learn more about what's going on in the story and more about the artist... well, you'll just have to read the book.

Below I'm taking a look at Avenue 5. There are spoilers for the series, so skip to the end of the column if that's something you dislike.

A new comedy from Armando Iannucci is always cause for celebrations. He's playing at teh top of his game still – you only need to watch Veep, and the movie The Death of Stalin and David Copperfield to be assured that he's lost none of the satirical skills he honed on The Day Today, Saturday/Friday Night Armistice, Alan Partridge and The Thick Of It.

I have to say that Avenue 5 is a stumble. Not a fall, but a show that didn't spot a root under the autumn leaves and caught its foot and flailed for a bit before settling back into the rhythm. It has already been announced that there will be a second season, so hopefully things will improve.

That might not be easy. In the case of The Thick Of It and Veep there is a hierarchy built into the show that is at constant war with itself – imagine Selina Meyer, the VP, is a planet around which all her staff orbit, there to protect and promote her. Unfortunately, her solar system is filled with other planets of varying sizes with their own attendant moons that have a gravitational effect on Planet Meyer. Natural disasters on the planet (her ability to put her foot deeply and firmly into it), jostling moons and the occasional black hole (her ex-husband, for instance) drive the orbital mechanics of her solar system.

I'm not sure Avennue 5 has this. Hugh Laurie as Captain Ryan Clark doesn't have the same desperation for power. In fact, he knows precisely why he doesn't have any power at all – he's a fake, an actor hired to be the reassuring face of the interplanetary cruise liner Avenue 5. Disaster strikes during a gravity flip and the ship is sent off-course by the mass of 5,000 passengers suddenly being flung to one side of the vessel, killing the engineer, Joe, who is actually in command. The shift in orbit adds three years to the time it will take to get back to Earth.

When Clark's American accent slips, he is revealed as a British actor to some of those onboard, including second engineer Billie McEvoy (Lenora Crichlow), grumpy passenger Karen Kelly (Rebecca Front), the billionaire owner of the ship Josh Gad (Herman Judd) and his associate Iris Kimura (Suzy Nakamura). Gad is a fat, blonde-haired buffoon, who thinks every stupid idea he has is genius and his first concern is always how a problem might impact his business.

The curtain is further pulled aside: it isn't just the Captain—the whole flight crew who are actors. Avenue 5 is controlled from a hidden flight deck by a small group of nerdy engineers.

The problem is that the main handful of characters quickly learn each other's secrets and effectively neutralize them: Karen Kelly is offered the position of Passenger Liaison Officer with a beautiful, expensive room to sweeten the bribe; Gad is openly stupid and makes no attempt to hide it; only one degree of separation away, Billie and Iris seem to be efficient, sensible assistants who will deal effectively with any problems.

So rather than the "us versus ourselves" conflict of Veep, Avenue 5 is more "us covering up our mistakes" and they seem to be doing a reasonable job of it. I guess the question to ask is: Where's the jeopardy? Selina Meyer's political career was always on the line, but what happens if Captain Clark is found out? Nothing much... the ship will still take three more years to reach Earth. The unlikable Gad might get sued and some actors might lose their gig. Selina feared losing her shot at being President in Veep, but there isn't a similar goal or prize at risk in Avenue 5.

The show does have some funny moments and the characters are likeable (and some deliberately unlikable). The dialogue is where the show should shine, and there's plenty of inventive wit and sarcasm on show, but very few laugh-out-loud moments that raised Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf to the top echelons of SF comedy. The funniest moments are often the grossest: due to its weight, rather than being blasted into eternity, Joe's coffin begins orbiting the spaceship; similarly, three dead passengers also join him, visible at regular intervals through windows; and a burst waste-recycling pipe causes a halo of human faeces to circle the ship.

I'm sorry to say, that last one made me laugh the loudest.

Don't write Avenue 5 off yet. It is still finding its space feet and a second season may up the jeopardy.

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