01/12/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: House of Murky Depths. 84 page American comic-size. Price: £6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906584-10-8.
check out website: www.murkydepths.com
In between receiving issues of 'Murky Depths' I always forget quite what the magazine is like. This means that every time I open the packet and pull out a new issue I'm stunned again at the vibrancy of its production. Full colour cover, glossy, high quality paper throughout, a rich medley of artistic styles, the clean and professional layout and that subtle smell of quality.
Before I go on enthusing, I should point out, for those who don't know, that I'm a Science Fiction man. Horror and fantasy aren't really my thing, so in a magazine like 'Murky Depths' that mixes genres I'm not likely to be as impressed by some of the more macabre stories as I am with the darkly-toned SF on offer. I do attempt to be objective though.
An interview with artist Jason Beam opens the issue, which is a nice change as the art is often overlooked in favour of the prose. No chance of that in 'Murky Depths' however where the art is given just as much attention. All of the stories are accompanied by full-page spreads in a wide variety of styles. The art includes pieces that are disturbing or amusing, cartoonish or realistic, sketchy or elaborately detailed, breathtaking or weird - something for everyone. My favourite is Paul Drummond's illustration for 'Best In Class', the same artist who recently caught my eye in 'Interzone' # 218. I'm evidently more of a traditionalist when it comes to art.
The first story is 'The Last Marianne' by Alan Freckleton in which Owen finds that memories of another life with Marianne are gradually being woven into his own. As Marianne and the life they shared becomes more and more real he starts to question both his sanity and who is in control of his life. We're thrown straight into the middle of what's happening, leaving the reader feeling as bewildered as Owen is for a while. It's a tale with a darkly satisfying denouement.
'All I Want For Christmas Is A Techno-Buddy' in C J Carter-Stephenson's cartoon that is the first of three robot-related stories in this issue. The art by Mark Chilcot does an excellent job of conveying a darkly polluted future that maintains a sense of familiarity. The queues of complaining parents at the toy shop, the arguing siblings and the expressionless techno-buddy is cleverly brought to life. The plot itself is somewhat predictable, but still delivers the ideas nicely.
A drug addict contemplates taking a new drug for 'The Third Time' in David J Howe's tale of depravation and desperation. The writing does a good job of taking us along on a nightmarish journey from the addict's viewpoint and newspaper clippings are thrown in to add background news. An interesting way of rounding out the story without becoming intrusive. I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, but it is well-written and effective.
'Between Hanson & Hendrix' is an odd little story by Brian G Ross in which a music-store customer tries to buy a record by 'Cardiac Arrest'. The shop assistant warns him against the music, but the reason is left vague. The interplay between the two characters is entertaining, but I was left a little mystified.
Damien G Walter's contribution is 'Horizon', the story of an artificially-grown human who awakens too early on a planet being terraformed for them to inhabit. The engineering and planning intimated in the story is on a grand scale and provides an intriguing backdrop for the confused man as he struggles to make sense of his surrounding. There's plenty of sensory information thrown in that helps transport you to the hot and dusty planet along with the colonists.
The stark black and white graphics used by Luke Cooper in 'Hellhound' are striking, though I'm not fond of the course language and violence depicted. This is one of the articles that makes you realise that the 'Adult Content' warning on the cover is to be taken seriously. Still, I did like the character Halo Slipping and the ending left me smiling.
'Best In Class' is an intelligent luxury sports car that survives some kind of nuclear disaster in Jonathan C Gillespie's entertaining and chilling tale. As a lone survivor looks for somewhere safe to go he discovers that that car may be intelligent but hasn't necessarily got any common-sense. The car with all its gimmicks and gadgets is lovingly described and is the star of this enjoyable piece.
The second robot-themed story of the issue is Alan James Roll's 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' in which a teenage girl finds a decrepit old robot in a junk heap and takes it home for her mechanic father to fix. It's a very touching tale that describes an interesting society of social segregation and disillusionment without falling into a string of clichés that immediately spring to my mind. I'm torn between this and Gillespie's story as my favourite of the issue.
I've never been involved in creating a comic strip, but it seems a little unfair to me that Lavie Tidhar's name is featured on the cover when there are actually very few words in 'The Butcher And The Fly Keeper: A Christmas Love Story'. The graphics by Thomas Tuke are wonderfully evocative and I imagine they represent a huge amount of work. The story itself has a touching fairy-tale quality, while incorporating a sense of the bizarre.
A mystery writer struggling to continue his day-to-day existence after the disappearance of his daughter is at the centre of 'Alms For Oblivion' by Christopher Morris. The story has a cleverly disjointed feel as it alternates between flashbacks to the disappearance, sections of the mystery novel and events since the disappearance. This has the curious effect of making you appreciate his broken life even more. I found it to be a surprisingly touching story.
Former pilot J C Allegria uses his experience to give 'Ghoul Is My Co-Pilot' an authentic flavour and his evident familiarity with flying makes it all the more effective. It's a classically creepy setting as a cargo pilot conveys a cadaver on a stormy night flight after receiving a warning that puts him and us on edge. The psychological chills are introduced slowly and convey a genuine sense of suspense.
I knew that editor Terry Martin is doing a good job of converting us to the idea of a mixed-media magazine when I surprised myself by deciding that James Johnson's comic 'The Factory' is one of the highlights of the issue. Leonardo M Giron's image of a gothic steam-punk factory is fantastic and the Dickensian child labourers and factory owner give the story of soul-destroying labour a powerful presence. What are they making? Read it and enjoy the tale for yourself.
Finally, Sophy Adani's 'The Head Of Saint Mark' is the tale of a human pilot stuck a long way across the galaxy on an alien space station that by turns reminded me of James White's 'Sector General' and Fred Pohl's 'Gateway'. The descriptions of and interactions with a number of alien species are described brilliantly, allowing us to benefit from the mortified yet resigned viewpoint of the stranded pilot. I found the experience to be thoroughly original in its execution and tone, providing a suitably dark conclusion to the issue.
'Murky Depths' has definitely got darker since issue # 1, though I was glad to see in this issue that the horror element was not quite so overpowering as it has been in previous volumes. It felt more balanced this time and I would say this is the strongest issue yet.
Gareth D Jones
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