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Murky Depths # 7

02/03/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

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pub: House of Murky Depths. 84 page American comic-size. Price: 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-906584-11-5.

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Yet again, I'm immediately struck by the impressive artwork on the cover - a bi-plane flying into the clutches of a giant carnivorous plant or maybe a mouth or a volcano. Whatever it is, it looks fabulous. Throughout the magazine there is a wide variety of art to accompany the stories. Sometimes it's quite obscure and for other pieces the connection to the prose is immediately obvious.

The magazine starts by inducing an uncomfortable itch with 'Scratch' by Jason Palmer. A mysterious plague is driving people insane with an incurable itch and as society descends into chaos two private cops attempt to cope with their own discomfort as well as the anarchic streets. It was an uncomfortable read, for reasons both psychological and psychosomatic. It certainly had an impact.

The first comic is 'A Brief History Of Dogfighting' by James Johnson & Leonardo M Giron, a story without words that takes us from WWI to the far future of space combat. There is some eye-catching art here, but I found that I whizzed through it too quickly without any text to slow me down. Maybe I need more practice.

In CS MacCath's 'The Longest Road In The Universe' we're introduced to the bizarre world of human 'tools' that have been manipulated and augmented by the now-departed Bodhuven. The subjugated peoples are struggling to cope with the aftermath of independence and one man goes on a long and painful journey to discover the Bodhuven's destination. The story is written as a series of letters between various characters and this helps to round out our view of what has happened while deepening the emotional impact of their plight.

It's the end of the world again in Bill Ward's humorous yet poignant 'A Healthy Outlook'. Like all the best post-apocalyptic fiction, we have no idea what happened and we watch for clues through a veil of denial. It's a great little piece.

Willie Miekle takes us into another tragic life with 'Viewers Choice', in which a disturbed man gives us brief glimpses of the significant events in his life that have led to his isolation. It's a bleak tale that hovers between reality and what you hope is delusion, putting across the desperation very effectively.

'Bite The Bullet' by James Johnson & Denis Packer is a darkly-shaded comic strip that lends the tale an air of grimness. About to take his own life, an old man discovers that he actually enjoys the taste of the gun barrel. It's not just any gun though and has a dramatic effect on his life. The reasons are unclear, but the story develops rapidly and in an unexpected direction, making it an interesting and original concept.

A psychic detective/hitman is able to detect the 'Psong' or inner history of inanimate objects in Ian Rogers' moody tale. This special talent, like many, is both blessing and curse as he targets a high-profile hit. A second strand involves his recent break-up and the emotional consequences that particularly afflict him, leading to a swirl of action and introspection that made this more than just a tale of assassination.

'Survivalist' by Kevin Brown uses the old trope of an immortal enduring through the ages, involved in all kinds of horrors to ensure his survival. This very short piece manages to prove that he's no worse than the rest of us in a rather effective way - the sign of some good flash fiction.

'Bait' is Paul Milliken's story of a strange boy and an unusual sea creature in a small fishing town. There are some great character sketches in this piece - the worldly-wise barman, the brash and drunken trawlerman and the vulnerable youth. The whole story has a slightly magical air to it and develops nicely along with the stormy weather that serves as a backdrop.

Luke Cooper's uncompromising graphics and storylines have appeared in almost every issue of 'Murky Depths', this time in the form of 'Flashback'. The characters' faces are particularly expressive in his work, giving depth to the intriguing concept behind the brutal storyline. Stylish and subversive.

'Haruspex' is a mournful tale by William Douglas Goodman, in which a young lad comes to term with death while discovering his own unusual powers. The troubled lives of his family create a fragile framework to hang his life upon and portray a disturbing and woeful story.

I found 'The R@t Report' very interesting - an insight into the creative process of putting to together a comic strip story. Before reading issue #0 of 'Murky Depths' I'd not read any comics since 'The Beano', but after reading this I think I'm going to have a go myself...

Looking back through my review, it's full of words like bleak, grim, moody and woeful. Individually, many of the stories convey these emotions, yet taken as a whole this issue of 'Murky Depths' comes across once again as triumphant

Gareth D. Jones

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This book has 3 votes in the sci-fi charts

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