Created and written by Andi Ewington
Illustrated by (deep breath)……. Charlie Adlard, Jeff Anderson, Seb Antoniou, Robert Atkins, Dan Boultwood, Dan Brereton, Lee Carter, Anthony Castrillo, Simon Coleby, Boo Cook, Rufus Dayglo, Ross Dearsley, Neil Edwards, Gary Erksine, Rodin Esquejo, Dan Fraga, Eduardo Francisco, Lee Garbett, Randy Green, Trevor Hairsine, John Higgins, Sally Hurst, Frazer Irving, Jock, Kevin Kobasic, Alvin Leigh, Wayne Nichols, Sean O’Connor, Ben Oliver, Carlo Pagulayan, Sean Phillips, Jordan Raskin, Dom Reardon, Kenneth Rocafort, Dave Ryan, Steve Sampson, Liam Sharp, Barry Spiers, Fiona Staples, Stephen Thompson, Matt Timson, Andie Tong, Gus Vazquez, Tim Vigil, Kit Wallis, Calum Alexander Watt, Bob Wiacek, Admira Wijaya, and Andrew Wildman. (and exhale)
One writer and oh so many artists – that should tip you off to Forty-Five being something a little different. And it is – at least in the confines of the superhero comic. Andi Ewington has created something which could easily have fallen flat as an example of concept over execution, but luckily for him, and luckily for us, it’s something thoroughly enjoyable and rather different from the standard superhero fare.
45 features a series of Superhero interviews conducted by journalist James Stanley, currently expecting his first child. The world he lives in is full of superpowers; either Super-S or Super-M with native born powers or 2nd Degrees, those who have superpowers thrust on them after birth (radioactive spiders, cosmic rays – that sort of thing). Stanley and his wife have decided to forego the test that might single their unborn child out as Super-S, and instead Stanley has decided to set out to interview as many superheroes as possible in an attempt to understand what may lie in store for his unborn child.
And that’s the high concept AND the structure of 45. Stanley conducts 44 interviews with various superpowered people, and each double page spread of the comic consists of a page of art and a page of interview transcript that captures some aspect or other of the nature of superpowers, and each page of art was created by the artist with just the transcript to work from and completely free reign to interpret the interview however they saw fit.
(Double page spread from [Forty-Five] 45, art by Jock, words by Andi Ewington, published by ComX)
The interviews have a simple, logical order, from newborn to deathbed – starting with new parents dealing with their Super-S child, through children, teens, active heroes and working through the ages to a final couple of interviews dealing first with death and then with the ultimate in powers – what it’s like to be an immortal Super-S.
As a straight interview series, just dealing with the trials and tribulations of being superpowered, 45 would be considered a success, but writer Andi Ewington does far better than just presenting something so plain. No interview is quite the same, with a huge range of emotions on show; terrible tragedy, children with the ultimate in pushy parents, youthful arrogance and exuberance, middle age guilt that there’s just no way to save everyone and pretty much everything in between.
We see heroes, we see normal people (“Normans”) just trying to get by, we see villains (“Vaders”) and those somewhere in-between. There are characters with every possible power; the incredible, the mundane, the dangerous, and the plain tragic. Every interview presents just a small snapshot of a life, capturing just enough of the spirit of the character to make the reader do all the work of fleshing the character out.
(The early interviews; The Legend (illustrated by Dan Brereton) and Nathan Miles-Miller (illustrated by Rufus Dayglo), two children with superpowers, uncertain of what will come later. From [Forty-Five] 45 by Andi Ewington, published by Com.X)
But it’s not just as series of interviews; phrases start to pop up in different interviews, connections, little rewards for keeping up and paying attention to the text. A superhero pops up in London denying he left the US after being caught in flagrante with the wife of another hero, and many pages later we hear the sad story of a Super-M, mutated beyond human form, who found his wife doing the dirty with another hero. No names are named, but the connections are there, should you wish to make them. It’s cleverly and most importantly subtly done.
(Another two great examples of the range of artwork in 45; Steve Sampson’s beautiful pin up style portrait of The Rose Angel and Admira Wijaya illustrating Firetrail in comic panel style layout, complete with flashback. From [Forty-Five] 45 by Andi Ewington, published by Com.X)
And then there’s XoDOS, an organisation that keeps cropping up in Stanley’s interviews, initially just keeping tabs on young Super-S families, offering them support and assistance and the opportunity of raising their children in specially created Super-S training camps. But as the interviews progress he starts to hear more sinister whispers of XoDOS refusing to take no for an answer. And then there are the shadowy figures, including XoDOS agents who start painting a very dark picture of an organisation that has moved way, way beyond their initial US government remit of gathering Super-S from around the world too prevent other countries getting hold of them (even Vietnam was merely an excuse to extract the first Vietnamese Super-S subjects – it went that deep).
And if there’s a fault with 45, it’s the heavy handed manner that Ewington portrays XoDOS (right down to the very name – and all it’s biblical references – could we have another group of chosen people making their own place in this world?) But that’s where the traditional superhero comic roots of 45 kick in – after all, if Stanley is our everyman hero, he still needs some big evil super-villain, and XoDOS fits the bill. Personally I didn’t need it to be quite so spelt out, I could have enjoyed 45 just as much, and possibly more as a great series of interesting character studies. The XoDOS references get a little too frequent and the plot would have been better served if the sinister organisation was kept in the shadows.
(Two character studies of old age – Tevor Hairsine’s Aftershock Girl and the final moments of Stateside captured by Dom Reardon. From [Forty-Five] 45 by Andi Ewington, published by Com.X)
But despite that little criticism, 45 is very, very impressive; the concept is a neat play on the Alan Moore/Grant Morrison school of looking at heroes in the real world, there’s a host of interesting characters, and perhaps most of all it’s impressive because of Andi Ewington’s previous comic writing experience – or rather his complete lack of it. For an experienced writer, this would be impressive, for a complete newcomer it’s especially good.
As for the art, there are 45 artists all bringing their own styles to the book. And because of the way they were commissioned – only seeing the interview transcript of their character – we get to see a dazzling array of techniques and interpretations, from single page portraits, to ensemble pieces right through to a page of full sequential story driven comic work. As you might expect with so many different pieces there are great pages, there are good pages and there are a few (a very few) hmmmm pieces. But that’s all a matter of taste and I don’t think anyone wouldn’t be able to find at least a few really great pages of art in 45 and many of us would find a lot more than a few.
[Forty-Five] 45 has already been called the greatest book of the year by some reviews I’ve seen. There’s no way I’d go that far, because when all is said and done it’s just a very interesting spin on a superhero tale, collecting together a lot of character traits and situations we’ve seen before. But it does everything it set out to do remarkably well, it’s an innovative, intriguing variation on a genre of superhero stories looking at the world of the supers from the outside. It’s original enough to pull off the high concept and all in all, an excellent, ingenious spin on the superhero mythos.