Absence 3 – a Hallelujah moment for one of the best of 2011.
By Martin Stiff
I absolutely raved about The Absence last year when I got hold of Issues 1 & 2 and it was a definite for the best of 2010 list as soon as I put it down. And now, a frustrating six months later wait later Martin Stiff has delivered the third issue, the mid point of this 6 issue series; a bumper 48 pager set around Christmas.
Quick review: As wonderful as the first two and absolutely making it onto the best of 2011 list.
Here’s a little of what I said of issues 1 & 2:
“I have found my next thing to adore. I think that’s pretty obvious. I implore you, seek this comic out, it’s quite simply one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read all year.“
“The Absence is … incredibly mysterious, packed with intrigue, incredible characters and even a nice turn of humour amongst all the mystery.“
“I get …. more than a little reminder of Gary Spencer Millidge’s Strangehaven. Just like Strangehaven these first two issues do nothing but ask questions, dangle enticing and quite bizarre situations in front of you and left me, by the end of issue two cursing Stiff’s name that he hasn’t yet produced issues 3-6.“
“The Absence isn’t action packed, nor is it traditionally exciting, but so far it’s something far, far better; confounding, intriguing and absolutely gripping – in just these two issues it’s set up a story that I simply have to see through to the end.”
(The Absence #3 starts with a relaxed walk through Christmastime snow. But the tension and the glorious mystery that The Absence does so well soon begins anew. From The Absence Issue 3 by Martin Stiff)
Issue 3 takes everything that was brilliant in issues 1 & 2 and just keeps on going. The whole thing starts wonderfully and, through the pages, builds and builds on what has gone before, ramping up the tension and mystery all the way through until we get to the ending – which, as the lead character Marwood promised is truly “something extra-ordinary”.
I’m determined to give away very little of what actually happens in this issue, purely because I really want you all to order it and experience the same absolute joy and delight of discovering it for yourselves. When you read it, and you must, you’ll thank me for it.
In issues 1 & 2, we were introduced to a little village, post war, coming to terms with the fact that none of it’s young men were going to be coming home. None except the hideously disfigured Marwood Clay who is shunned by the village for some utterly unspeakable pre-war crime he committed.
Yet whilst Clay finds himself shunned, the other village newcomer, the equally mysterious Dr Robert Temple, finds himself welcomed into village life. Temple is another beautifully realised, tantalisingly mysterious character with so many questions about his character still unanswered: Why is he so meticulous about the house he’s building in the village, who is his strange employer, how does he manage to predict future events with such near supernatural accuracy? Again, I’m sure we’ll discover more. Indeed, there are glimpses and mentions this issue, but I’m keeping quiet. Suffice it to say, they’re deliciously, intriguingly frustrating little insights.
(Marwood Clay is a broken, haunted man. But what does his reaction really mean? From The Absence Issue 3 by Martin Stiff)
In issue three, Marwood’s been adopted in that sweet child-like way by young Thomas. And the quiet moments between Clay and Thomas at the start of the comic are a brief interlude, a reflective pause in the narrative, that sets the issue off at a gentle pace.
But within a few pages, the tension begins to mount, events begin to overtake Clay yet again, and we’re with him in his nightmares of disfiguring torture triggered by young Thomas innocently relating the few words of German he knows.
From here on in, the rollercoaster starts. Yet rollercoaster is not quite right. This is tension built quickly yet without fanfare. Suddenly it’s upon you, the events overtake you and your pulse is racing, you take every panel in, never luxuriating in each moment (that will come on subsequent reads – which there will be many), but wanting to know, wanting to find out where Stiff is going to take his characters, where he’s going to take you.
Did I mention how good this is?
(“It’s a long list Marwood, a long list.” But what it means we just don’t know, not yet. But the incredible thrill of The Absence is in finding out.)
The issue really accelerates after Thomas disappears on Christmas Day, just the latest in a long list of people who’ve possibly left the village, possibly disappeared.
Suspicion naturally falls upon Clay, a search is undertaken, Temple gets involved, we discover just a little more of his background and get a glimpse into the sort of people he was working with during the war and his strange (and now it seems, not unique) talent for pre-cognition.
The issue ends with Marwood telling some home truths to the assembled village where, just as promised, he does something absolutely extraordinary, something incredible, something I’m still trying to process.
I think I’ve an idea where Stiff is taking the story, I think I see a way he’s going to tie Marwood and Temple together (he talks in the comic’s PR sheet of the two being “inexplicably linked” and “destined to tear it (the village) apart“) and why this village is slowly emptying of it’s inhabitants. But I may be completely wrong.
(“”I’m going to show her something extraordinary” – and he does, he really does. It will leave you near breathless. From The Absence Issue 3 by Martin Stiff)
This issue, just like 1 & 2 before it, is absolutely full of questions, full of mystery and, in Clay and Temple, it has two fascinating, intriguing lead characters. We’re just halfway through but everything is building so sweetly to the conclusion with Stiff tantalising his readers, dragging us into the mystery with small reveals that will undoubtedly lead to a climactic pay-off further on.
Perhaps the greatest example of this in issue 3 is a scene towards the end, when Marwood’s memories of his experimental disfgurement come flooding back to him, that absolutely threw me for a loop. Just one panel, one word balloon, but it hit me like a truck – powerful, unexpected and quite brilliant. I shall say no more, again I want you to get just the same kick from this as I did.
Just as before The Absence issue 3 leaves me with more questions than it answers, but it also leaves me practically buzzing with excitement at the brilliance of what I’ve just read. I’m entranced by this, it’s absolutely magnificent work.
Right now you can buy both all three issues from Lulu (The Absence #1, The Absence #2, The Absence #3 or via the links at The Absence blog) but Stiff is planning a collection of the first three issues sometime soon. If you’ve any sense you’ll not wait, go and buy the individual issues right now – they’re my very favourite thing.