Peckham’s House for Invalids is open for your entertainment…
Killer concepts and straightforward executions make this a good yet not as great as it could have been intro issue from a UK indie supergroup of sorts (I know all three will blush slightly for that clumsy description).
You’ll have possibly seen works from all three here on the FPI Blog in the past – Hardiman for “Badger” and his latest comic “The Lengths”, Scheele and Gordon as regular and talented contributors to many anthologies including Paper Science and Solipsistic Pop, members/founders of the Words + Pictures collective, and Scheele is the curator of the 69 Love Songs project.
Their first work as a trio is all wrapped up in a very, very attractive cover – a delight, full of mystery, showing off the lush artwork you’ll find inside, but also full of questions, primarily is it really going to be a mini-series about what looks like a Victorian boarding house? What the hell, could be an interesting concept.
Then you turn over to read the back cover and you get this:
“In 1906, as Britain surges on a tide of industrialisation driven by the brave innovations of the boldest and the best, Ms York has opened the doors of her modest home in Peckham. A group of poor, young, ill-educated, disabled and abandoned girls found their way to her and under her auspices are learning about the power they have feared the most in the world of oppression and stark inequality: their own.
The Peckham Invalids is a comic about disabled teenage superheroines in 1906 Peckham from Howard Hardiman, Julia Scheele, Sarah Gordon and friends.”
Oh, okay. Disabled Teenage Superheroines. Now we’re getting really interesting…. fascinating concept and a great hook. Although it does make you immediately think of Moore and O’Neill’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, another set of misfit (super)hero types variously afflicted. Sure, The Peckham House For Invalids doesn’t have the literary angle, but I’m sure you can see it’s on similar ground, especially artistically, as O’Neill has rather cornered the market in all things turn of the Century Edwardian/Victorian London. And just as with the League, Peckham Invalids is telling what appears to be a straightforward pulp/fantasy adventure with a twist.
Those are the opening couple of pages – London 1926, a hotel room, and putting the visual together tells us we have a strong, independant, single woman, maybe a writer of some kind, most likely mourning a WWI death. But immediately we’re thrown some of the concepts of the series as she turns to the mirror and we catch sight of her face; marked with old scars. She’s been hideously burnt some time past, has dealt with it and moved on, refusing to fill the role of invalid that polite society would wish upon her. Well, that’s what I got anyway.
Turn the page and we’re 20 years back, 1906, first at the house we saw on the cover, then off to the docks, where a woman burns as she drowns. The formidable Ms. York is here, with two of her girls, and they’re here because someone has foreseen these traumatic events. Our strong independant writer of page 1 starts the issue burning and drowning, and ends it walking towards the door to Ms. York’s establishment. From what we’ve seen so far, she has a long way to go.
Ms. York must have some Fagin-like role here in assembling the girls, her lack of arms more than made up for with formidable attitude, and some hinted at psychic ability perhaps? But right now, just as with all the characters here we get merely the briefest of introductions, a glimpse of the person, a hint of a story, with the various players mere ciphers – details and roles in the story as yet unknown.
And then there’s the mysterious Mr Whyte, turning up at the house here to talk bicycles, but also the one sending Ms. York to the docks in the first place. How? Who? Why? Bicycles? No doubt it will become clearer as we get further in.
Peckham House For Invalids Issue 1 is a fairly simple character introduction and scene setting piece, albeit a very good one. The concept’s interesting, with a great hook so that’s enough to carry you through – Teenage Disabled Superheroines – not your average superhero comic for sure.
But as good as the hook is, I just wish there’d been a little more depth, as this just lacked that little extra that could have turned this from a puzzling, intriguing tease of a first issue to one that could really have buzzed. There’s a little too much mystery and not enough of everything else. I know it’s a difficult balance to get right, and I’m certainly not trying to be over critical and will definitely be around for issue 2 just to discover more.
Scheele’s art is confident throughout, with some really striking pieces, especially on the full pages. The scenes in the hotel at the beginning and the dive sequence particularly strong. Sure, there are times when her layout, or figure work is a touch ropey, but with something like this, the art really is in service to the story, and it works, with Gordon’s colours certainly elevating her to a worthy part of the trio, allowing Scheele to skimp on the backgrounds, filling panels with a muted palette of browns, greens and blues most effectively.
All in all, despite that wish for a little more than was offered here, Peckham Invalids has more than enough to keep the attention. You can get a copy of The Peckham Invalids #1 from the Peckham Invalids website.