By Martin Stiff
I fell in love with this comic from the moment I first saw it, a couple of years back now. It made my best of 2010 with issues 1 and 2, then issue 3 came along and damn it, if that didn’t go on to make the best of 2011 list as well.
In the past I’ve said this about the series so far:
“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.“
“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.”
“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.”
I still stand by all of that. And there’s a fine chance of it making a long list for best of 2012 right now. Even if Stiff makes the wait between issues an intolerable torture, I don’t mind all that much. It means every time a new issue comes out I get to re-read the lot all over again. And it is absolutely worth waiting for. It is a wonderfully perplexing thing, utterly gripping, full of mystery, full of blindingly great moments, dialogue that I love.
But I’m determined to do this without giving much away that I haven’t already, as we’re on the build-up to the finale here and I still want you to enjoy the issues fresh, so I’ll try and do nothing more than give you the briefest of non-spoilery summaries of issues 1-3 and then talk around everything happening here. Because there’s so much going on in issue 4, and it’s ALL important.
(Marwood’s past revealed. From The Absence Issue 4 by Martin Stiff)
The Absence all takes place in England immediately after WWII, where a village is reeling from counting its dead, young men never to return to their families.
Only one makes it back; Clay Marwood, hideously disfigured and scarred from who knows what horrors – merely hinted at in flashacks of a terrifying operating theatre, voices counting down in German, and then a name…. Temple.
But the village doesn’t want Marwood back. Pariah, a terrible crime before the war hinted at, he is cast out just as the village embraces a stranger with a familiar name…. Dr Robert Temple. He’s moved here to build a mysterious house overlooking the village, a mathematician who appears to be able to predict the future, his own recent past in the war, the secrets he keeps, and his ties to the Government all make Temple fascinating.
(The brilliantly written, ultra-mysterious Dr Temple, from The Absence Issue 2 by Martin Stiff)
Meanwhile, Marwood has struck up a friendship with little Thomas Birdwood, and an uneasy truce with the rest of the village. Until Christmas, when Thomas becomes the latest villager to go missing, and the village follows the trail, and their own prejudices, straight to Marwood.
Temple calls in favours from his wartime masters, more hints of a shadowy research project come out, more secrets of the village’s past are revealed. It is building, building, building…. and then, at the end of issue 3 something absolutely extraordinary happens.
(“something extraordinary”. Oh yes. From The Absence Issue 3 by Martin Stiff)
And that’s us bang up to date.
This issue we’re following up the shocking events from the end of issue 3. But we follow it up some weeks later, with Marwood somehow reinvented in the eyes of the village, and Dr Temple, returned from whence he was called by his WWII masters, finding his own popularity fading in comparison.
This issue is all about revealing some of the mystery, looking back at previous lives, before the war, during the war, but even those revealing flashbacks tend to be mysterious in themselves, and we’re left with questions in the wake of the revelations, as Marwood and Temple …. discuss matters, leading to a revelation that may mean Temple has finally uncovered the secret of the village.
(Marwood Clay and Dr Temple – suspicious, antagonistic, each convinced the other knows much more than he’s saying. And they’re both right. From this fourth issue of The Absence by Martin Stiff.)
But dammit, even though it’s a spectacularly well paced, truly exciting issue, I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by that secret. I know I shouldn’t, and what’s more I know it was practically inevitable given how well Stiff has built everything up to this point.
However, saying it was a touch underwhelming should in no way put you off. Even with a smidgeon of disappointment from this issue’s end, The Absence is still, for my money, one of the best comics being published right now. There’s still two issues to go, two issues where there’s a lot of extra mysteries to be solved; will we discover the true connections between Temple and Marwood, will Marwood’s “leap of faith” be explained, will Temple’s seemingly near-magical powers be explained?
Being so concerned for the final two chapters of this wonderful comic is something that should reinforce just how involved I find myself. I hope so strongly that Stiff can pull his finale off. I’ll certainly be around to find out.