By Paul Rainey
Fourth round of Paul Rainey’s inventive sci-fi tale of alternate dimensions and the organisation that polices them.
Rainey’s previous series There’s No Time Like The Present was often best described as a brilliant bit of sci-fi with al the best elements of soap opera about it; all of the intriguing drama and clever social aspects that used to be prevalent and none of the repetitious doom fests we tend to find in TV soaps nowadays. But here with Thunder Brother Rainey’s soap opera style comes absolutely to the fore, and instead of writing comics with a soap opera element to them, this is a comic that is a soap opera about soap operas.
Rainey’s setup here is simple, yet effortlessly inventive and absolutely fun: in Thunder Brother it all comes down to this – the soaps are real, all happening on their own dimensions, the actors and actresses totally unaware of their televised lives, living out the whims, obsessions, ratings grabbing plotlines of the writers and directors. And overseeing all this is Soap Division, a multi-dimensional task-force in charge of controlling the multi-dimensional soap worlds, making sure nothing goes wrong.
Yet Soap Division isn’t some Tom Cruise run action packed elite government organisation of dramatic moments and gunfire. In fact, it’s more of a soap opera itself, of a distinctly old-fashioned, low-key, unusual and interesting characters doing everyday things style. Granted the everyday things for these people are all to do with patrolling multiple dimensions to propagate a huge televisual lie. But hey, it works. And so far, it’s worked rather well indeed.
Big Break is the fourth volume, the fourth story, previously serialised online at Rainey’s blog, all still available to read, but he’s also collecting each 12-page long episode, with a couple of extras in these 24-page shots of greatness.
What we have in the latest episode Big Break is Soap Division apprentice Sally and her training mentor Thunder Brother extracting a soap star who’s made the connection between fiction and reality, Truman like, and wants out from the world of teen/twenty soap Oakfield.
To be honest, this time around it’s still a neat little tale, as I always expect from Rainey, but it ends up feeling like a middle episode lull. The earlier episodes hit so well with the introduction of the concept, and the next episode has Rainey really, really thinking spectacularly deeply about the way soaps function, the way soap reality would be impacted by real reality – next issue’s Mind Your Language tale is really wonderfully ingenius, seeing Rainey imagining just how incendiary swearing would be to the denizens of soapland is a wonderful storyline. So this issue seems just that little bit sedate by comparison.
Having said that, there’s still a chance for Rainey to introduce a little questioning weirdness – the fate of oldies in these youngster soaps:
Thunder Brother: Soap Division is still a great series, but this is really the problem with reviewing bit by bit, issue by issue, in a collection, 12 pages that don’t thrill or impress as much are merely seen as a minor thing in a story. Here I’d hate to think you take my mild disappointment here as indicative of the series as a whole.
Extras this time round are four of Rainey’s silly and funny Doctor Kyle strips – yes, it’s daytime TV scumhost meets timelord and a special strip written by Rainey, drawn by Robert Wells; Body Pop. Doctor Kyle is daft but fun, lightweight stuff. Body Pop is a brilliant little future-shock-y, twilight zone-y sort of thing, body clones, dream states, and the problems of an artificial reality and body being so much better than anything real life can offer. Six absolutely great pages, lovely back-up.