If you take only one thing away from this review, please let it be this…. DO NOT even think of reading issue 2 before you’ve experienced the delights of issue 1. They really do come as an essential pair. Take issue 2 on its own and it’s as confusing as psychedelic vomit, combine it with issue 1, and confusing transforms into sublime.
Back in September 2011 I reviewed the first issue of Hitsville and eventually named it one of the comics of the year, but to get there it took a couple of readings.
First issue was weird and brilliant. Second issue is weird and brilliant and difficult and frankly rather impenetrable without having boned up on issue #1 beforehand. It’s not so much that issue #2 needs a second reading as it needs a second reading immediately after re-reading the first issue.
(Trust me on this. Go and read issue 1 first Go. Now.)
Suddenly everything that was confusing, everything that was wrong, suddenly it all makes sense, suddenly unreadable transforms into just as bloody brilliant as issue 1. There’s simply too much going on in here to spare time for recaps, the large ensemble cast means there’s little time for exposition, and everything refers back to events in the first issue, it’s simple impossible to take issue 2 on its own, do that and you’ll be wondering, just as I was, what I made all the fuss over. Go back and get the whole story and suddenly it all starts to come together.
Here’s a perfect example, right on the very first page of Hitsville UK #2, a page that’s just plain meaningless if read on it’s own, but bloody hilarious if you’ve just read issue #1. Then you’d be aware that maniacal music producer Greg pastis (think Noel Fielding meets Martin Rushent meets Phil Spector) absolutely detests young guitar playing singer songwriters who wear their oh so tedious hearts on their sleeve and know just how violent his response can be when he meets one.
Just like this in issue 1:
Now, imagine if you were stupid (as I was) and didn’t read issue 1 before plowing on with issue 2. Imaging that the page below was the first page you viewed, without remembering the events of issue 1 above.
That first page of issue 2 is a punchline to an excellent and bloody funny joke. But the setup for the joke was in issue #1. Without reading issue #1 it simply doesn’t work, once you read issue #1 that first page is ridiculous, hilarious, and brilliant. And most importantly of all sets you up for a great, great second issue.
So, I’m going to keep saying this till you all agree… you need to read Hitsville UK #1 and #2 together.
You need to remember that The Carrie Nation’s Revenge are monster hunters first and a band second, need to be aware that folk balladeer Gwillum may look hideous but he has the voice and tunes of an angel, something producer Greg Pastis discovered at the end of issue 1. You simply must be aware that Pastis was doing all manner of unmentionables to Gwillum to bring out his tormented soul, which is why seeing Jack Spatz, entrepreneur and pop star in waiting, walk into the studio with a load of fire ants and a pitbull to bring the best out of Gwillum is so funny. You have to remember that Gerry Corden, boss of Hitsville UK is rather in hock to his accountant, Stan Van Horne, all horns, nasty skin and dodgy name. And you have to remember that when he told Gerry to go and sign the first of three bands there was definitely an element of brimstone-ish planning in the air.
And so it continues. This issue sees the psychedelic chundering of Men Behind Guitars lead singer really putting Gerry off, and does nothing to impress investigative journo Rona Roads (“trying to get the “lowdown on the hoedown at Hitsville UK“), we get to see a titanic rap battle down the local library featuring Da Tree Huggaz (“We’re Grace, Nik and Janet. And we’re here to rap about saving the planet!“), G-Nome (short fella, talks about having “rap in my genetic code“.. G-Nome…. genome… geddit?) and The Wicked Witch Of The Westwood (“As fundamental as Hansel and Gretel“), all cunningly signed up by Spiv-Hop wide-boy Jack Spatz. Whilst all this is going on Gerry takes a moment down the pub to wonder what might have been, some mysterious suited bloke has Jack Spatz in his sights, and Gwillem heads for the hills. Well, heads for the dogging lay-bys anyway, where a psychedelic man in black leads him to the song. And just what is happening to the vampiric ashes left behind by Carrie Nation’s Revenge…. is that one of the Sisters, the band who seem to know just what Stan Van Horne is about and turned down Gerry in issue #1?
Yep, all this and more happens right here in Hitsville UK #2, all the laughs of a clever farce, all the mystery-machining shennanigans of Scooby Doo and many more questions than answers at this stage. Hitsville is a fabulous mix of classic cartoon hi-jinks and very deranged comic storytelling.
Riordan’s art looks fabulous here, a real improvement from issue 1 (which was pretty damn good to start with), and credit to Great Beast for the print job, lovingly done with crisp matt colouring. All the better for Riordan’s absolute insanity to spread over the pages, his figures a cartoon gallery of the grotesque and weird, the colours shifting as needed, loads of different characters requiring lots of colour and artistic shifts. Great work. Great work.
Yep, Hitsville UK, second issue same as the first, but better. Think of Hitsville UK as that classic, absolutely insane album that may take a bit of listening before you get it, but once you do, oh boy, it’s going to stay with you for a long, long time.
But like I may have mentioned, get issue #1 first.
(Oh, and in case you don’t recognise it, the cover is a loving homage to The Specials.)