COMIC REVIEW: Ordinary Collected Edition

Warren Ellis, on the cover of Ordinary, says “Surreal and lovely, one of the most beautiful books of the year”. This blurb – along with the striking purple and white cover – only hints at what is inside this comic book by Rob Williams (Cla$$war, Low Life, Judge Dredd) and D’Israeli (The Sandman, Tank Girl, Low Life and Judge Dredd). This is not a story about mutants or superheroes. It is not even a story about being a loser. It is a story about how extraordinary ordinary people can be. Williams and D’Israeli’s book is not perhaps as beautiful as Ellis suggests, but its insight and depth are something worth seeing and reading.

Our hero, for that is what he is and make no mistake, is Michael. He lives by himself in New York. A plumber. A loser. But he used to a wife and a family. Once a normal guy, he now gives unkempt a bad name. He knows and accepts who he is, even to the point – in the opening scene – of admitting such in a dream. The comic starts off in a typical day for Michael. Late for work, abuse from his plumbing partner; the trials of New York life. All that changes. A plane seems to explode in the sky. Then…Everyone mutates. Everyone all over the world. Everyone but for Michael. He even loses at the super-power game. So while the rest of the world is going to hell-in-a-handbasket with super-freaks (check out goldenboy, the dragon, the twins, lion-hair, cosmic taxidriver, plumbing black bear, bomb-man and all the rest), Michael needs to get back to Manhattan to find his son.

Meanwhile, the US government is trying to find a cure, with the help of a British scientist. The President becomes impotent while others in the cabinet see the mutations as an opportunity for the US. The scientist who thinks she can cure everyone only needs to find someone who is immune. Someone who didn’t mutate and become superficially powerful.

And so the plot continues in a number of set pieces; the cable car, the school, the musical, the experiments in the government lab, etc. It is a melange of madness and imagination. It’s during the musical piece, however, that the sub-text makes itself clear. A flashback. A glimpse of what was, in stark pencils. The guardian of the musical portal underlines the real story here, when he comments that none of the super-powered had made it out, and that they “thought they was so damn special”. Ah, so this is where we’re going. The hero already had power? Mr Ordinary Loser wasn’t such a loser after all? So Michael finds his son and the world finds out he’s ‘uninfected’, via a nice satirical set piece with some kind of demon-bird version of Larry King. Michael realises he has friends, and a family. He also sees the good in others. He is a kind man.

There are many reasons to read Ordinary. The humour is as good as the story, although it needs to be. If any part of the comic didn’t work, the impact of the story at its conclusion wouldn’t work. There is some clever satire about American media and politics and also some damn fine jokes; I refer the honourable reader in particular to the bear jokes in the bar. Simple but effective sequential art. There are moments of surrealism, but only superficially so; mostly in the design of the super-freaks. Williams and D’Israeli aren’t trying to create a surreal masterpiece, but are telling their story with as much fun and imagination as they can muster. Which is quite a lot.

The artwork in Ordinary is what you’d expect with a plot that features talking bears, US politicians that are surrounded by angles and demons, a teacher from a Pink Floyd video, a Godzilla-sized baseball player, and a musical scene (featuring a smiling sun, semi-naked nymph-types and is that a door to hell?). It isn’t subtle. But again, it shouldn’t be, because it works. The glaring colours and the bold lines, the unpleasant realism of the character design (flab and frowns for example) and the use of colour-themed pages all add to the experience. When D’Israeli draws the scientist – those eyes – in the conclusion you realise how smart this whole book is.

This edition contains bonus artwork by the likes of Edmund Bagwell, Ben Oliver, Laurence Campbell, Neil Googe, Henry Flint, Alison Sampson & Ruth Redmond and others. Some nice work there. There’s also an essay by JV Chamary about the ‘science’ involved in Ordinary, which is a fun and interesting read. It also contains sketches from the production process.

Had this been just the mad superhero thing, even with the humour, but without the depth added by the satire and the (admittedly obvious) subtext, Ordinary would be, well ordinary. Titan have produced a memorable collection of an awesome comic book. I can’t imagine any fan of comic books, or reading, not to get some pleasure from Ordinary.

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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