Gutsville #1-2

Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Frazer Irving
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

Most stories aren’t really that different from one another. It’s the same basic ideas, dressed up in the same basic trappings. Every once in a while, someone’s changed the scenery slightly that makes you raise an eyebrow and think, “All right, that’s a tiny bit different.” But then, if you’re really lucky, you might just come across something that has dreamed up a setting so vastly different from what you’re used to that you can’t help but be enchanted by it. And that’s exactly how I felt after reading the first two issues of Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving’s Gutsville.

In 1850, a ship bound for Australia was swallowed whole by a Leviathan. No simple whale, this mammoth creature was so large that the ship’s inhabitants survived the swallowing, the people and livestock and cargo all landing in the creature’s tract. And so, for the last 150 years, they have lived inside this creature, the town of Gutsville. Puritanical law rules over them all, their fate believed to be a result of their sins, and until they are purified, the JonahKin shall remain trapped inside the dreaded Leviathan. But a revolution, it seems, is almost at hand…

Spurrier’s story in Gutsville was a little hard for me to get into; it took me about half of the first issue to really start getting a feel for this strange society that he created. Reminding me of novelist China Miéville’s creations, Spurrier plunges you directly into his story unapologetically and without a lengthy introduction. Once you start to understand the ebb and flow of the characters, though, everything starts falling into place. It’s interesting, because at the one-third mark of Gutsville, our protagonist (if you can really call him that) is still a bit of a sad sack that is lost and confused by everything happening around him. His art is destroyed, his love marrying another woman, and Albert Oliphant in general seems a little pathetic. One expects that to all be changing, though; he’s got his spiritual guide in the form of a woman who can commune with the Dreamtime, and a literal guide in the form of a map of the tunnels of the Leviathan. It’s the only real bright point in a story that so far is startlingly bleak. One really finds it hard to cheer on almost anyone, be they the elders of the town with their draconian rule, or even the love of Albert’s life that is marrying the enemy. If Albert’s journey takes him to the destruction of Gutsville itself, well, that’s a goal that the reader can certainly get behind.

After drawing Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch-Boy mini-series (with a group of puritanical zealots living deep under the earth), one would certainly excuse Irving if he’d decided he wanted something a little visually different than Gutsville. That said, you can’t find a better person to draw starched shirts, tall pointy hats, and a general sense of unease than Irving. It’s such a beautiful end product, from the detailed, compacted lines that run across people’s faces and through their hair, to the almost monochromatic look of each page with its limited palettes and muted colors. It’s a dark, somewhat oppressive look for the series, and that’s exactly what Gutsville should be. Truly, you feel like you’re looking into the belly of the beast. When Mary Nazarene plunges into the Dreamtime, the sudden shift to brighter colors and hues works wonderfully because they’re such a contrast to the surroundings of Gutsville, and it’s at that point that it really hits home how drab and lifeless Gutsville is.

With bonus materials like a bestiary to describe the strange creatures that live within the Leviathan, or a serialized prose short story about a mystery taking place within the town, the world of Gutsville truly comes to life in these two issues. This is a really strong start to Spurrier and Irving’s six-issue mini-series. Its oppressive setting and direct leap into the action might be off-putting for some, but I can’t help but feel that it’s one of the stronger new projects to show up in a while. I’ll absolutely be reading the rest of the series; you should, too.

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