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Graphic Novel Review

Book Cover

Ordinary (Hardback)


Writer: Rob Williams
Artist: D'Israeli
Publisher: Titan Books
RRP: £10.99
Age: 15+
112 pages
Publication Date: 22 October 2014

When a strange plague gives every human being on the planet special powers, it’s seen as the next step in human evolution. But hope quickly turns to terror, as every war, terrorist attack, every crime, every simple street argument escalates to a truly horrific point. The world is tearing itself apart – every trouble spot becomes a monstrous war zone and nuclear Armageddon looms. The plague MUST be cured if humankind is to survive. The key lies in the blood of the only human being who DIDN’T get powers when the plague hit. A downtrodden, recently divorced New York plumber named Michael Fisher. The most ordinary man alive has suddenly become the most extraordinary person on Planet Earth. Giant baseball players, grannies ageing in reverse, a talking Grizzly bear. That’s nothing out of the Ordinary...!

Comics that offer a supposed examination of how superheroes, or people with extraordinary abilities at least, might behave in the real world are all too frequent in a comics industry where Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns are three decades old. Ordinary is a witty, if brief run through similar territory, albeit with a premise I don't remember seeing before: with a suddenly erupting pandemic of super-power-bestowing viral plague engulfing the whole world seemingly within hours, the only person unaffected, divorced New York plumber Michael Fisher finds himself the centre of attention.

Fisher, who cares more about getting through the escalating chaos of his already hectic city to find his young son than the fate of the world, is a sympathetic lead written with just the right air of unheroic fallibility to make him likeable. It's a little unfortunate that the creators choose to introduce him as a (white, straight) 'Everyman' surrounded by variously menacing and comically vulgar non-white New Yorkers, such as the African-American neighbour transformed into a grizzly bear or the Samoan thugs to whom Fisher's in debt; such deployment of race in characterisation runs the risk of playing on conservative fears of the 'ordinary' white man losing his status to incoming or rising ethnic groups, as explored in the movie Falling Down. Ordinary's short length means that the opportunity to mitigate this with deeper characterisation is lost, and it's arguably the major pitfall of the series.

At a three-issue length Ordinary also misses out on the chance to further explore the vibrantly chaotic world conjured up by the super-powers plague, which is a shame given the flair veteran British artist D'Israeli – a distinctive visualist since the 1980s era of Deadline magazine – brings to the series. Williams and D'Israeli largely forgo the temptation to pastiche superhero comics, drawing from horror and monster movies in their portrayal of New York under siege from its transformed inhabitants. Fragments of the havoc going on elsewhere in the world, with 100-metre-high heavy metal guitarists laying waste to Kashmir and giant medieval crusaders riding over Israel, are wittily and spectacularly portrayed, as is the more personal trauma and anguish experienced by Fisher on his journey.

Ordinary might be a series that deserved more time to expand on its ideas and shake out its flaws, but it's a charming one all the same, and Titan's well-produced hardcover collection does it justice. An erudite afterword on the science of real-life contagion from science writer JV Chamary, plus an introduction from D'Israeli's sometime collaborator Warren Ellis and an extensive collection of guest artists' contributions, make this a fine collection. Recommended.


Richard Hunt

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