This should almost be called This Damned Band #1.5. I’ll take the rest of this review to explain why.
Good writers take their time. Paul Cornell is easily a good writer. More often great. Issue #1 of This Damned Band was great. It introduced us to the band Motherfather (a joke which I still love) and the outrageously silly band members through a documentary being made about the band while on tour. There was wit and humor and a genuine love for the characters and this world. Cornell and Tony Parker (The artist!) struck a perfect balance between satire and parody while keeping it human. When Satan (probably) shows up on the final page, as a reader I was ready to dive into the second issue. I said of the first issue something to the effect that it was a band attempting to make their Gimme Shelter without realizing they were actually in Spinal Tap. I’ll add to that, they are even a few steps short of Stillwater in Almost Famous.
Parker’s art here is just as expressive without losing the human nature of the characters, though we’re playfully allowed to see what happened through the documentary maker’s hilarious, anime-style mock ups of the previous night’s events, which I am led to believe only the band could see Satan. There are many funny moments and playful bits as the band members try to deduce whether their run in with Satan was real, whether it was drug induced, or whether it was Santa, which makes it difficult for them to decide on an album cover for a lot of reasons.
Maybe it was my fault expecting the story to kick in once the band met Satan. The first time reading through, I was a bit underwhelmed, and the second time reading Issue #2, I laughed out loud. On the one hand, Cornell is taking the unexpected route. He’s not pandering in any way, and by the end maybe we understand that things aren’t as they seem. He’s building in a lot of subplots that currently seem unrelated, letting characters affect each other, coloring in the dynamics. I was initially a little let down because I don’t need the forward progression of the story to stop so I can be shown things that I already know or can easily pick up on, but as I write and rewrite this, I’m picking up on clues that point to how all of these events could be related. I have no idea what Paul Cornell has in mind going forward, how all this is going to pay off, but the stakes have remained low while he circles the edges of the story; it has this meandering kind of sensibility. Comedy is at its sharpest when conflict is present; if the conflict underwhelms, the comedy has nothing to play off of. The story conflict wasn’t completely apparent to me the first read, but with the second you begin to notice the nuances, the writerly building blocks being carefully placed.
It isn’t until the end of this issue that something happens that can’t be ignored. Or maybe so I think. It could be that the members of Motherfather are too clueless and drug fueled – nothing that your everyday person would find important will rattle their cages. That could be the ultimate joke. I’m curious to see. Even so, there are so many great throwaway lines (One in particular about beer and bread had me chortling.) and so many hilarious character interactions that the cheeky attitude permeates. And, the mystery behind the Satan sighting starts to spin ever so slightly. In the end it’s really a celebration of this idea that we have sculpted into our neural patterns of how these rock bands actually are, and that in itself is a joy to experience.
While that’s a great conclusion to this review, I have to add that the color (Lovern Kindzierski) and design work (Nick James) are stellar. Both do little things to create different realities from changing the borders of the panels depending on whether it’s documentary, reality, or perhaps something we don’t understand yet, and the color palette keeps everything grounded when it needs to, which helps the more absurd, comedic moments play that much stronger, but then shifts suddenly and unexpectedly for a good laugh. This book is so well constructed.