January 26, 2016

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“Little things I should have said and done”-- Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6 by Gillen & McKelvie


Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6
Written by Kieron Gillen
Drawn by Jamie McKelvie
Colored by Matthew Wilson
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

“It’s just the power to charm.”

It’s 2009, Michael Jackson is dead, and Emily Aster had nothing to do with it.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6 is something I don’t think any issue of Phonogram has been up until this point; it’s sentimental. Those opening black and white pages in Phonogram: Rue Britannia were so brash, bold, and cocky but as the series has progressed from its beginnings in 2006 to 2016, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie close it out down reflecting on how the characters and themselves have aged since David Kohl put on the “S” Superman medallion for a night of clubbing and dancing. Kohl was full of bravado in those original issues but as The Immaterial Girl ends the Phonogram cycle, Emily Aster walks out into the rain having lost much more than she won as she puts the past behind her and tries to figure out who she is going to be now that the music and magic maybe aren’t quite that important anymore.

Having been trapped in a dimension of music videos for the past four issues, there’s no one left for Emily Aster to run from except herself. And that only gets you so far. Set in 2000, her final adversaries are a construct of Emily, dressed up like The King of Pop who himself is about to die, and then there’s Claire, the other part of herself that she’s been fighting against for this entire series. All of these facets of Emily have their claims on her life but in this age of self-description, digital music and all of our pop heroes dying one by one, there just is not room for all of them in Emily any more. Maybe there was once but if Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is about anything, maybe it’s about how as we get older and accumulate more experience, there’s less space and time to think about the people we wanted to be or fought against being as it becomes a full time job just living in the here and now.



That Michael Jackson dies on the same day that Emily survives her struggles means nothing at all but maybe it means everything. In a final discussion with David Kohl, she waves off the idea that she killed Jackson. “Behind the screen is outside time. It’s outside cause and effect. I couldn’t affect anything in there, except my own delicate behind.” So part of Phonogram has been about music as magic. So on June 25, 2009, for Emily to defeat her own demons and to say that the king of pop was never involved? That seems as unlikely as Kieron Gillen producing his own ode to David Bowie in the backup to this issue, proclaiming his belief in “Modern Love,” and having that testimony come out just weeks after Bowie’s sudden and surprising death. Cause and effect.

So maybe it is all magic.

Even something about Jamie McKelvie’s artwork seems different in this issue. The opening pages with Emily facing her demons and herself show just how far McKelvie has come since 2006. McKelvie’s usual pop touches give way to outbursts of violence and moments of tenderness that haven’t been on display as much in his earlier work. Touches of Young Avengers and The Wicked + The Divine’s seeps into McKelvie’s artwork as the book becomes something more than cool people doing cool things.

As the second half of this issue becomes about a world without a King of Pop, Emily and David both become more mature and more honest characters. As Gillen, McKelvie and the audience are possibly saying “goodbye” to these characters for good, the comic turns into a talking heads comic about these characters feelings and their lives, which almost feels like a betrayal to everything we’ve known about David Kohl and Emily Aster all of these years. There’s no coven, no magic, no drugs and no music in the end for these two. There’s just the lives that’s ahead of them that are so completely different from anything they’ve known before. The days of music are over so does that mean that all that remains are the memories and the stories?

Every generation believes that it’s their duty to save or change the world and then they get families, jobs and houses and, more importantly, real world responsibilities. Saving the world doesn’t feel as important as just being a good person. But the beauty of that is that there’s always a new generation coming up right behind the last, ready to take on the burden of saving the world. Gillen and McKelvie may be ready to move on from the world of Phonogram but Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6 shows us that the music and, therefore, the magic never end. They just change into something that may not be to our tastes. At least we still have our CDs, our MP3s and our comic issues to go back to now and again to remember who and how we were.