Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #5
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie (with backup art by Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt)
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics
Well, it’s getting down to the wire for Emily Aster as Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl returns from its precious little intermission. This issue decides to take focus on David Kohl one last time and much like the previous issue, it becomes him learning how to grow up. Guess it’s a lesson applicable to any age.
The issue opens with a hungover David Kohl receiving a call from Indie Dave informing him that Emily Aster, who sold her relationship with Indie Dave in the deal, went over to his place and offered him sex. If nothing else informed David of the fact Emily is now Claire, that was finally it.
The rest of the issue plays out like the closest thing Phonogram will ever be to a road trip comic as David and Kid-With-Knife go all around Britain to try and convince members of the coven to help perform a ritual to save Emily.
This whole bit of the comic felt very final, as if it will be the last time the reader ever gets to spend time with David. At current time, it’s highly likely that it is. As David goes from member to member of the Coven, including the newly pregnant Lady Vox and Seth with his bush disco (not a euphemism), he comes to the slow realization that he’s really the only person left in the Coven without something more important to him, and that maybe his own plans kept him from being a better friend to people. There’s an especially poignant scene with Seth Bingo as they talk about plans and outcomes for the both of them that is probably one of the most gorgeous scenes in Phonogram in writing, drawing, and colors as David and Seth talk in the rain. Seth is even almost tolerable in the scene. Almost.
In the end, David tells Claire that it all comes down to her to become herself again since the power he has left from Britannia could do nothing for her. The two part ways, lamenting on what could never be, and the ever selfish David Kohl decides to use the last of his power to do something nice for the one person who has always been there for him. All to the soundtrack of ‘Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, because what is Phonogram if it’s not set to music in the really important parts? As far as character finales go, it’s the best you could hope for with a character like David Kohl. That maybe, just maybe, he learns not to be such a jerk and to find what’s the most important in life besides pop music and ritual.
As for Emily though, her story isn’t done yet. As Claire prepares to kill herself with one last smash of a mirror, the last fragment of Emily languishes in a “safehaus” that is a send up to Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ video. A figure that looks much like Gaga herself asks Emily why her contract to make her “a sparkler” didn’t make her happy.
The use of the ‘Paparazzi’ video in the comic itself instead of the ‘Money for Nothing’ video on the cover is something of a swerve, but after multiple reads, the uses of both make a ton of sense. Despite the groundbreaking video, ‘Money For Nothing’ was a song that was actually very derisive of music video culture and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler was very anti-video. The cover has David and KWK as the salesmen, focusing in on their importance to the plot of this issue and perhaps David’s own focus away from image of music to meaning of music.
‘Paparazzi,’ however, was easily a seminal moment in Lady Gaga’s career. With a high concept video that featured a storyline of a high fashioned Gaga that kills her boyfriend in revenge for nearly killing her, ‘Paparazzi’ was one of the many songs obsessed with image and and the idea of fame off of her debut album The Fame. It would also become a trademark for Gaga, who would go onto release several more high concept videos all the way through to the video for ‘G.U.Y.’ from 2013’s Artpop. For a character such as Emily, who sold the side of herself that took the meaning in music for the side of herself that took the image that accompanies music, ‘Paparazzi’ might be one of those instances where she could see herself in the music and image, despite the dead bodies and Lady Gaga wailing for the paparazzi to love her as she “bled out” during her 2009 Video Music Awards performance.
Still, Emily doesn’t have time to contemplate this too much before the thugs from the ‘Take On Me’ video finally catch up to her. The hero from that video, battered and bruised, tries to save her again, but Emily decides to stop running and fight back as the penultimate issue comes to an end.
With David taking his bow and using the last of his power from Britannia, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #5 feels like more of an ending than anything else we’ve seen from the Phonogram series. As Emily and David’s story shifts more into the “present” of 2009-2010, we see the closest they might actually get to growing up. For David, it’s learning how to be a decent human being. For Emily, it’s accepting her death. Morbid as it can be, Team Phonogram creates a story in this issue that gives the characters room to do that without sacrificing who they are at their cores. With the groundwork laid and with Emily running out of time, the finale looks to be a heart-racer and a heart-wrencher.