The fact Phonogram is ending is sad, but The Immaterial Girl was the story it needed to go out on. The final issue isn’t full of bombast or drama, but of goodbyes, uncertainty of the future, and new beginnings.
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.
While it may initially appear irrelevant to the rest of the plot, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #4 may be one of Gillen, McKelvie, Cowles, and Wilson’s finest hours as a creative team. By using the tropes and tics of a popular and defining work, they manage to tell a story that both plays with the central theme of the arc and the central theme of the work referenced in astoundingly creative ways. It’s fun, electric, and even just a bit precious.
Unless you’re a big fan of 1990s British pop punk and riot grrl music, the name Kenickie is just a character of Grease to you. (Only one of their songs is available to stream on Spotify, but some of their live performances and music videos are on YouTube.) However, the band plays a major role in the first issue of Phonogram: Rue Britannia as writer Kieron Gillen (making his comics debut) and artist/letterer Jamie McKelvie use them as a feminine alternative to the masculine power of the Brit Pop music that dominated the 90s and will play a major role in the series going forward. The first issue is about David Kohl, the series’ protagonist as he goes to Ladyfest in Bristol, England to leach off the magical energies of these “pop-feminist” artists, meet with a phonomancer named Lady Vox, and most importantly to him, pick up women. He is a toxic agent in a space meant to empower, and McKelvie dresses in him in all black with a dark grey Superman sigil or “pop icon” that Kohl wears for the masculine power of the superhero with none of his morality or hopefulness.
With its witty (and wee bit pretentious) conversations about musical trends, smart design and color choices from Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson, and robust character work with Emily Aster, Phonogram #1 reads like if The Smiths weren’t utter drama queens and made another album after Strangeways, Here We Come. (The Smiths are my favorite band so this is a high compliment as far as music metaphors go.)