Sunday, 31 August 2014

Sebastian O Review (Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell)

Set in steampunk Victorian England, Sebastian O is a roguish dandy locked up for writing a saucy and subversive book. However, soon after his dashing escape from Bedlam, he learns that there are more than just coppers after him and that there was more to his imprisonment than he first realised…

Sebastian O is a three-issue miniseries from the early ‘90s and, despite being written by Grant Morrison, it’s relatively obscure. But if you’re familiar with the name, you might expect this book to be a little tricky to read but it’s actually very straightforward. Too straightforward even. This is actually the first Grant Morrison comic I found myself wishing things to be a little more complicated! 

Sebastian O’s plot is your average revenge story that’s been doing the rounds long before Alexandre Dumas wrote the definitive one in The Count of Monte Cristo. And because Sebastian’s a dandy who fancies himself an aesthete (with an Aubrey Beardsley hairdo) Morrison tries - and fails - to come up with some Wildean witticisms for him: 

“We may be in the sewer, but there’s absolutely no need for that kind of gutter profanity” and
“It seems almost criminal to remove my whiskers. I look indefinably christlike. Having said that, I refuse to martyr myself for one second longer”

Hmm. I know Morrison’s attempting caricature here but it doesn’t quite work, being such weak and empty humour. Alan Moore attempted something similar in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, which further underscored exactly why Wilde was so celebrated, then and now: nobody else could write or think like him. 

I quite liked Steve Yeowell’s art in this book. The mechanical gardens looked great as did Sebastian’s tricksy, trap-laden home, and steampunk Blighty looked convincing with just the right amount of oddity to make it look similar, but wholly different, to Victorian England. His design for the Abbe also looked a lot like Beardsley’s Ali Baba, a style and reference that I’m sure wasn’t a coincidence.

Sebastian O is minor Morrison but given his many successes and popularity, it seems strange that DC would decide to discontinue this book’s print run forever. I think Morrison has enough of an audience that this comic, however ordinary, could generate a decent amount of sales for them if they re-released it. 

If you’re a Morrison fan and enjoy his more story-driven work over his trippy-hippy stuff, you’ll enjoy this - it’s not amazing but it’s certainly not bad. But if you can’t get your hands on a copy - which will become more likely as the years go on - then don’t worry as you didn’t miss a masterpiece.

Sebastian O

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