In Review: The Marionette Unit

The Marionette Unit - Cover

Created by Azhur Saleem and James Boyle, illustrated by  Warwick Johnson-Cadwell 
Out: Now

The Book:

How far would you go in search of a missing loved one? Could you infiltrate a hellish Victorian workhouse where steam-powered engines control your body?

If so, then enter the world of The Marionette Unit; a time of control, obsession and monstrous machines.

Beatrice Shaw is searching for her missing sister, Melodie, last seen employed at a workhouse run by shadowy industrialist, Henri Dubré inventor of The Marionette Units. He has forged man and machine together to create an abominable dream of never-ending efficiency. As Beatrice enters this terrifying world, she must find a way to break free of the clutches around her and confront Dubré before all hope is lost of ever finding her sister again…

The Review: The unsettling, scratch the back of the eyeballs world of the The Marionette Unit is an alternative take on Victorian London. Set in 1847, co-creator James Boyle invites the reader to imagine a time where steam technology as opposed to electricity has become the prevalent form of power; airships, gyrocopters and steam powered vehicles are everywhere, with that this world is grimy, textured, and contains mysterious characters at every turn.

The story, first conceived way back in 2008, succeeds in this aim in spades and the result is a stunning, creepy and thoroughly enjoyable Victorian mystery story.

The titular Marionette Unit is a large steam-powered engine that connects into the bodies of workers so it can fully control their movements. An industrialist’s terrifying dream of total efficiency, the story blends adventure, horror and science fiction into a heady and potent mix, conjuring a steampunk world in which there’s no need to train your workforce. You literally just plug them in and see them get to work.

For me, Tank Girl artist Warwick’s art perfectly captures the gothic horror of the story, in which determined Beatrice Shaw searches for her missing sister, Melodie. Along the way, we’re exposed to the exaggerated horror of Victorian factories, all the scarier for its visual echoes of our modern life, characters plugged in, day in, day out, into their machines, just as many of us have become addicted to our mobiles and other devices.

Of course, you can’t have a scary setting without a sinister villain, and industrialist Henri Dubré, with whom Beatrice pits her wits, is very definitely sinister, all the more so because, like many of our modern leaders, he believes his way of doing things, of controlling people is unquestionably right. There’s a cold logic to his motives that is both horrifying and thought provoking.

For a writing team new to the word of comics, filmmakers Azhur Saleem and James Boyle employ their considerable skills for the visual through their film making with aplomb in their script. Inspired by steampunk, they make The Marionette Unit work because, ultimately, it’s not just the setting that conjures the imagination, you care about the characters too, and even though a gritty sense of foreboding permeates the story, you can’t look away, even though any hope for a some sliver of a happy outcome is, possibly, ill founded.

The Marionette Unit a powerfully-told  story, one that skitters uncomfortably around in your head hours after reading it. Warwick’s visuals are entirely attuned to the gothic horror of the script, the comics equivalent of nails scratched across a blackboard.

The team have worked hard to create a tale readers will take seriously, despite the monstrosity of the workhouse-inspired setting and suspend their disbelief.  For me, they have more than succeeded.

Read the background to this terrifying tale from the creators

•  The Marionette Unit is available in a digital edition as a direct hi-res download, available in PDF, ePub, CBR and CBZ formats, or in the print edition that includes exclusive artwork, character sketches and making of process. 

• It’s available in all good bookshops and comic shops, but you can also order it direct from the publisher and find out more about the book at www.themarionetteunit.com

• The Marionette Unit is available from the following comic stores. Orbital Comics (London) – Gosh! (London) – Chaos City Comics (St. Albans) – The Cartoon Museum (London) – Forbidden Planet(London) and Travelling Man (Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle)

• Follow TMU Workshop on Twitter @tmuworkshop | Facebook | Instagram

• Azhur Saleem: www.azhursaleem.com

• James Boyle: www.parkroadpictures.com

• Warwick Johnson Cadwell: warwickjohnsoncadwell.blogspot.co.uk

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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