27: First Set
written by Charles Soule
illustrated by Renzo Podesta
One of the most enduring legends of rock and roll is the “27 Club,” so called because of the string of influential rock and blues musicians who died at the age of 27. Their members include Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Robert Johnson, among many others, including most recently Amy Winehouse. The fact that this coincidence unites so many fallen rockers intones a certain level of the sinister, creating a mysterious mythology that lends itself perfectly for the thriller/horror genre, and, thankfully, Charles Soule delivers the goods.
There is an age-old adage that states simply "write what you know." As both a musician and comic book writer, Soule is well-equipped to craft a story built off the legacy of the 27 Club's members, paying homage to their art and craft. It's a story filled with tidbits of information, like a brief history of musicians who lost their ability to play and fought to regain their talents, and knowledge only truly devoted music lovers could appreciate, such as a brief aside to snorting ants off the sidewalk (an incident Ozzy Osbourne became notorious for, and a lesson to others that he is more than capable of upstanding all of us).
Will Garland is a rock star who has lost his way. At the age of 27, his left hand—his fret board hand—turned against him and left him suffering from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a disease that crippled him with pain and left him unable to play guitar and addicted to painkillers. He has searched the world over looking for a cure, eventually finding a doctor who promises salvation. The only catch, as it turns out, is that it requires him to sell his soul. What he receives is an odd implant buried in his chest, a metal plate of knobs and switches that grant him 27 chances at redemption.
The art by Renzo Podesta is wonderfully stylistic and beautifully colored. His panels feature a welcome layer of texture that give the scenes a feel of lived-in depth, and his rustic palette of browns and yellows suitably captures the dark tones of the story Soule is crafting. His character designs are well crafted, and the character of Scratch, a shadowy devil who barters for souls, is simplistic but evocative.
The 27: First Set trade collects the entirety of the four-issue miniseries, along with an additional bonus story, "Crossroads Blues." A beautiful homage to blues musician Robert Johnson, "Crossroads" is inspired by the Faustian legend surrounding his amazing talent and his death at the age of 27. Soule sticks close to the historical record, right down to Johnson's death in the company of a woman and whiskey. Although brief, it really is a terrific piece of fiction that nicely blends fact with supernatural speculation, while also expanding upon the mythology Soule is building with this series.
Equally impressive is the inclusion of original cover art by W. Scott Forbes. When it ran as a monthly, 27 featured art inspired by iconic images of the 27 Club. In each, Garland struck a pose in the persona of notable, instantly recognizable rock legends. Forbes' artwork on each is striking and helps to solidify the historical connections Soule is inspired by and infatuated with, providing another layer of richness to the story's proceedings.
27: First Set is, quite clearly, an ode of love to the rock and roll genre. It is thick with historical anecdotes and music's most persistent mythologies. Not content to simply write a story about just musicians, Charles Soule takes the story one step further, incorporating crazy shamans, ghosts, a Jim Morrison spirit guide, demons, and numerology, all while musing over the nature of talent versus gift. There is a lot happening in this book, and it's best approached in a slow fashion in order to allow the ideas to percolate and, just as important, to appreciate Podesta's art work and the amazing scenery he creates. Soule closes the door on First Set with a satisfying, hopeful note, but leaves it ready to be kicked wide open for a second set sometime soon (but not quite soon enough).