Dark Satanic Mills

Dark Satanic Mills - Marcus SedgwickWith a London Worldcon looming on the horizon it is only reasonable to wonder what the UK comics scene has been producing this year that might be in line for a Hugo come August. I’ve not seen any sign of a new Grandville book yet, though I live in hope, but I have been sent something very interesting by Walker Books, people probably best known as the publishers of YA novels by the likes of Patrick Ness and Cassandra Clare.

Of course if you get a UK graphic novel titled Dark Satanic Mills your first thought will obviously be, what has Pat Mills got to do with this? The answer is, “very little”, but Walker wisely asked him to blurb the book. This is what he had to say:

Any story that features a fanatical, fascistic church, that employs Soldiers of Truth to beat up atheists gets my vote! Excellent!

All that and William Blake too. What’s more the book has an impressive creative team. Marcus Sedgwick is fairly new to graphic novels, but has an impressive career in children’s and YA fiction, including five Carnegie Medal nominations and a string of other awards. John Higgins was the colorist on Watchmen. They are joined by Sedgwick’s brother, Julian, who is a screenwriter, and comic artist Marc Olivent.

The book is set in a post-collapse Britain struggling under the combined assaults of severe climate change, global economic collapse and a Christian fundamentalist movement riding an anti-science wave of popular opinion to power. Being in black and white, and having similar concerns, it has echoes of V for Vendetta, particularly in the fascist styling of the True Church and their Soldiers of Truth. It does not have an Alan Moore script, however. Sedgwick is used to writing for a younger audience and his story is much more straightforward.

Our heroes are a pretty young motorbike courier (thankfully rarely sexualized), a renegade doctor who still believes that medicine is better than prayer, a gay journalist, and a Muslim woman who is a computer expert. Coming together by accident, they travel across England hoping to prevent the True Church from staging a PR coup that will allow them to topple the government and seize power.

There is a lot of fairly heavy symbolism in the book, as perhaps one might expect given the inspiration from Blake. In particular the biker girl is called Christina England, which gives Sedgwick the opportunity to have his villains address the country when addressing her. At one point the leader of the Soldiers of Truth (whom I kept expecting to be called Anderton but wasn’t, perhaps because Sedgwick didn’t want to spend time behind bars as David Britton had done) gets to pronounce, “England has opted for oblivion”.

And that, basically, is the point of the story. Faced by economic and environmental collapse, the people of England (there’s scarcely any mention of other parts of the UK) are opting to slide into a right-wing, totalitarian society run by religious fanatics. Sedgwick can see it happening, and he believes that faith in the basic goodness and fortitude of the English people, as exemplified by Blake’s poetry, is what is needed to pull us though.

Personally I’m rather skeptical of appeals to patriotism, tending to think that it works far better as a tool of oppression than of freedom. I’m much happier with Sedgwick’s line on religion, which places the emphasis on doubt rather than faith. That’s the sort of religion we need when faced with demands for blind obedience.

The story being told in Dark Satanic Mills is not a new one. It is, however, one that needs to keep being re-told down the years. The recent fuss over the Daily Malice’s attacks on Ralph Milliband has reminded us just how closely the UK flirted with fascism last century. It is good to have fiction aimed at young people that repeats the necessary dire warnings, especially when it is as well put together as this book is. I suspect it will do very well. That will doubtless make Sedgwick & co. unpopular with right-wing politicians and journalists, but that’s perfectly OK with me. There’s nothing quite like having people ranting about the morally corrupting influence of comic books to get young people to side with the rebellion.

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