Review: Fashion Beast #1

Though Alan Moore’s name is the largest on the cover, this is actually an Antony Johnston comic adaptation of a movie script Moore wrote back in the 1980’s. Much has been made of the fact that Moore wrote this around the same time he was writing his seminal work, “Watchmen.” If the first issue is any indication, this won’t prove to be an enduring work on that sort of scale, but it just might be a fun effort anyhow.

Written by Alan Moore
Illustrated by Facundo Percio

Alan Moore’s unearthed screenplay comes to life as an incredible comic book series almost three decades later! The mid-80′s were a stunning period of brilliance for Alan Moore, seeing him create true masterpieces including Miracleman, Watchmen — and Fashion Beast! Working with Malcolm McLaren (Sex Pistols), Alan Moore turned his attention to a classic re-telling of a fable through his unyielding and imaginative vision. The two developed a story that redefined Beauty and the Beast in a dystopian future city dominated by a fashion house, which Moore then fully-scripted into a huge screenplay. Never previously published, this epic work is now adapted for comics by long-time Moore collaborator, Antony Johnston (Courtyard) preserving every scrap of Moore’s original dialogue. All ten issues have been lovingly illustrated by Facundo Percio (Anna Mercury) and finally a true historical and visionary masterpiece is finally released to the World!

Let’s get one important technical matter out of the way. Antony Johnston is adapting an Alan Moore movie script. This is not a project that Alan Moore was writing for the comic format. Regardless, Johnston apparently has received Moore’s full approval all along the way. I can only imagine that means that Moore cast a magical guiding spell over Johnston or consulted with the forest nymphs near his house before agreeing to this, but I would take the approval of a comic figure as legendarily crotchety as Alan Moore as a good sign.

“Fashion Beast” #1 opens on a long-haired (decidedly Alan Moore-type) figure in a dank, messy studio dealing out tarot cards and directing his employees to perform various tasks. They are in what is apparently some sort of fabric weaving factory/design studio. It is made clear that this designer, “Celestine”, is a driving figure in the city and is as important as he is mysterious and brilliant. Meanwhile, we see a group of men and women from the same apartment building each getting dressed and ready for a show at “Catwalk” – an exclusive and trendy club. Our apparent main character, a man in drag who runs the coat check at the club, makes hilarious barbs about each of the coats that get dropped off. From here, the characters’ lives dovetail into one another and Moore sets up the first major conflict of the book.

A major strength of the adaptation is that we learn a lot about these characters with relatively few words. In the dressing montage, we see things that the outside world won’t see. Moore uses the world of fashion as a facade to hide what is mysterious and undesirable. Characters hide what they’re ashamed of with superficiality. This is not an uncommon theme in the world of fashion, but Moore writes it in a dystopian setting that is clearly driven by these ideas. Moore isn’t leveling some Watchmen-esque deconstruction of anything, but he’s clearly exploring some sort of personal theme about the facades people create for themselves. Dark dystopia notwithstanding, this is much more fun than we’re used to seeing from Moore. The taunts directed at the club-goers from the man-in-drag are genuinely funny and catty, yet the character is one that the reader is endeared to. There’s a unique sense of rhythm to the story provided by the montage sequences and in the way that characters shuffle through the issue.

That rhythm can also be a detriment. If you didn’t know that “Fashion Beast” was a movie script first, you may or may not have guessed from reading the issue. Knowing what we know, it’s clear that there are certain scenes that would have worked better on film. This is really the only criticism that the book deserves. The aforementioned montage of the principle characters getting ready for the show is set to purposely repetitive sound effects which are included as word art at the bottom of each panel. One can see how this would have translated better to motion picture. Later, song lyrics serve as background “music” for club scenes, in another sequence that is less effective as a comic than it would have been on film. The usage of sound effects and soundtrack music here just isn’t as effective in a comic, when they are clearly supposed to dominate a scene. Unfortunately, these take up significant chunks of the issue.

The art is the major factor that makes this story work as a comic book. It’s wonderful. Though the montages would have benefited from sound, they are deliberately-paced and spectacularly rendered by the art. Each character looks unique and designed to be memorable. Their character traits show up in their physical designs, as well as the clothes they choose to wear and how they carry themselves. If fashion and facades are the major themes of the story, then Facundo Percio was clearly an apt choice for the art. Percio clearly knew what attention each sequence called for and adjusted the focus of his art to suit them.

The opening sequence with the mysterious long-haired man is rendered with disturbing detail. The cover of the issue with the close-up on the man’s eye is replicated in the opening panels, and it is certainly an evocative image. At the same time, as the man-in-drag delivers witty barbs to the club-goers, his face is appropriately contorted in funny expressions that enhance the comedy of the sequence. Percio’s artistic touch is equal in its ability to show detail and realism as it is in its expressiveness and humor. There are even shades of “Watchmen” in it, as the cover image appears on the first page. Likewise, cinematic zooming is present, which recalled the opening of “Watchmen” and the close-ups on the Comedian’s famous button pin. Though the story doesn’t seem to be approaching “Watchmen” levels of excellence, Percio treats it with the same sort of reverence and import.

The first issue of “Fashion Beast” only feels like a taste of things to come, but that taste is refreshing. Though some of it was clearly suited for a movie, it’s a good thing that we’re seeing it come out in a form that Alan Moore excels in. Luckier still is the fact that they picked an artist that clearly put a lot of aptitude into rendering it. There’s not really a book like this on the stands right now. It remains to be seen how substantial “Fashion Beast” is going to be, but isn’t it enough that we get another solid comic book from Alan Moore?

Final Verdict: 7.5 – Buy.

About The AuthorVince OstrowskiDr. Steve Brule once called him "A typical hunk who thinks he knows everything about comics." Twitter: @VJ_Ostrowski

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