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Dalston Monsterzz h/c

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Dilraj Mann



"Last time I saw you I predicted you'd meet a new boy... Is this he?"
"No no no. This is another guy."
"You have two?"
"He's not another guy. He's the other one's friend."
"You're seeing two friends? Risky."

It's the way that reputed fortune teller Afsa Al Ansari holds up her palm advisedly - along with her doubtful gaze - that makes it so funny.

Lolly and Roshan did not get off to the best start. Lolly started dating Roshan's best friend Kay and Roshan swiftly grew meanly, inarticulately jealous: she was coming between their bromance.

Thing is, poor Roshan had only just got out of Holloway's Young Offender Institution after a criminal six-month sentence for idly stealing a £1-50 bottle of water and (one bike ride aside) suave and confident Kay has been far from attentive. He's been partying away while Roshan's languished alone in his nagging home in one of the old Brutalist block of concrete flats.

Parenthetically, Rosh was stitched up by an opportunist politician called David Dawes. And if that sounds slightly familiar then, yes, real-life Nicolas Robinson received a six-month sentence for stealing a £3-50 case of water from Lidl in Brixton in August 2011 following the London riots and subsequent looting. It was a £3-50 case of water! That's something that I'm unlikely to ever forget.

So be not deceived: within this fashion riot and monster romp there is a great deal of scathing socio-political satire about the gentrification of East London and the corruption that's come with it - right at the top.

Property developer Conrad Vess is at its epicentre. Oh, he has many a dark secret, does Conrad Vess, not least his family circumstances. He also has connections, from the police head-honcho to his close Confidence, leader of the Teenage Mutant Dalston Bastards. There are many such gangs in East London and you'll find a handy map and breakdown of these territorial tossers on pages 34 and 35, plus they all have their own monsters outside of Conrad Vess. Monsters...? Giant Monsters! We will get to them in a second, but each gang has its own schtick: its base location, modus operandi and unifying sartorial brand - they are beautifully designed. I particularly liked the t-shirt triangles and their inverted red facial tattoos or face-paint.

Dilraj has a fine eye for chic urban fashion, be it observed or imagined. It won him a place in the British Comics Awards a few years ago, deservedly so. His body forms are deliciously atypical while his faces can be so grotesque as to make monsters out of everyone. In some ways he reminds me of Dave Cooper. Anyway, it's all so apposite here.

So: there are monsters - ever so colourful, some of them. They are reckoned to have begun manifesting during the massive property development upheaval when ugly flats were torn down to make way for luxury accommodation for the stinking rich. Not for the many, but for the few. They crawled out of the gaping holes in the housing market and have since started parading around Dalston on stilts (by which I mean their own legs) or bouncing about Lolly's symbiotic best friend Neana. When her monster rests Lolly grows super-strong, able to punch up a posse or strike down a dude on one go. They can communicate, although wait until you work out how Neana is summoned. Clue: it requires a quick trip into the bushes.

Lolly, I should tell you, is Vess's step-daughter and she has gone officially missing. This has pissed off Conrad Vess for reasons beyond parental pride or protection for in fact our Lolly was kicked out of home. So he has called on gang leader Confidence to root her out of hiding, but Confidence kidnapped her boyfriend Kay instead in order to lure Lolly to Conrad's Zag complex from which he operates a brutal underground tournament entertainment for international investors to gather round then bet on.

Did I mention that there might be a smidgeon of socio-politics?

"Let's get out of her, Neana.
"It's time for some exposition."

Lolly is probably right: you're feeling a little lost. We are in desperate need some sort of summary so let's hear it from Roshan who is riding high on monster Neana with Lolly whom he used to loathe.

"So let me get this straight.
"Your old gang kidnapped Kay.
"We need to get to this Zag place but you don't know where it is.
"And all the gangs in Dalston are after you?
"Oh, and I need to ask... What is a Bad Bitch and how do I become one?"

You'll need to level-up, Roshan!

This is delirious and I am in love, with everything from its design to its sequential-art narrative. There is a flight and fight scene spanning two pages which thrilled me. I've not seen anything quite like it. That double-page spread boasts multiple, split but grouped panels within what would normally be a single panel to reflect - I think - the ever-increasing, frantic and bellicose beat of the pursuers and pursued ones' hearts. Towards its climax the colours do the opposite of flat-line yet flatten to a potentially explosive vital, vivid and cardiac red.

Whooosh! when you turn over the page, however! It's like an intense compression giving birth to brand-new day and a life-saving opportunity to live yet another!

Everything here is so masterfully connected. It's only when you ascend this rollercoaster's climax that you will comprehend exactly how each element mirrors, is distorted by, or was always going to engender the other.

Oh. Now, do you remember where we came in with Lolly asking Afsa Al Ansari for directions only to receive dubious dating advice? It turns out that Afsa's daughter Aisha has some precognitive skills of her own, advising our Roshan to Google "Falada" or else be consumed during his rescue mission by monsters. You might want to Google that too.


"For your information, it wasn't Parsley...
"It was coriander."

Too, too funny - you'll see!