Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"...This is a little stranger than most."
Chris Gooch has been bemusing and befuddling me from his antipodean lair for several years now since I was first unnerved by his sinister debut graphic novel BOTTLED, a creeping identity horror tale. He then followed that up with a highly eclectic and inventive selection of six shorter stories in DEEP BREATHS, before taking us into even more surreal surrounds with his deliberately disorientating and disconnected from reality UNDER EARTH, where prisoners attempt to atone and improve their lot whilst trapped in a Kafka-esque subterranean nightmare.
IN UTERO has many of the hallmarks of a typical Goochian galivant into the unknown starting with a suitably unusual setting: the top floor of a derelict shopping centre being used as a badly understaffed urban summer camp, well let's be frank, cheap dumping ground for harassed parents to offload their kids for the day. Matters, of course, then proceed to go directly into full danger mode as our main protagonist twelve year old Hailey is befriended and lured down to the car park by older oddball teen Jen on the promise of adventure.
But let's back up out of the car park for a moment, for I've neglected to mention a significant part of the set up, as twelve years previously, a mysterious explosion destroyed a substantial chunk of the city, the huge extent of the devastation never being entirely explained to anyone's satisfaction based on the sketchy evidence to hand. There's a scientist who has... a theory... but we'll meet him later. When it's far too late...
Once the discovery of what appears to be sentient waste growing inside the shopping centre freaks out the understaffed, unqualified proto-adults left in charge of the cavorting kids, the authorities are urgently called in to quarantine the area and attempt to prevent a wide scale outbreak. All whilst trying to keep it under wraps of course... Hailey, meanwhile, back down in the car park, is about to discover the root cause of the problem, and why Jen needs her help to handle this... monstrous... situation. It's going to take putting some significant trust in this burgeoning new friendship to save the day.
This is probably Chris' most focused and accessible longer form work yet in terms of the storytelling. But I think after displaying his extraordinary range over his previous works, producing something with a broader appeal in terms of the narrative just shows his versatility and savvy as a writer. It's essentially a monster mash disaster B-movie crammed with heart and plenty of peril to go around. Nods to the likes of Godzilla, Tremors, Quatermass, Aliens all abound. It's nowhere near as bizarre a read as UNDER EARTH, but it's clearly not intended to be. It certainly is crackpot fun, though, with even a few hilarious moments thrown in for comedic relief.
Artistically, Chris is someone who certainly has his own signature style, I'd recognise his work on sight every time. Dark, often heavy use of black, contrasted with one or two other lighter colours in abundance. He is a master of the minimal line at times, using blocks of colour to expert effect, but occasionally burnishing the panels with some brilliant background details, such as the graffiti in the foyer of the shopping centre. He clearly found out exactly what worked for him early on his career in conveying his ideas visually to his audience and has stuck with it. I hope this work will continue to increase his audience and encourage newcomers to take a dive into his previous stories.