Review - The Marionette Unit (@tmuworkshop)

"What little luck I had almost vanished in the fog that fills the streets."

A boss wants workers who are productive and how they go about getting that productivity varies from boss to boss. Some use a carrot, but others use a stick. The Marionette Unit from TMU Workshop goes for the latter. The issue is written by Azhur Saleem (James Boyle as a co-creator) and illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Caldwell.

Beatrice Shaw is searching for her missing sister, Melodie, last seen employed at a workhouse run by shadowy industrialist, Henri Dubré inventor of The Marionette Units. He has forged man and machine together to create an abominable dream of never-ending efficiency. As Beatrice enters this terrifying world, she must find a way to break free of the clutches around her and confront Dubré before all hope is lost of ever finding her sister again.

There's a haunting simplicity in the approach Saleem takes in his script for The Marionette Unit. Saleem doesn't really delve too deeply into the world that Beatrice inhabits per se, instead relying on many of the readers preconceived notions about Victorian England and the race for technology that accompanied the era. There are elements of steampunk pervasive throughout for sure, but Saleem infuses the book with a deeper, more philosophic meaning through the interesting use of technology as it pertains to factory workers. One of the stalwarts of the modern age as far as capitalism goes is the reliance on cheap labor and Saleem takes that concept to the next level in The Marionette Unit. The dialogue is snappy throughout the book and conveys a deeper meaning to the events, with Saleem touching on concepts such as individuals being symbolically bound by larger groups (corporations for instance) and their struggle to truly break free.

Slightly detached from reality is Johnson-Caldwell's artwork. His approach is very loose and nondescript, relying on a relaxed style that renders characters who sport relatively ambiguous figures and expressions. In fact, all of the characters in The Marionette Unit seem to float across the pages--much in the same way that a marionettist would control a marionette in a performance. There are a few panels that also reference the strings of the marionette as a subtle way to further impress upon the reader the overarching control society has on someone. Johnson-Caldwell's colors are bland in a way that continues the aforementioned theme, capitalizing on a minimalist approach that underscores the monotony of the daily routine.

The Marionette Unit is a chilling visualization of the reality that there is a broader power at play pulling the strings in life. Beatrice is faced with a seemingly insurmountable hill to climb as far as finding her sister goes, working against a depressing backdrop where her productivity is physically controlled by her boss. Saleem's message in The Marionette Unit is one of invisible control exerted over individuals despite their attempts to be individuals. Johnson-Caldwell's artwork is eerie in its almost ethereal approach that presents characters illustrated with a disconnected style that's befitting of the broader message. The Marionette Unit pits a caring sister against a cruel man and the society he's a part of to find answers.

The Marionette Unit is available here.