Swan Songs by W Maxwell Prince

and seven different artists, one for each story except for the last, which has two.

And, shoot, I didn’t even realize that W Maxwell Prince had written every story in this comics anthology till I started writing this review, which should attest to the quality of his work and his capacity for diversity! I thought his Art Brut Vol 1 was the most brilliant graphic novel of last year (I even nominated it for the Hugos even tho I knew I was fighting my usual losing battle there,) and am so thrilled to be able to dive further into his oeuvre as he sets his gaze on the theme of endings in this excellent mind-bender of a collection.

And here’s the thing: while the first and third stories (and arguably the sixth) are explicitly speculative fiction about the end of the world, the rest sit easily in our real world, where the battles portrayed exist almost solely in the mind. One of the strongest of the stories (and definitely the most upbeat,) The End Of… Anhedonia, follows a young man afflicted with the title malaise as he undergoes trance therapy to find a solution. Climbing into his mind and his memories feels less “genre” than literary, an exercise that more celebrated names in the world of “serious” prose only wish they could carry off with anything approaching Mr Prince’s aplomb. Tho who knows if they would ever be able to work as intimately with an artist as Mr Prince does with Alex Eckman-Lawn, to such glorious effect. This chapter is a scary but ultimately tender look at the freedom that comes with the end of a serious mental affliction, however ominous it may turn out to be.

Another excellent post-modern story is the fourth one here, The End Of… A Sentence, which starts out as a playful take on an ex-con with a love of Mad Libs-type word games. Bobby Halburn is about to get out of prison, but isn’t sure what he’s going to do next. Unluckily for him, his brother Kurt already has ideas. Caitlin Yarsky’s nimble artwork keeps pace with Bobby’s emotional turmoil, as he clings to his word games to help him make sense of the life collapsing around him.

Caspar Wijngaard stretches his artistic muscles to illustrate the book’s second story, The End Of… A Marriage. John and Eileen fell in love, got married and fell out of love. The terms of their divorce, however, are unusual, and possibly less actual than metaphorical. This exploration of how even the most passionate of romances can turn into neverending conflict succeeds mostly because of Mr Wijngaard’s visual versatility.

The End Of… The World (with Martin Simmonds) and The End Of… The End Of The World (with Filipe Andrade) both explicitly deal in sci-fi themes, as they consider the apocalypse and its aftermath. While the art was exceedingly strong in both, I felt that the storytelling was much better in the first — though perhaps the other story merely suffers in comparison with that strong opening chapter. In The End Of…The World, young Brian and his Ma are watching the nuclear clock count down, even as her failing kidneys confine her to a hospital bed. Wanting to cheer her up, Brian braves the savagery and chaos outside in order to snag the last copy of the magazine they’ve both been enjoying. Meanwhile, The End Of… The End Of The World details what happens once it’s safe enough after the apocalypse to venture outside, and the misunderstandings that will perhaps naturally occur.

The book’s final chapter, The End Of… The Sidewalk, is its most macabre, blending horror with sci-fi in a very adult riff on the Shel Silverstein classic. The poetry doesn’t always work, tho the theming throughout is spectacular. Art-wise, I am obsessed with Martin Morazzo, who combines once more with Chris O’Halloran for the sixth story’s dazzling stylistic hijinks.

Smart, adult, and too often a heartbreaker (but in the best way!) Swan Songs may be the finest comics anthology I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent years. Mr Prince is an extraordinary talent, and I can’t wait to read more of his work.

Swan Songs by W Maxwell Prince was published March 12 2024 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including

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