Let me start this review thing with a short digression, which will become relevant I promise. Well, a bit relevant. Slightly relevant anyway. Between 1998 and 2004 I lived in what could be charitably described as a "right shithole". But I lived happily in that shithole because it was the only way I could afford the rent to live in the area of Manchester I wanted to, which was Rusholme. I may not have had hot running water for six years but I lived between two parks at the top end of the curry mile, and I was made up. And the reason I felt good about that was because I could see what life was like in the area next-door to Rusholme. Oh, I know some of you are nodding now and saying "ah yes, I have heard of Moss Side, it sounds bad." Fuck no. Moss Side is postively gentrified now compared to where I actually mean, that forsaken place being Longsight. And I am happy to name it, because no one in Longsight will be reading this. No one in Longsight can afford a computer. The best way to sum up Longsight was one day when me and a friend were driving back to my place. He took a short-cut through Longsight even though I advised against it. At one set of traffic lights he suddenly said to me, very quietly - "roll your window up, lock your door and brace yourself, because when the lights change I am flooring this motherfucker." A gang of youths bearing down on you with hoods up and armed with baseball bats will scare even an ex-army bloke into running away.
|One panel sets the scene well.|
|Shane returns to the estate|
The estate he returns to is suffering in the middle of a long, hot summer from a refuse collectors strike. He has dinner with his Mum who wonders where his brother has got to. She asks Shane if the place he was in did him any good. He says it feels weird being out like he doesn't belong here now. His Mum says this is where he's staying and sends him out for some celebratory booze.
|Shane's mate Callum|
Back home, later that night Shane sits in his room and contemplates things:
Narration: "His room was the same. It was him who had changed. That's what being inside did to you. It shrank your horizons but opened you eyes to a different world."
|Shane's sleep is troubled...|
The next day he goes out, a young girl is selling stuff buy the roadside. He buys some war comics off her. He goes to Ted's house, smelling a horrible smell as he gets closer - "stale piss and something as sickly sweet as pear drops." He finds Ted in the garden round the back and they chat for a bit then Shane leaves. We get out first inkling of the horror to come when Mary says through the window:
Mary: "W-Will you hurry up Ted? Only it's foraging again... It's f-foraging for food."
|Shane and Ted chat.|
Callum's Dad: "S'look at the bloody lodya. All Cradlegrave's scallies unner one roof. One bomb an' we could wipe out crime in one go."
Callum tells his sister Donna to deal with him. Then he grabs some car keys he found and he and Shane steal a car to go get more booze. On the way though they hit the young girl who had been selling stuff by the road. In a panic, Shane and Callum go to Ted's house saying a rival gang is after them. Ted goes to tend to Mary while Shane and Callum discuss how they wiped their prints off the car and disposed of it. Shane gets a call that Lucky is giving birth so he leaves Callum at Ted's for now.
|The accident that injures Kiera|
Mary: "Shut the door behind you. There's a good lad. It's time for your feed."
The next day, Craig heavily implies that he knows Shane as party to the theft of Tozzer's car and the accident with the girl. Then the police come round to interview Shane. Callum wakes vomiting, still at Ted's house. He doesn't remember what happened that night but feels like crap:
Ted: "Mary, my Mary. She's taken a liking to you son. She'll have you eating out of her hand if you're not careful."
He returns home and his Dad says the police have been looking for him in connection with the hit and run. They pull up at the house before Callum can go get his head down. No one on the estate will tell the police anything - "Cradlegrave code" - but Callum says they need an alibi and brings Shane and Craig to Ted and Mary's house.
Shane is in hospital for three days and Skully gets out and finds out who ran down his daughter using torture invloving superglue on Tozzer. Meanwhile Callum is suffering from withdrawals from something... he helps Ted home with his groceries and goes inside. Then six more hooded figures appear outside Ted's house. The next day sees Cal in his boxers, covered in sores, coming down from some unspeakable high.
Shane returns home, but his dog Lucky snarls and snaps at him and the pups are gone. Thinking Craig might have something to do with their disappearance, he goes round to Ted and Mary's place to look for him. He finds Ted's dead body, a bag over his head and pills in his hands. He goes into Mary's room and is greeted by the grotesque sight of several youths suckling from her. They are drinking her "black milk".
|There's something about Mary..... *retch*|
Finally Shane gives in and drinks as well. The next day at breakfast his Mum tried gently, then bluntly to tell him his dog Lucky probably ate her pups after having so many litters. Shane is suffering withdrawals so goes round to Tozzer's to get some weed and finds Skully there, the drug supplier for the estate and man whose daughter they ran down. He and Cal try to say they had nothing to do with it, but Skully threatens to torture them. He say's it was fortunate it was only Keira they hit, as he isn't sure she's his and she's weird. But he still wants them to deal for him to make things up to him.
|Poor Ted, fed to his own wife.|
In the evening Callum and Shane go out with the heroin Skully wants them to deal. The estate is going crazy. Cars on fire, fights, wheelie bins being thrown around. Shane says he wishes he'd never come back to the estate and that he's not being Skully's bitch either.
Back with Mary, she rips apart at the "stomach" and starts giving birth to something. Craig and two friends arrive to see her and find lots of little tumour like baby things on the floor round her. Meanwhile Callum and Shane are buying kebabs, there is a mob outside the takeaway. Donna arrives and tells them the electicity has gone off in their street.
|Chaos on the streets and an angry Skully bagging drugs|
Shane decides it's time to end all the bullshit. We are shown more chaos on the estate, a murder, a possible gang rape, a cat being put in a microwave, a skewer of kebab meat bleeding and a gang of hooded youths taking away the tumour babies from Mary's house under their jackets. Shane walks through the chaos of the estate armed with a molotov cocktail. He lights it and hurls it into Mary's house.
|Shane deals with Mary the only way he can.|
Mary bursts out of the flaming house and when the estate denizens see her, they immediately attack and kill her, as she dies she remembers her childhood in Belfast. Then for Mary it's all over. But at Skully's place he opens the door to a gang of youths holding the toothy, tumour babies. They set them upon him saying there's "a new gang in town" and Skully is eaten in front of Keira.
|Skully is about to get horribly killed...|
Narration: "She feels a swell of pride as he leaves. Her boy heading out into the big, wide world. It's all she ever wanted for him. Shane didn't have the words, in the end. He'd never been good with either. But that was alright. He was out. He was going to stay that way."
Cradlegrave is an immensely powerful piece of work. It doesn't demonise the underclass, it has a quiet, controlled fury about the people society has failed running through it though it doesn't overwhelm the narrative and become overly polemical. The horror aspects are handled extremely well, it's perverse and sickening and as a metaphor for heavy addiction works extremely well. I'm a horror fiend, I love films, books and comics about horror and this made even a hardened horror nut like myself feel queasy, so good job! The lives of the people on the estate are shown with compassion and in a non-exploitative fashion with Edmund Bagwell's art giving it the verisimillitude I spoke of in the introduction.
|Shane departs for a better life. Hopefully.|