Corporate Conflict and Homicidal X-Monkeys: Hickman and Ringuet’s ‘Transhuman’ (a semi-critical review)

The trade paperback cover

This is the second in an ongoing series of reviews aimed at persuading people to try comics/graphic novels for the first time; hopefully it can also be of some use to those who already enjoy this tragically underrated art form.

Transhuman is a cautionary satire about two corporations pitted against each other in a race to dominate the emerging market for human modification. Written by Jonathan Hickman, and illustrated by J.M. Ringuet; it was originally released in four parts before being collected into trade paperback form in 2009 and is published by Image Comics.

I feel obliged to warn you at this point that Transhuman is an adult comic and there are a few scenes which aren’t suitable for children or anyone who might be easily offended. Now that’s out of the way we can proceed with the review:

One company, ‘Humonics’, strives to create the first ‘post-human’ through cybernetic/mechanical enhancement of the body, while the other, ‘ChimeraCorp’, seeks to do the same through the use of genetic engineering. This is a controversial area of scientific research which may have alarming or exciting consequences, depending on your point of view, and Hickman’s choice of subject matter may seem particularly prescient when you consider how quickly these fields are expected to advance in the near future. Irrespective of how these sciences are likely to progress in our lifetimes, their relative merits in Hickman’s science fiction are clearly defined within the story: The genetic engineering approach to becoming post-human is portrayed as being inherently risky but yields the most exciting, if somewhat imperfect, innovations; while the cybernetic method is far easier to apply, with fewer risks and is more obviously viable as a commercial enterprise – though its products feel gimmicky and altogether less ambitious when viewed through the lens of human evolution.

Test Monkey 12287 aka 'Rick'

The story is told retrospectively, in a quasi-documentary style which features interviews with individuals who were important to the development of these technologies; including the scientists, their test subjects and the exploitative financiers who back the competing businesses. There are no easily identifiable heroes in Transhuman, only victims and villains – and I shall leave it up to you to decide which characters (or corporations) might fall into what category.

The art is, like in Hickman’s other creator owned works, outstanding. However, unlike Pax Romana or The Nightly News, where Hickman as both artist and writer chose to abandon the convention of panels in favour of  full-page graphic designs, the layout of Transhuman is generally that of a typical comic. This approach suits the documentary style of storytelling used in this comic better than Hickman’s usual layouts would, with each panel being equivalent to a camera shot, following the narrator (who is, as ever with Hickman, identified by black speech bubbles containing white text) around Miami or focusing in on an interviewed character.

Dr Anton Rebere explains the meaning of "transhuman" to Hickman's narrator.

Throughout the book Ringuet’s panels are mottled with black flecks, as though he flicked a brush dipped in ink at the finished drawing, emphasising the murkiness of the world we are being shown. It also adds a grainy quality to the images which helps to reinforce the idea that the panels are individual stills from a documentary film, similarly the clever use of colour to achieve a realistic lighting quality within Ringuet’s spiky lines is also conducive to this effect.

The most obvious interpretation of Transhuman is to see it as a warning about the possible direction transhumanist technologies might take humanity in the context of our consumerist society. If the evolution of homo sapiens becomes commodified then its future will not be determined by what is best for us as a species but instead by what appeals the most to the whims of consumers or which can successfully navigate a convoluted legal battle. It is a frightening thought: that the evolution of humanity could be shaped by a PR campaign, and that is precisely what Transhuman invites us to contemplate. Such an interpretation of the book would therefore be justified, however it does ignore a deeper message, one that is implicit in the various interviews throughout the book and in the outcomes revealed to us in Chapter Four: that human beings cannot be trusted to control their own evolution. The primary motivation for virtually all the characters, be they scientists, financiers, corporate CEOs or volunteer test-subjects is almost always money, fame or something petty and venal, while those few who do lay claim to any kind of higher purpose are obvious hypocrites. When transhumanist products are finally brought to market the public, who as passive consumers are absent from the story until this point, completely fail to understand the potential of what is being offered to them and make selfish, cowardly choices which have potentially disastrous consequences for their species.

Can you guess which popular Marvel character this chap is based on?

Ultimately, in spite of Hickman’s remarkable insight and ambition, when compared to many writers in comics, it is useful to remember, when considering the implications of the story, that Transhuman is a humorous take on serious science. The inclusion of implausible super-powers in the story (such as Athena’s ability to fly, or Test Monkey Rick’s ocular force-blasts), parodic references to other comics like the X-Men and We3, and the savage mock-foreword provided by Anton Rebere (a character within in the comic) should serve as reminders for us to take the scientific content with a pinch of salt, though Hickman’s observations about society remain valid.

In fact, I would argue that the entire comic is one long, dark joke at humanity’s expense, with an unexpected and brilliantly delivered punchline waiting for its readers at the end.

All the more reason for you to put aside any lingering reservations and give it a try!


Note to readers:

I have tried to limit your exposure to plot spoilers in this review, though doing so unfortunately inhibits the article’s capacity for critical content. In future I may write spoiler-free reviews and separate spoiler-tastic critical pieces for your delectation.

As always, any feedback you could give would be greatly appreciated.


Why Claudius?

A low-budget, studio-based drama series from the late 1970’s, based on two novels about the life of a Roman Emperor. It would seem logical to assume that I, Claudius won’t appeal to a young, twenty-first century audience that’s already saturated with special effects, celebrities and big-budget American TV dramas.

Logical, but wrong.

Currently I, Claudius ranks among the most downloaded BBC productions on iTorrentz, a meta-search-engine for torrent files*. It seems unlikely to me that this phenomenon can be explained by pointing to the rising average age of internet users, considering that the show was first aired when my parents’ generation were still kids and I am yet to meet anyone of that approximate age in my professional or personal life who will admit to knowing what a torrent file is.

Thus unable to explain the popularity of I, Claudius using empirical evidence, I offer you an anecdote instead:

I first discovered I, Claudius whilst casually searching for BBC torrents, at a time when I should have been working on my dissertation; I’ve always had a casual interest in ancient Rome and some vague recollection of the title tickled the back of my mind so I queued up the series to download**.

Two weeks later I had finished season 5 of The Wire (but not my dissertation) and was looking through my downloads for something to watch in my spare time. I settled on I Claudius with the expectation that – in spite of my love of ancient Roman history – I’d quickly become bored and reach for the ‘delete’ key before moving on to the next item in my list, yet instead I found myself  quickly engrossed in the story. Since then I have watched the series twice through with different flatmates and they too were enraptured by it; in fact, I am yet to receive anything less than positive feedback from those of my peers (all in their early twenties) to whom I have recommended I, Claudius. From this I can only surmise that great dramas, such as this one, shouldn’t ever be limited in our expectations to any one demographic or ‘target audience’.

I also feel that I, Claudius is particularly relevant to a 21st century audience, for reasons I shall make clear below…

Cast  & characters

Watching I, Claudius feels comparable to watching a theatre production and this is in no small part due to the cast of classically trained, first rate actors that populate the show. Unable to properly describe their talent, I have instead included two YouTube clips so that you can witness it first-hand.

Here, the sharp-tongued Livia (played by Sian Phillips) belittles the shuffling and stuttering grandson Claudius (Derek Jacobi), her adopted grandson:

And here, a fleeting moment of happiness for Augustus Caesar (Brian Blessed), as he plays an ancient version of ‘Risk’ with his grandsons Gaius and Lucius:

Whilst the performances of Derek Jacobi, Sian Phillips and John Hurt (for his role as the infamous Caligula) have received countless accolades, it feels unfair to pick just three out of many talented cast-members for special treatment so, for the sake of fairness, an honourable mention must go out to Brian Blessed, Margaret Tyzack (Antonia), Patrick Stewart (Lucius Sejanus), George Baker (Tiberius Caesar), Sheila White (Messalina), James Faulkner (Herod Agrippa), Barbara Young (Agripinilla) and John Castle (Postumus Agrippa) for their superlative efforts.

Liberty, tyranny, posterity

One advantage I, Claudius has over a contemporary equivalent like Rome (another series dearly beloved to me) is that the style, reminiscent of a high-brow play, lends itself extremely well to reflecting the philosophical and political concerns which preoccupied Roman scholars, like Tacitus and Suetonius, who wrote the first histories of the imperial family and upon whose accounts much of our understanding of this period relies. While Rome, with its big-budget HBO production values, is perfectly able to provide a strictly realist rendition of the ancient capital city, with all of the grime, poverty and violence juxtaposed against the opulence enjoyed by the patrician class, I, Claudius is instead about the lives of emperors and because of this the series does not suffer from the limitations of being exclusively studio-based. Without the impressive backdrops and action sequences we are instead focused on the actors and their dialogue.

Captain Picard - disguised here as Sejanus, the right-hand man of Tiberius Caesar.

Central to the plot of I, Claudius is an ongoing conflict between libertarians, who desire political freedom, and authoritarians, who believe that only a strong emperor can restore Rome to its former (mythological) glory and protect it from the threats within and without. This is a theme which should feel familiar to a contemporary audience; is it possible to maintain a position of world power and be truly democratic? To what extent can civil liberties be maintained in a world at war? Are people prepared to sacrifice their freedom for security and stability? Citizens of the UK or the USA may find this drama of ancient history to be peculiarly relevant to their own 21st century political experiences.

Amongst my favourite scenes in the series is when Claudius, still a naive (and routinely ignored) young man, by chance encounters two of the most prominent historians of his time, Livy and Pollio, whilst in the Palace Library. In this scene the three men debate the merits of their different writing styles (Claudius being an amateur historian, in awe of the two elder scholars) and, without breaking the fourth wall, illuminate for us the conflict between accuracy and poetic license that underpins any historical drama.

After all that…why Claudius?

If you aren’t already convinced to give the series a try, then gaze upon the image of John Hurt below:

Yes, that’s right. Allow it to sink in for a moment…

If you want to know how on earth this could possibly happen (and how it almost gets three men killed), then you’ll have to watch I, Claudius – and you won’t regret it.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

*Note: I’m not encouraging you to copy me and download the series from p2p sources. I didn’t provide a link or anything…

** No, really, don’t copy me. It’s probably better for everyone that you buy the DVD.

A brief tribute to Brian Jacques

Matthias, the warrior mouse.

Brian Jacques, a beloved children’s author, passed away on 5 February 2011. In light of this sad event, I wanted to write a brief tribute to a man whose work helped me to fall in love with the written word (I realise that this post comes a little late – had I known sooner I would’ve been more prompt).

Brian was best known for his hugely successful Redwall novels, which have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and been translated into a total of 28 languages.

He was originally wrote Redwall for the children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind in Liverpool, where he worked as a milkman, and the highly descriptive prose he later became renowned for was intended to be read aloud to them.

I first discovered Jacques’s work in my school library and was immediately captured by the story. The protagonist Matthias, a courageous young mouse (who is readily identifiable for an imaginative school boy), embarks on a quest to recover the sword of Martin the Warrior in order to save his home, Redwall Abbey, from the besieging army of  rats and their cruel leader Cluny the Scourge.

The richly descriptive style in which Jacques’s Redwall novels were written acts as a wonderful prompt for the imagination and I dearly treasure my memories of being whisked away to Mossflower Country by his prose, then carried along in the adventures of Matthias, Mariel and their assortment of anthropomorphised animal friends. Yet the style is only part of why I enjoyed these books so much as a child: the values of trust, friendship, courage and kindness are utterly integral to these novels and it is for that reason I enthusiastically recommend the Redwall series to any parent who is looking for a book to read to their child.

“A mouse is small and can go unnoticed: but there is no limit to what a brave heart and a fearless spirit can achieve.”

Goodbye Brian. You shall live on through your work.

Z-Day of reckoning

I hadn’t intended to blog about the Zeitgeist Movement again but seeing their worldwide map of Z-Day events this morning impressed me enough to make me want to write about what’s going on.

what the hell is Z-Day?

Z-Day is an annual event held in mid-March which serves a dual function as a kind of international assembly for Zeitgeist Movement members and a major recruitment drive.

Essentially this means that members all over the world are encouraged to organise their own local events which are then linked to the website. These local events usually take the form of film screenings with the addition of other features on an ad-hoc basis. In previous years a ‘main event’ has been held in New York, organised and attended by the group’s founder Peter Joseph.

The main event for this year’s Z-Day is going to be held in London, with a live webcast for those who are unable to attend (or unwilling to travel).

I mentioned in a previous post that the Zeitgeist Movement were quietly amassing a significant global following and that they are actively seeking to raise their public profile, so I suppose that the Z-Day map is a testament to their achievements thus far in this regard. Following on from their most recent documentary/manifesto film Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, which was released less than two months ago, it seems that this year the Zeitgeist Movement are aiming to make their most concerted push for attention yet.

the flip side?

Detractors have claimed that members of the Zeitgeist Movement display such cult-ish behaviours as  circular beliefs (a belief system that references and reinforces itself), insisting that they alone see the truth and abusing anyone who disagrees. That certainly sounds like cultish behaviour (and part of me suspects that Jacques Fresco is being held up as something of a messiah figure for the group) but such evidence is purely anecdotal.

I personally haven’t seen any ZGM members debating outside of the YouTube comments below the films and it is probably safe to say that such comments aren’t likely to be representative of the membership as a whole. If they are indeed a cult then they are an atypical cult – one that doesn’t demand money from its members or promote belief in any kind of supernatural/paranormal agents.


It is difficult to know where the Zeitgeist Movement goes from here. The documentaries are certainly popular on the web, but can such efforts to raise public consciousness ever really translate into meaningful action?

Is this really a unique movement for global change – the likes of which hasn’t been seen before – or a pleasant but irrelevant side-show for idealists?

Are they an international vanguard or wanna-be Levellers?

Time, exposure and membership numbers will tell.

Reflections on ‘Zeitgeist: Moving Forward’

Having just watched the newly released documentary film Zeitgeist: Moving Forward I feel compelled to write some kind of a response. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with the Zeitgeist documentaries, the film-maker Peter Joseph or the web-based ‘movement’ I shall also attempt to provide a (hopefully) brief introduction/overview to it all.

For the sake of clearing up any misconceptions you may have about this article:

  1. This is not an attempt to debunk or dismiss the documentary, there are plenty of people who are better qualified to dispute the veracity of Joseph’s films than I am.
  2. Neither is it an endorsement of the documentary or the associated organisation known as the ‘Zeitgeist Movement’.
  3. I am not a member of the ‘movement’, although I sometimes read their fortnightly newsletter because I’m genuinely interested in seeing what they’re up to.

So what’s it all about then?

Film-maker Peter Joseph

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward is the third in a series of documentary films by Peter Joseph. The original film Zeitgeist was released in 2007 and was immensely popular, attracting millions of online views, although Joseph has supposedly distanced himself from a great deal of its content (particularly part 2, which was essentially a repackaged collection of 9/11 conspiracy theories) since then. It is easy to dismiss Zeitgeist as just another conspiracy theorist’s fevered dream, especially when you consider that the film adopts the standard tone and techniques of a 21st century conspiracy-movie and apparently fails to entertain the possibility that it may, in any way, be wrong (which is usually a bad sign) or that its evidence might be flawed.

A little over a year later Joseph finished work on Zeitgeist: Addendum then founded the ‘Zeitgeist Movement‘, a web-based organisation which uses the movie content as its ideological basis. It is at this point that things really get interesting because the focus of Z:A has shifted away from the kind of specific conspiracies perceived by the film-maker seen in to a far broader structural/social analysis. Again the film is divided into three sections with parts one and two exploring the monetary system and the USA’s foreign policy, while part three introduces Jacques Fresco, founder of the ‘Venus Project’.  The Venus Project is an organisation that attempts to visualise an alternative economic reality as an example for the ordinary public, as well as advocating a social philosophy generally based on the principles of the scientific method – we’ll discuss this group later on. I found the critique of fractional reserve banking provided in part one to the be most interesting and personally significant section of the film as it investigates the structure of our contemporary economic system and explains how this directly affects you and I. To Joseph’s credit, the source material for the second film seems to be much better researched and unlike its predecessor Z:A includes face-to-face interviews, which makes for a superior documentary.

the opening eye is a recurring motif in 'Moving Forward' and 'Addendum'

Which roughly brings us up to date, so: its February 2011, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward been screened in 346 cinemas around the world at the time of writing (though most viewers will watch it on YouTube, where it is now freely available), and I’ve already expended far too many words and wasted too much of your time on a prelude.


The film begins by posing the question “what is the nature of human nature?” to a selection of leading academics which including neurologists, sociologists and a criminal psychologist who specializes in studying the most violent offenders. The film seeks to correct a popular misconception about genetics, namely that human behaviour is somehow encoded or ‘hard-wired’ and thus implicitly unalterable. What unites all of the interviewees in this section is that their studies show a person’s environment is more important to their behavioural and physiological development than genetic predispositions. The film also shows that the only ‘pre-programmed’ part of our nature is a set of fundamental ‘human needs’ (water, nutrition, love, touch, etc) and it is to the extent that our environment provides or denies us these ‘needs’ that decides how we as human beings develop. Based on these observations the film then goes further, arguing that the social environment created by post-industrial capitalism is not conducive to satisfying these human needs.

I was impressed by the interviewees featured in Z:MF, who all appear to be leading experts in their fields, and I’d argue that this is a significant improvement over the previous films. The most crucial difference between Joseph’s Zeitgeist movement and other ideologies is that it is grounded in up-to-date scientific knowledge (instead of having its origins in superstition* like the prevalent political ideologies of today) and interviews such as these help to emphasise this difference.

*(I could spend a long time demonstrating how modern Conservatism, Liberalism, Fascism and Socialism all have their philosophical roots in some thoroughly discredited Christian metaphysics, but that would require an entire essay I don’t have time to write. You’ll have to take my word for it. Or not.)

The films also argue that all improvements to our standard of living, going all the way back to the foundations of human civilisation, are the result of technological improvements (think: the plough, mass production, steam power, the internet, etc) and have nothing to do with politics, religion or economics. This could be a particularly contentious issue for some, as it is commonly accepted in contemporary public discourse that free market economics and democratic politics have improved our lives and such assertions routinely go unchallenged. . Personally I find it hard to believe that today’s spin-doctored professional politicians and multi-billionaire investment bankers have any concern for my interests or well-being. See the film and decide for yourself.

No money, no politics

The Zeitgeist films are nothing if not ambitious. The ultimate goal of the movement is clearly stated as being the total redesign/reconstruction of human society, and they see their current activities as being the first steps towards achieving this aim. At the moment the ZGM seems primarily to be concerned with raising awareness of their cause, either through various forms of media or by directly encouraging people to watch the films.

This new form of society is based on two key priciples: firstly, that the essential ‘human needs’ established earlier on (such as nutrition, familial love, social integration, etc) must be universally satisfied; and second, that we live on a planet of finite resources which must be conserved in order for humankind to endure. This means that the economy is entirely based on the availability of resources and the satisfaction of human needs. It sounds simplistic but the implications are far-reaching: it means a total abandonment of wasteful consumerism (no more Coca-Cola, no more fashion, no more iPads and no more cars), shared/communal property, global free energy which must be drawn entirely from renewable and sustainable sources, and no more money. Sounds implausible right?

Perhaps, not so long ago, it would have been. In both Zeitgeist: Addedum and Zeitgeist: Moving Forward the argument is put forward that what has changed is the technology and scientific expertise which has become available to humankind and, as I mentioned earlier, it is the scientific method that is to act as the final arbiter of what works and what doesn’t in the Zeitgeist society.

All of the above is hardly sufficient for describing the ZGM’s alternative society but hopefully serves to give you a rough idea about what they are proposing.

Jacques Fresco's 'circular city' concept

A rational future or a hopeless utopian dream?

I have come to believe that the Zeitgeist films are genuinely important. If nothing else they are useful cultural artefacts which signify a major change in how many people now see the world, their place in it and their relationship to each other and, whilst I remain highly sceptical about the predictions made in the latter stages of Z:MF (as I am towards any kind of ‘futurist’ predictions about the development of technology), the socio-economic critique which forms most of the documentary is compelling and feels particularly valid during this period of economic and environmental crises.

Many people will dismiss the Zeitgeist documentaries and movement as being ‘conspiracy theorists and their usual insane garbage’ but I would rather engage with their views than pretend they are irrelevant or don’t exist. Zeitgeist: Addendum and Moving Forward are effectively a manifesto for a global anti-capitalist organisation that is quietly amassing quite a large following and I suspect that we are going to see a corresponding growth in their public profile sooner or later. The global recession triggered by the ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis has proved to be something of a catalyst for progressive political thought and it seems inevitable (to me) that disenfranchised young people will look to alternative ideologies or belief-systems for answers at a time when all previous economic doctrines (Neoliberalism, Communism, John Maynard Keynes, Hayek, the Chicago School of Economics & the rest) have failed to deliver us from the notorious boom-bust cycle, let alone enable us to create a better world.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is watch Z:MF and decide for yourself. I hope that these reflections haven’t prejudiced you for or against the film and instead merely served to pique your interest, though if you’ve already seen the film and have anything that you’d like to add, please feel free to leave a comment. One thing’s for certain: these are interesting times in which we are living.

Cutesy, cuddly killers (why you should read We3)

It seems to me that in recent years the artistic medium of comics has received a far greater degree of critical appreciation than was ever previously permitted. In spite of this there are a great many people who are yet to indulge themselves in the world of comics and graphic novels (the reasons for this are Sam Raimi’s weak Spiderman movies more varied and subtle than I have time to discuss here, but well worth investigating – perhaps in a later post) so the aim of this review is, in part, to persuade those who haven’t already to give comics a try.

Quitely's cover art for the We3 paperback

While I appreciate that not everyone can be converted, in the case of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s We3 I urge any ‘sequential-art’ virgins who might be reading this to cast your doubts aside, whip out the wallets and invest the paltry sum required to purchase yourselves a paperback copy. This book is (almost) definitely for you, and here’s why:

I hate spoilers, you hate spoilers

We all hate spoilers, but its impossible to review a book without discussing its content so here is the briefest of brief overviews to whet your appetite:

As part of a top-secret American military experiment, three household pets have been kidnapped from a nearby city and transformed through a combination of advanced cybernetics and training into a team of highly effective killing machines known as ‘We3’. When the trio learn that they are to be “decommissioned” they escape captivity, only to be chased by the full might of the US military. The real beauty of the book is that it manages to pose important moral questions about humanity’s relationship to animals, and how we make use of them, to the reader without ever losing the plot’s immediacy as events unfold.

The three animals are able to talk thanks to an array of implants reaching into the back of their heads but their conversation skills are limited (being a cat, dog and rabbit – not Shakespearian dramatists). Their interaction with each other as part of the collective ‘We3’ as well as the humans they encounter is cleverly written to reflect the nature of each species, and the effect on the reader can be rather touching. The rabbit ‘3’ is a simple soul who is utterly dependent on his larger, smarter companions for leadership; the cat ‘2’ is as playfully and innocently capable of cruelty as my own pet cat was; while the dog ‘1’ who leads the group is torn between his instinct for survival and the desire to simply be “home”.

The pretty pictures

Upon opening We3 I was immediately struck by the artwork that lay before me. Thanks to advances in colouring techniques and print quality contemporary comics are often beautifully illustrated when compared to works appearing just ten years ago, so for any comic to stand out from the crowd as much as this one does is quite an achievement.

Frank Quitely has describe the style he tried to achieve in We3 as “western manga” and influence of Japanese comics on his drawings is most evident in the cybernetic armour grafted on to pets ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘3’. Quitely’s clever experiments with panels are very effective at conveying a rapidity of motion in some highly visceral action sequences. Two double-page spreads particularly stand out in this regard; one overlays the main sequence of panels with lots of small box-type panels, each containing a ‘zoomed in’ detail of what’s happening, while the second features a character flowing from one panel into the next, where each panel is actually a cross-section of a single divided landscape. These descriptions can’t do justice to the feel of We3‘s artwork, it simply has to be seen.

It sounds like a clichéd and hollow platitude to say that the cast of We3 have been drawn lovingly, but really that’s how it feels when read. The sheer horror of what has been done to the book’s mammalian protagonists is plain to see, yet they retain enough cuteness (for want of a better word) to remain identifiable with ordinary household pets.


There are very few comics which can encapsulate so much of what is best about the artistic medium as a whole as We3 does. It wraps up concise storytelling, questions of morality, solid characterisation, interesting concepts and stunning artwork into an easily readable package.  Whether you’re a seasoned consumer of comics or a curious newbie looking for somewhere to start, you’re in for a real treat.


The cheapest copies I’ve seen on the ‘net are available here (USA) and here (UK). The publisher is DC-owned Vertigo.

Southampton 2 – 0 Blackpool (FA Cup): A somewhat tactical match report

Southampton played host to Blackpool at St Mary’s stadium in a game that had threatened to be a total non-event, with both sides making significant changes to their team (Saints made 8 changes, while Blackpool made 9). In the days preceding the encounter Blackpool’s forthright manager Ian Holloway announced to journalists that he would be resting the cream of his squad as the Premier League was his sole priority, while Southampton’s boss Nigel Adkins expressed similar sentiments regarding their chase for promotion from League One.

Fortunately for the 21,000 fans who attended the playing styles employed by Holloway and Adkins, who both encourage their sides to play possession-football based on short passing, lead to an attractive and open game. For Southampton fans at least, the match would turn out to be anything but a non-event.


Blackpool lined up in their trademark 4-3-3, the only changes from their usual approach being in personnel. In Holloway’s version of this shape the midfield ‘3’ stay relatively narrow with the intention of controlling possession in central areas while they look to play incisive through-balls to the 3 forwards. When they lose the ball Blackpool like to win it back as quickly as possible and to achieve this the 3 forward players work hard to pressurise the opposition’s defence into making mistakes.

Adkins abandoned the Saints’ usual 4-4-2 in favour of a 4-4-2 diamond (or 4-3-1-2, if you prefer) with Adam Lallana playing in the hole between the forwards and midfield and Schneiderlin protecting the back 4. It is likely that Adkins chose this shape as a countermeasure against Blackpool’s ability to retain the ball in midfield, creating a congested 3v3+Lallana midfield battle instead of the 3v2 battle that would have occurred had he chosen a flat 4-4-2 shape.

First Half

From the kick-off Southampton pressed Blackpool very aggressively high up the pitch and succeeded in disrupting their passing rhythm.  The midfield battle for possession of the ball was often frantic but never felt particularly scrappy as both teams utilised players who are relatively comfortable on the ball. Both sides worked hard to craft chances but it was 21-year-old Lallana who created the most problems

The half ended goalless mainly due to the superb efforts of Blackpool keeper Paul Rachubka, who was equal to nearly every task he faced during the first half despite Saints creating the lion’s share of the chances, and the sterling efforts of the Southampton back 4, who succeeded in neutralising the Seasiders’ 3 forwards and coped well with the pressure they came under whilst passing the ball out from the back.

Second Half

Both sides approached the second half in much the same way as they did the first. Holloway kept faith with his tactics and probably instructed his team to work harder with their movement so that the player with the ball has more options in order to beat Southampton’s aggressive pressing.

At this point the game was balanced on a knife’s-edge. Two minutes into the second half Backpool almost made it 0-1 when full-back Neil Eardley floated in a dangerous cross for Jason Euell, who wasted his free-header. This turned out to be the pivotal moment in the match as Saints took the lead just over a minute later when Lallana played in Lambert, whose effort was blocked by Rachubka, only for Lee Barnard to hammer the ball past two defenders and the goal-line.

Substitutions by both managers changed little in terms of tactics or style and the game continued to be characterised by its tightly-contested midfield battle with Saints making better use of their creativity until Guly settled the match with a wonderful 20-yard shot.

Final Thoughts

Read on their own the statistics make grim reading for Blackpool supporters, yet the match was much closer than the shots-on-target count would suggest. There were several occasions where the slick passing of the Seasiders almost caught out the Southampton backline while the game was still 1 – 0 and the hard working Brett Ormerod would have been rewarded for his efforts on the wing with an equaliser had it not been for young centre-back Aaron Martin’s clearance off the line.

Southampton fans should be pleased with the victory and the performance to go with it. It is clear that Adkins has worked hard on improving his team’s ability to control space when not in possession and the fitness levels of his squad must be very high for the whole team to maintain high-tempo pressing for 90 minutes against a side 33 places higher in the leagues.

It is likely to be Nigel Adkins himself who is most pleased with the result (and himself). It was his decision to change from Southampton’s usual 4-4-2 formation to a midfield diamond that enabled his side to simultaneously disrupt Blackpool’s rhythmic passing and provide a variety of threats going forward. Southampton finished the game with a slim majority in possession, were threatening whenever they had the ball and succeeded in controlling the space available to the opposition when they didn’t. Adkins’ substitutions were both positive and astute; Guly Do Prado swapped on for Lallana and sealed the victory while Alex Chamberlain almost added a third in extra time.

Blackpool fans shouldn’t be kicking themselves too hard after this encounter. Their priority (rightly) is the league and the weakened side they fielded on Saturday is unlikely to feature often in the premiership. Holloway should be lauded for sticking to his pro-active, attacking principles on an occasion where other managers might have compromised and (had Euell’s scored with his header) could well have been rewarded with a win.

This was by far the most attractive, open and flowing game of football I’ve attended in a long time, so kudos to both teams.

Some Stats (via BBC Sport)

Southampton 51% -49% Blackpool

Shots on target:
Southampton 14-3 Blackpool

Shots off target:
Southampton 9-5 Blackpool

Southampton 11-7 Blackpool

Southampton 11-4 Blackpool