Review: Maralinga

By Ben Kooyman

Maralinga spins an alternative history from the 1956 British nuclear tests in Woomera. Three hundred years later a ruined, irradiated, post-apocalyptic Australia is a place where monsters are real and one girl, the last of an isolated and dying community in Melbourne’s south, launches on a desperate journey to find sanctuary and a mythical inland sea.


Maralinga is a web-comic in ten instalments by author Jen Breach and artist Douglas Holgate. Though the blurb above—accessed via the comic’s promotional site—provides valuable context, the paperback containing the first two chapters of Maralinga plunges the reader into the thick of the scenario in media res. In the opening chapter, a young girl roams the desolate streets of Melbourne in the year 2256. Strangers roll into town and are eyed with suspicion from a distance, but they’re soon decimated by a delightful looking beast that shouldn’t, under normal circumstances, be luxuriating in the Yarra. The next chapter flashes back—weeks, months, longer?—to the girl embarking on her mission, parting from her family and journeying by boat and on foot. Again, there are creatures in her midst, a mere smattering of other humans, and questions that need answering…

It’s been a week for post-apocalyptic Australian fiction; on my other online home Down Under Flix—apologies, Anthony and readers, for the shameless plug—I reviewed the 1992 dystopian action thriller Resistance, directed by Immortan Joe and Toecutter himself, Hugh Keays-Byrne. In that piece I noted the propensity for dusty, weathered post-apocalyptic visions in Australian film—from Mad Max to The Rover and beyond—and we’ve certainly covered a few of those in comics form: see, for example, our review of Broken Line 1. There’s something about Australia—its convict heritage, abundance of strange and deadly critters, severe climate, unforgiving landscape, remoteness and geographical location—that lends itself to such dystopian visions. Arguably that impulse is threaded right throughout the entire Australian literary canon, at least post-colonisation. There’s a premonition of dread gnawing away, not just in overtly post-apocalyptic fiction like Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, but in works like The Drover’s Wife, Henry Lawson’s magnificent and gripping short story where a woman in an isolated location must protect her home and children against a snake, and Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, where schoolgirls are seemingly swallowed whole by the earth. And what was colonisation itself if not a massive alien invasion ala The War of the Worlds, except this time with the aliens bringing the killer germs?

Maralinga displays kinship with this canon of Australian dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, as well as other exemplars of the genre from other nations: whilst reading, I was especially reminded of Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, in which two individuals travel through a devastated region populated by large, lurking critters, and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, in which a quartet travel through a devastated region populated by fast, lurking critters, but it turns out other people are just as dangerous as the critters. Maralinga’s grey future is rendered effectively by artist Holgate, who adopts a flat palette of shades but combines and contrasts colours in ways that make the images pop. The book is largely visual storytelling, aided greatly by Breach’s slow-reveal plotting and careful scaffolding of survival narrative beats: there’s attention to minutiae and minor moments of world-sketching as well as more typical “comic book” moments. And those comic book moments when they land are pretty great: beasts filling frames, swimming across splash pages, ravaged vistas and so on.

Breach and Holgate’s Maralinga is a great read, and I can almost certainly guarantee it’s better than Judy Nunn’s Maralinga


This first paperback instalment of Maralinga is published by The House of Skullduggery and available from www.skullduggery.com.au and www.jenbreach.com 


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  1. […] Louie Joyce’s Footsteps (our review) or Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate’s Maralinga (our review). This week’s double review looks at two texts which rely predominantly on their visuals (or […]

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