The Beatles were one of it not the most influential and popular rock bands of all time. The Fab Four have often had various other individuals referred to as the “Fifth Beatle,” but Vivel J. Tiwary and Andrew C. Robinson’s hardcover biography, The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story from Dark Horse Comics, suggests the real Fifth Beatle was the band’s manager, Brian Epstein.
Review and maybe some SPOILERS after the cut.
Brian Epstein is something of an enigma, even after reading this volume. He came from a well-to-do family, he was Jewish, and he was gay. He worked out of the family record shop which promised to get any record for customers, especially from any local band. One such local band was the Beatles, and one night Brian went with his young assistant Moxie (a young redheaded woman, and that’s about all the book says about her conclusively) to see the band. Brian hears the Beatles play for the first time and instantly falls in love with the band.
Despite a complete lack of experience as a band’s manager, Brian manages to convince the boys to sign him on, saying he will make them bigger than Elvis. He then sets out to do just that.
As much as Tiwary did research and claims affection for Epstein (as he does at the end of the book), I never got much of a feel for Epstein. He’s a bit of an enigma. He loves the Beatles and often seeks advice from others since he’s convinced they’re being ripped off. He never once considers taking more than he believes he deserves, and he doesn’t think he deserves much, but he does believe the Beatles deserve more than they’re getting.
The contrast comes in a great scene where Brian sits down to breakfast with Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker lets it be known he gets half of all the money, claiming not that he gets half of Elvis’ money but that Elvis gets half of Parker’s. The Parker scene is actually one of the best in the book as a whole, because while Brian is quiet, respectful, and honestly seeking advice from the other man, while also pursuing artistes (as Brian refers to them), Parker is greedy, disgusting, bigoted, and only represents one man. Robinson goes a little overboard with the artwork on Parker, giving him what looks like devil horns in a few panels, a noticeable difference given the more realistic style he employs throughout the rest of the book. I doubt that Colonel Tom Parker has many defenders out there, but the scene was incredibly unflattering to Parker, and mostly underscored what a good guy Epstein was.
That whole good guy side makes more sense as we see less and less of the Beatles themselves. Epstein died young, and the band broke up within two years of his death. What few glimpses we get of the Beatles towards the end, ignoring what looks like a dream sequence appearance by a younger Paul McCartney at Epstein’s death bed, shows the band being petty and arguing with each other, or at least between McCartney and John Lennon. George Harrison and Ringo Starr don’t have a lot to do here.
As much as Tiwary can only show Epstein’s professional drive, he does do a good job of suggesting Epstein’s loneliness. Epstein grew up in an England where being gay was still a crime, so he has to hide his true nature, or pop pills to suppress his sexual orientation. He does have a relationship with a young American man, but the fellow is clearly using Epstein for his money. The Beatles may be off partying all over the dang place, but Epstein is often shown at home, alone or maybe with Moxie, who may not even be a real person. The book never clarifies if Moxie is real or not, but does strongly suggest she isn’t. In terms of sledgehammer symbolism, he’s Epstein’s Moxie. That’s all you need to know about her.
What did Epstein see in the Beatles? What was his end goal since he always thought he could make them bigger than they already were? Why did he care more for their success than his own, or even his own happiness? Why did Ed Sullivan negotiate with Epstein through a ventriloquist dummy? These questions aren’t really answered, but the book was a good look at a man often lost in the history of pop entertainment. I’m giving this volume seven Kyle Baker depictions of the Philippines out of ten. The book had a slow start, but ended very strongly, even if Epstein is still something of a mystery to the reader when the volume is finished.
NEXT BOOK: Next up is a volume from Dynamite Comics’ Battlestar Galactica line, based off the original series. Not something I would have ever picked up for myself, but I think I may enjoy this one…