Comic Publishers

November 28, 2013

Dark Horse Reviews: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story
Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Vivek J. Tiwary
Artist: Andrew C. Robinson, Kyle Baker

For every great success, there’s a story behind it. It’s only fitting then that one of the greatest successes of the modern world comes with an equally great story at its back.

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story follows the epic rise of music’s most famous talents (those four guys from England), as orchestrated by their long time manager and friend, Brian Epstein. From a tiny venue in Liverpool to the spotlights of the Ed Sullivan show, Epstein’s guidance was instrumental in launching the band into the pop-stratosphere. His ingenious marketing ideas and careful planning put The Beatles on the map, as to him anything less than worldwide domination would be a disappointment. If you’re expecting a historiography of The Beatles, you’ll be disappointed; Beatle is purely Epstein’s story, the Fab Four serving as amusing secondary characters.

From the get go, Tiwary’s Epstein is a dreamer. Though he’s found moderate success working for his family record store, Epstein lives his life knowing that something is missing. That something presents itself one night in The Cavern, as Epstein experiences a profound revelation upon hearing the grooving tones of the most popular band in Liverpool. He sees something in the quartet, something bigger than their small town charm, and immediately seeks to turn that vision into reality. Despite no music managing experience whatsoever, Epstein convinces the young band to take him on as their manager with promises of larger playing venues and aspirations of being “bigger than Elvis!” Such claims sounded ludicrous in the early 1960s, but powered by a dogged tenacity and even stronger convictions, Epstein not only makes The Beatles bigger than Elvis; he makes them bigger than everybody.

That said, such success was not easily attained. As a closeted homosexual in England during a time where such proclivities were illegal and punishable by incarceration, Epstein lives a sadly solitary life, unable to truly be himself in a world that isn’t ready. To combat his “intimate inclinations,” Epstein turns to pharmaceuticals as a means to dull his “urges,” ¬†eventually developing an addiction that has him popping pills by the fistful. His one attempt at a fling turns sour, as the partner in question eventually turns on him in a most malicious way. Despite living a seemingly charmed and blessed life, Epstein constantly feels an outsider to the world at large. This disconnect is showcased via an ongoing theme involving a matador; Epstein relates with the famous bullfighters, as even in a crowd of thousands, the matador can only count on himself. The matador and bull pop up throughout the narrative, a fitting metaphor for a man never alone but always lonely.

The opening forward explains Tiwary’s fascination with Epstein, his reverence for the man dotting each and every page. While some of the book comes off as sensationalized and over exaggerated (it is a comic, after all), there’s always one foot fully stuck in reality so as not to pull the reader out. Tiwary’s Epstein’s quest for success is nearly insatiable, though never once is it due to his own desires. He truly believes in the band and their music, willing to move Heaven and Earth to get them the acclaim he knows they deserve. Epstein comes off as remarkably unselfish, his own wants purely secondary to that of his “boys.” His relationship with the band is quite touching at times, as we see him turn four fresh faced young men into the face of modern music. At times Tiwary’s script bounces around a bit too much, yet all in all the story is a riveting look at one of the most under-appreciated men in entertainment.

Of course, none of Tiwary’s great script would have nearly the impact without artist Andrew C. Robinson. Joined by Kyle Baker, Robinson’s painterly visuals sing across the page, his depiction of the era fresh and engaging. His slightly cartoony style teeters to the edge of caricature without ever going over, his characters full of life and emotion that is often unspoken but never absent. This is Epstein’s book, and Robinson really does a wonderful job of making him a fully formed individual, one brimming with energy and passion. The artist’s sense of color and design is also a highlight, so imaginative and different from one page to the next that there’s always something new and unique to his presentation of the story. Above all, it’s Robinson’s skills as a storyteller that really sets him apart, his sharp, expressive pencils driving Brian Epstein’s story forward in a way that keeps you continually invested. After flipping through a few pages, you’ll be hard pressed to put it down.

If you’re a fan of The Beatles, the sixties, or music in general, there’s much to like in The Fifth Beatle. If you’re a fan of great characterization, beautiful art, and a truly interesting lead character, you’ll like it even more. The Fifth Beatle is a comic with a lot of heart, the content at times personal and deeply emotive. Brian Epstein believed in his band and the message of love they spread. Though he never found that love himself, his tenacity and unwavering belief is certainly worth celebrating.

Jeff Lake



  1. ken meyer jr

    Hey, great summation of the book and nice coverage of the creators.

  2. Hey, thanks a lot! I was genuinely impressed with the book, obvious the creators put a lot of love in.

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