Enter the Nightingale, says Tony Fyler.
The first issue of the Rivers of London comic-book from Titan Comics pretty much set the scene and the tone of Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘The Sweeney With Sorcery’ books – Peter Grant, London police detective in a department that investigates the ghostly, the creepy and the weird, gets chased around by a haunted car, and rescued at the last moment by his superior, the enigmatically-named ‘Nightingale.’
You could accuse issue #2 of going over much of the same ground, but from Nightingale’s perspective – it deals with how he comes to be there right at the last moment to rescue Grant, having done some investigating and psychic shenanigans of his own, asking what looks like a London goblin for information, and then, as a very very last resort, checking in with Grant’s police colleagues. What does this gain us? Arguably not as much as it should, given that it takes up a healthy chunk of the issue – but it does show us Nightingale’s character, some degree of his skills, and the fact that there are goblin-like creatures ready to be called on by those who have the knack of making them talk. For reasons as yet unidentified, the story by Aaronovitch and ex-Who script editor Andrew Cartmel then takes us to ‘the most haunted car in England,’ and treats us to a flashback of Nightingale’s cronies back in the pre-WWII days (he’s aged remarkably well, if at all, in the interim) – a bunch of gentlemen magicians that might well have put Strange and Norrell to shame, but who foolishly took on something big and powerful, which left its mark not only on all of them, but on the car too. We get the flashback through Peter’s visions and Nightingale’s narration – a method that would probably work slightly better on screen than it does in comic-book form as we try to keep hold of the narrative thread. And while it’s always better to show action than it is to tell it, there’s a point at which you read issue #2 and seem only to get one big chunk of information out of it – Nightingale’s old pals messed with the wrong Big Bad and ended up with a major league contender for the Christine award for creepy haunted car of the year.
After a first issue that covered quite a lot of ground, the second issue feels more sedate, as though it’s taking a breather to introduce us to some additional characters. Nightingale strikes us as rather an ascetic, otherworldly character, an idea given additional colour by his being from a time before our own. We’re also getting an idea of some of the additional characters in Peter’s life – Debden the mechanic par excellence, Molly, the cook and cleaner – they’re not major notes in this issue, but they help build an inhabited world, which is no more than any Who-fan would expect of Aaronovitch’s work. But if you were looking for the same kind of huge strides forward in plotting in issue #2, you’d be disappointed.
The artwork helps to bolster the package here though, Lee Sullivan delivering both the mundanity of the police’s vehicle lock-up and several varieties of oddness with aplomb – the goblin-like creature, the psychic investigation in the river which Nightingale undertakes, and most particularly of all, the flashback to the pre-War years and the gentlemen magicians of the age, which are rendered with both a dreamlike distance and a vitality that reminds us that time is all that separates us from the past, rather than a difference in the way of being alive. We’ve recently raved about the colour work of rising Tian Luis Guerrero, and here again he proves his worth in light, adding layers of believability and pleasure to the panels by giving them entirely credible and interesting light sources. If you think that’s not important, you need to check out some of the work here with something as simple as car headlights – which are actually anything but simple to render convincingly in two dimensions. Sullivan and Guerrero add interest to the storytelling, from the inclusion of a tank in a firestorm to the clever intentional blurring of a London background to indicate travelling at speed, to the glorious interplay of seemingly autumnal sunlight on a beautiful, detailed face and the glow of a single shaded lightbulb on dark and closed-in brickwork. If you’re working in a storytelling medium where there are images, the intelligence and verve with which you render those images is going to punch at least as hard as the writing and the storytelling involved. Here, while there’s little actually wrong with the storytelling, it would be overstating the case to say it measured up to the artwork. After issue #1, both elements were punching above their weight. Here, you’re allowed to savour the artwork more because the storytelling slips a gear, into a more languid pace. When the art is this good though, that’s perfectly fine, and we’re happy to be carried along mostly by the imagery on the page for the space of an issue.
As this ‘episode’ ends though, things are looking up, storywise, as the vintage haunted car appears to be promoting visions in Peter of a 1920s-30s world stretching out on the road ahead of him. What next for Grant and his friends? And how, if at all, is it supposed to help them solve the mystery of the original homicidal car?
Pick up issue #3 when it’s released to find out. As for issue #2 – the story may have slipped down to second gear, but the artwork is worthy of a vintage Bentley, and there’s no reason not to pick up one of those whenever you get the chance.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk