Titan Comics: RIVERS OF LONDON #4 Review

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Tony takes in the colours, meets a witch. Just another day for Peter Grant and the gang.


Four issues in, the Rivers of London comic-book by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel has the feel of having slowed down. It hasn’t actually slowed down, but it has moved on in new and intriguing directions, so the initial burst of octane that propelled a story about seemingly demon-possessed cars causing deaths across London has mellowed into a kind of cruise-controlled backstory party, where one thread after another is sifted from the reality we see. The thing that makes this at all interesting is its verisimilitude to the business of actual policework – when something happens there’s a flurry of furious activity which mellows to a patient process of separating what actually happened in the past from people’s perceptions of what happened, to lead to, hopefully, a single thread of causality that explains why the initial incident happened. That’s really what policework is.

With demons and wizards and witches of, course. Welcome to the life of Peter Grant.

For those just joining us – no, no, no – go back and get the first three issue of Rivers of London, you might as well do it now while it’s only three issues.

Oh, fine, in summary – a BMW appears to have been possessed by some psychotic spirit. Its owner, Celeste Mapstone, gave it away on the condition that it be destroyed. The mechanic who took – ahem – possession of the car couldn’t bring himself to do it, instead breaking it up for parts and fitting them into a host of other cars. Result? Many potential demon cars. They’ve already caused a number of deaths on the streets (and indeed in the river). One appears to have a windscreen that can show ‘visions’ that disturb the mind of the driver. Now, in a cycle of perversity, one of the cars with the parts fitted has shown a vision to a driver, which has made him run down Celeste Mapstone, who’s in a coma in the hospital. Her boyfriend and sister are with her, but when questioned, the boyfriend legs it like an Olympic sprinter. Meanwhile, we’ve also had a backstory flash of Peter Grant’s boss, the enigmatic Nightingale – old but looking good on it, powerful, wizard – during his days with some other aristocratic wizards, who tried to get rid of an evil power, only to end up with the most haunted car in England.

Fine – if you absolutely want to skip the last three issues, you probably can now, but you’ll miss out on a lot of gorgeously lit, evocative artwork from Lee Sullivan. Your choice, pilgrim, but I know what I’d do.


First up on the backstory projector in this issue, it’s the Mapstone sisters, Celeste and Kimberly. Kimberly is forthcoming about the history of the fleeing boyfriend, Reuel, who it turns out is a ketamine dealer, and who’s been sharing his stash with Celeste. The night he began to do so is when Kimberly thinks her sister began to change – especially getting weird about her car, not wanting to drive it. But it emerges something else happened that night too – an old family heirloom was consigned to a bonfire, because it creeped both the sisters out. A ducking chair, as used to dunk witches to a dripping death in the days when it was feared they made more happen than a nice cup of tea and a kickass vegetarian quiche.

So – nothing weird there, then.

A bit of psychic jiggery-pokery lets Peter see the dunking of a particular witch, who’s understandably not best pleased about the whole thing. Could she be the source of the auto-possessions, her spirit, trapped in the ducking chair for hundreds of creepy-sitting years, and then released by roasting and sucked into the engine of an otherwise ordinary BMW (inasmuch as any BMW is ordinary – it’s interesting to note that the plot of Body Work was more or less predicted years ago in this very sweary but funny rant from Mitch Benn).



Meanwhile Nightingale has been doing some research into what we can only assume is an old wizard friend, leading him either to a reality or, we strongly suspect, a grisly vision of said friend to close the issue. Is the strength of whatever or whoever is messing about with cars in London getting stronger? Do we owe the whole mess to a not-quite-as-dead-as-you-might-think witch and her deadly ducking chair? Will the quiet, backstory-rich vibe of this issue ever ramp up to cop-show levels of action and thunderbolting as we move forward with the story? That last is a genuine concern – we appreciate that the ethos of Rivers of London is more ‘regular policework with wizards’ than it is ‘wizards who solve crimes’ but after a couple of more or less reasonable issues, we could really go for a bit of thunderbolt action right now.

While it’s important to note that there’s technically nothing wrong with the story development we get in this issue – the discovery of the ducking chair is a brand new element, and takes the story forward in a weird new way – the real stars of the issue are artist Lee Sullivan and colourist Luis Guerrero. From a fantastic, evocative cover, through a range of different environments, from the dingy blue-lit hospital room to the light of a bonfire, to the pristine order of Islington and the semi-darkness of a lock-up garage, to the spectacularly vivid rendering of the witch trial and its gruesome ending, Sullivan delivers artwork that balances comic-book reality with speed of storytelling, and Guerrero helps give the faithful artwork a sense of light and movement with intelligent colour decisions that don’t so much impose a tone as allow reality to be the tone.

What all this means is that while, as we say, there’s enough to keep your interest in the actual words and plot developments in issue #4, you actually read it more for the visual feast it gives you – perhaps appropriate, given the translation of the Rivers of London world from novel format to comic-book; the extra dimension here is the artwork, and it’s a dimension worth shouting about.

So if you haven’t got the first three issues, get them, they look superb. And if you have, get issue #4, because Sullivan and Guerrero are on top form right now, and you could always do with a little more talent and beauty in your life. Plus, y’know, the story. That’s there too…

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 day, he 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

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