Titan Comics: RIVERS OF LONDON - Night Witch #2 Review

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Ooh, the pretties, cooes Tony. Soooo many pretties.

There comes a point in reviewing the Rivers of London comic-books, presumably, when one gets exhausted of heaping praise on Lee Sullivan and Luis Guerrero, the artist and colourist responsible for turning Ben Aaronovitch’s novel series into something for the visual media.

Relax, soldier, this is not gonna be that point. I’ve got ya covered.

Truly, truly, truly, this series is on an artistic level that has the capacity to move even cynical old geeks like us.

‘WhY? Why? Why?’ we hear you pant. ‘Does it have like really cool spaceships and aliens and big slavering monsters with tentacles out to here, and-’ No, calm down, stop frothing. As Sullivan himself says in a kickass Easter Egg interview in this issue, the world of Rivers of London is not that outlandish. For the most part, it’s our world, just a little bit cooler. The thing that makes the art and colour in this series so outstanding is that it takes our world and makes it a little bit cooler. Sullivan’s artwork has a realism that resonates for those of us saturated in visual imagery and trained to respond to a visual world. You want a house with walls and windows and furniture, Sullivan will give them to you in a way that’s not remotely notional – they’re as real as the three-dimensional equivalent in your ‘real life.’ You want people who communicate by gestures – you won’t miss the import of a Sullivan raised eyebrow or curled lip. But there’s more to it than this faithfulness. You want the pang of waking up with a lover and having to leave, that blend of contentment and the everyday twinge of leaving? Sullivan can give you that too, simply by the lines of a sheet and where it falls, and the almost audible sigh from a man with a complex life. That’s here in this issue. You want the stark coldness of an interview cell to send an institutional shiver down your spine? That’s in this issue too. You want the watercolour warmth of a forest? Sullivan’s on hand to make you smell the living leaves.

Quite apart from his ability to deliver the world as we know it, but heightened, or rather, somehow – and this feels weird to write, but somehow - righted from the everyday non-artistic perception that most of us have and which allows too much to fade into the unimportance of background, Sullivan’s precision irrespective of level means it doesn’t matter how hard you stare at his panels, there’s not a point at which he expects your eyes to ‘fill in the detail gaps’ for him. Seriously, take a look at the wheels of stationary cars in this issue, take a look at the perspective of streets. It’s almost as though we non-artists view the world like a DVD. Lee Sullivan draws a blu-ray world. Which, considering what you pay for comic-books is one cheap way of getting your human spirit lifted and realising everything you’re probably missing, without having to go to an art gallery.

As for Luis Guerrero, we’ve said this before, but we’re fairly sure Luis Guerrero was blasted off from his own planet as a baby and sent to make life on Earth altogether better. If he doesn’t wander round his house wearing a cape with a big ‘G’ on his chest, well then something’s gone seriously wrong somewhere. What the man does with light, with shading, with texture is probably not achievable by more than a sliver of humanity, and putting Sullivan’s precisely-rendered blu-ray world in the hands of a lightworker like Guerrero means that essentially, Rivers of London could contain nothing but the South London phone book in terms of story and you could hang it, page by page on your walls and bask in the wonders that it gives you. Again, consider what you pay for comic-books and you’ll realise that the fact these two get out of bed in the morning is almost a crime. It’s a crime for which we’re inestimably grateful, but still, if you’re not paying a hundred bucks at least per Sullivan-Guerrero comic-book, you have yourself a kickass deal there, friends. Go away now and invest in armfuls of the stuff.

What’s that? You want to know about the story.

Well, there’s good news on that score. Occasionally in the first Rivers of London comic-book story, Body Work, there was a sense of Sullivan and Guerrero carrying the storytelling burden at the expense of Anything Much Going On, Aaronovitch and his collaborator Andrew Cartmel being new kids on the comic-book block despite their long experience in storytelling in other media. With Night Witch though, there’s a sense of the writers having got their act together, and certainly in issue #2, the writing stands up pretty well to the quality of the artwork – which given what we’ve just said about the quality of the artwork, you’ll appreciate is no mean feat in and of itself. The idea of a Russian mobster’s daughter being apparently kidnapped by a Leshy – a tree spirit to you and I – is a solid, interesting thread, but it ramps up massively in engagement when the Russians, having failed to get the help they need through their first choice of LeshyBuster, involve Peter Grant’s former partner, and try to put the squeeze on both Grant and his gentleman-wizard boss, Nightingale, with… ahem… differing levels of success. Whereas issue #1 set some solid work in place but occasionally still had the feeling of ‘[Insert Amazing Art Here To Fill A Slow Bit Of Storytelling]’ – resulting in at least one fantastic page with an image of an enormous Russian banknote, and a couple of historical political cameos – this issue’s all about the story, even when it’s just Nightingale and his dog having a picnic in a forest (perhaps because of course, Nightingale’s never just having a picnic in a forest). What we’re trying to say is that there’s much less storytelling slack in this issue than in some previous instalments of the Rivers of London series, and that can only be a good thing. While we’re all for some extra spotlighting on Sullivan and Guerrero (you might have noticed), when the writing and storytelling come up to the mark and absorb that part of the attention that craves a plot, it’s extra-special, and it allows you many re-reads to enjoy the work on several levels.

Certainly, on the showing of this issue, Night Witch #3 is one to wait for impatiently, scowling at your calendar. In the meantime, get issue #2, ponder the story and then marvel, as ever, in the brain-seducing visuals of Sullivan and Guerrero.

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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