Titan Comics: RIVERS OF LONDON - Night Witch #3 Review

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Tony’s balancing on a knife-edge.

Balance is everything.

Whether you’re honing a sword, crafting an argument or telling a story that turns your readers into fans, balance is absolutely everything.

In storytelling, you need a combination of heft and speed, engagement and the space to pause and appreciate, to digest as you go, but to want to go on.

If you’re telling a story through the comic-book medium of course, you also need to balance the story in terms of what’s told by the words, and what’s shown in the visuals if you’re going to achieve something you can sit back and look at in years to come, and find the satisfaction of the work again.

The Rivers of London comic-book series has been improving steadily, with fewer and fewer issues feeling unbalanced since the Night Witch story-arc began. It’s become increasingly, and pleasingly rare for the visuals by Lee Sullivan and the colourwork by Luis Guerrero to have to dazzle us to make up for gaps in the storytelling – as they sometimes had to in the previous story-arc, Body Work. Which is not to say that Sullivan and Guerrero have stopped dazzling us – at this point, it’s become more than clear that what we have in the combination of Sullivan and Guerrero is two men who regard excellence as their duty, and deliver it with an astounding regularity. But happily, what’s happened since the start of the Night Witch story-arc appears to be writers Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel learning from their first spin around the comic-book block and pacing each issue like a miniature TV episode, rather than necessarily a chapter of a book, building in strong hooks, character moments, significant plot developments and something solid and punchy to end each issue.

Issue #3 of Night Witch is an extraordinary example of balance. In fact, it’s a deceptive example of balance – early on, you get the feeling that, with some beautiful, almost fish-eye lens artwork and many panels technically dialogue-free, it might easily become another issue of prettiness and the artwork doing much of the heavy lifting – but no. Aaronovitch and Cartmel take us on quite an involved trip in this issue – back into the past of Nightingale’s experience, as well as to his current predicament as a kidnap-victim, which also giving us some solid if routine policework as Peter Grant checks out all the obvious ideas when a child goes missing – notably the parents’ house – and pulls on a couple of Russian threads in his quest to understand the apparent use of a Leshy (that’s Russian forest troll to you and I) in the abduction. They also bring us some fascinating further connections to ponder between Grant’s ex-police partner, who’s been swanning about for a while in a more-than-somewhat creepy facemask, and the Night Witch of the title, the once-Russian wiccan special operative and now long-time Brit and resident at HM Prison Holloway, Varvara Sidorovna.

It’s all getting rather interesting and multi-stranded and intertwined, and certainly in this issue, Aaronovitch and Cartmel do enough on their own to keep, and even perk up the interest, so when you add in Sullivan and Guerrero on top, what you get is a thing that’s both beautiful and balanced. As we said, the start of this issue has a slightly languorous feel to it, Sullivan treating us to some high-quality technique to elevate what could otherwise be a fairly standard scene and some fairly ordinary speech. That’s followed by a couple of pages that are sparsely written in terms of dialogue, and Sullivan gives us something to not only look at (which, to be fair, being as they’re Lee Sullivan panels, pretty much equates to ‘marvel at’), but something that takes the story forward in a non-vocal way until speech is actually called-for. This is something comic-books can only afford to do if the artwork’s spot on, because you always run the risk of annoying the reader if the panels are too quiet. That’s never been an issue in Sullivan’s Rivers of London work though – there’s enough motion and intelligent moving-on of scenes and storylines in the silent panels to take us forward and feel like a reflection of real life, where not every minute is punctuated with speech or personal narration.

There’s some gorgeously constructed artwork in this issue too – Sullivan and Guerrero work in in sync to make great use of light and reflection off screens, to bring a crispness to architectural detail, and to bring a solid emotional dynamic to the story that beds its plot in a world of people we can understand, even if their powers and abilities (and in some cases, responsibilities) are far beyond our own.

In short – #3 is another issue that makes Rivers of London a comic-book not only to watch, but to invest in, heart, soul and pocket-money, as well as one that elevates the art of storytelling balance to a new level in the series.

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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