Titan Comics: RIVERS OF LONDON - Night Witch #4 Review

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Tony wonders about space and time.

Just occasionally in a comic-book series, you get a sense of foreboding when it comes to issue #4.

That comes becomes many stories are five issue long, and you get a sense by the end of issue #4 that it’s going to be impossible to actually wrap up the drama and answer all the questions that have been posed in the first four issues, within the space of the last single instalment.

The first storyline in the Rivers of London comic-book arc was like that, and indeed, the foreboding proved to be well-founded when, after a couple of episodes of going back over existing information from different viewpoints so as to introduce us to the cast of principal characters, the resolution of the actual plot seemed a little crammed in.

The Night Witch story so far has been immeasurably better than Body Work, the first story on practically every level – the engagement, the storytelling the multi-stranded richness serving a central plot and so on. But now we’re on issue #4, and while some things are starting to look like they’re reaching a resolution, there are still a couple of really strong outstanding elements that feel like they need dealing with in a hurry.

If you’re just tuning in, Night Witch deals with a lot of Russian history and mythology – the daughter of a Russian businessman/gangster (the terms, we’re given the strong impression, are mostly interchangeable) has been kidnapped, and the family think it’s a Leshy that’s done it. A Leshy, for those not familiar with their Russian Ghouls and Goblins, is a spirit of the forest, somewhere between an Ent, a sprite and a right old pain in the neck.

The family have tried to recruit a one-time Russian special services witch (Yes, really – just go with it), currently living in a British prison. She’s refused to help them, having gone significantly native and been living in Britain for longer than she ever lived in Russia. She’s referred them on to Peter Grant and Nightingale, and things have gotten…let’s say a little out of hand. Nightingale’s been a little farcically kidnapped, and sent a coded message back to Peter, the upshot of which is ‘Get me out of this.’ Meanwhile, Peter’s old crime-fighting and wizardry partner is wandering around the place in a freaky face-mask, seemingly choreographing the show on behalf of Someone Else, and Peter’s current partner, in bed, rather than crime-fighting, has put a fluence on a bunch of the Russian mobster’s henchmen, and now has them doing odd jobs around her house. Erm…she’s a river goddess, you see?

Really, it helps not to think about any of this too hard.

In this issue, it’s hard to say how we move forward from all this – for the most part, the issue does exactly what we’ve just done, summarising all the balls that are in the air at this point. But there are some forward moves, not the least of which seems to be a resolution to the missing child drama. Having asked the very valid question ‘What kind of forest creature demands a ten million Euro ransom?’ the parents decide to worry about that when their best beloved is back by their side, and simply pay up. Meanwhile Peter and Varvara, the Night Witch, are listening in on phone calls to determine whether they can find out where Nightingale is being held – and perhaps more relevantly, why he’s allowing himself to be held. In the words of the almighty Goon Show, ‘it’s all rather confusing really.’

The worry this issue raises is that there may not be enough time left in the story to successfully resolve the thread of Peter’s ex-partner and why Nightingale is allowing himself to be kidnapped like a lamb by either Russian mobsters or presumably, potentially, Someone Else Entirely.

That said, by the end of this issue, the child whose disappearance caused the chain of events to unfold over the last four issues is returned to her mother, so that at least has been satisfactorily put to bed. We can only wait to see what happens next in the story of the Night Witch.

We’ve praised both the artwork of Lee Sullivan and the colourwork of Luis Guerrero to the skies during this run of issues, and the reason we’ve done that is because in each issue of this comic-book, the special combination of Sullivan’s intelligent artwork and Guerrero’s sublime gift with light and colour means you get exactly that – art work, rather than simply illustration of a story. In fact, there seems to be developing a solid synergy between writers Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel and Sullivan, with more and more of the story being left to unfold in his picture panels, often without any speech at all. You need to be in a relationship of some significant trust to allow that as a writer, and you have to have an artist who can justify that trust, who can tell your story as well or better with a drawn look as you could with words to let the reader know what’s in your character’s head. It speaks additional volumes about Sullivan’s skills that this is the case here, when the Rivers of London series is based on novels, where there are nothing but words to convey the stories. This issue’s especially heavy in Sullivan’s ‘reaction shots’ – there are a couple of classic moments when a naked Peter in the kitchen of Beverley Brook, encounters a burbling Russian gangster mopping her floors. That would work very well in words in the novel format, but in the comic-book version, it’s quicker and a lot more effective to let Sullivan take the wheel, and to their credit, the authors do precisely that.

As in each issue, Guerrero has his moments to shine here too – there’s a chase late in the issue, a police sting that goes rather wrong when the villains employ magic to negate the effect of tracking equipment (talk about not playing fair!), and the colour and shading and lightwork shift from a blue-grey concrete and stone foreground of ornamental London to an explosion of light which fairly takes your breath away. But this is what it’s dangerously easy to expect as the norm from Sullivan and Guerrero together. They’ve proved themselves on the Rivers of London comic-books to be something of a dream team, working instinctively in sync – especially impressive given they don’t work particularly closely together on the issues, if recent interviews are to be believed. Again, the key to great work here seems to be an understanding and a trust in the need of the storytelling and the skills each other bring to bear on the work.

Should you get Rivers of London Night Witch #4? Well of course you should – quite apart from anything else, the story will have an enormous hole in it if you don’t, and you’ll miss one strand of resolution as the child is returned to her mama. You’ll also miss out on more great art and colourwork than your money should really buy for the cost of the comic, some solid atmospheric development, one absolutely stunning comic panel in which Beverley is portrayed like the goddess she is, in mosaic form, and you’ll lose the thrill of panicking about whether the story can be wrapped up in the time it has left to run.

And why would you want to do a damn fool thing like that?

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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