Titan Comics - Rivers Of London: Night Witch #5 Review

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Close, but no caviar, says Tony.

Nnnope. Nearly, but nope.

The first Rivers of London comic-book arc, Body Work, delivered a reasonable story, but spent a lot of time faffing about introducing us to characters by re-running the same events from different points of view, and then going off at a seemingly bizarre tangent, which in the final issue, became instrumental to the whole mystery. The amount of time spent on character-introduction meant the conclusion of the plot itself felt rushed in the final instalment, a fact which ultimately let down the overall enjoyment of the series.

Night Witch, the second arc, has been better all along the run in virtually every way. The combination of Lee Sullivan and Luis Guerrero on art and colourwork has given it real punch, Sullivan’s intelligent use of body language and facial expression sometimes being relied on to carry much of the story. Luckily then, he’s good enough to do precisely that.

The plot in this story has been very much more complex than that of Body Work, bringing in wartime Russian squadrons of fighting witches, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Russian business-gangster culture, the kidnap of archwizard Nightingale, occasional dalliances into Peter Grant’s relationship with Beverley Brook, and the introduction of Peter’s ex-partner in crime-fighting, Lesley May, the woman of many masks. All of which left issue #5 with a reasonably straightforward romp home over the finishing line to satisfactorily tie up all the story-strands.

Soooo close.

Bottom line though, issue #5 falls into Body Work’s trap, faffing about with unnecessary space-filler panels, and forcing the conclusion to feel oddly rushed and unsatisfying, with great big holes in the storyline explained explicitly by Peter as being a case of ‘The really important thing about motive is when you’re the police, and you’ve got enough evidence for a result, who cares why the nasty little scrotes did what they did?’

We do. We the comic-buying public care that there’s a satisfactory pay-off, that things make sense or lead us forward to somewhere they can make sense in the future.

It’s worth noting that Night Witch #5 is a lot better than the conclusion to Body Work. We get some solid scenes with Nightingale, who comes across here very much as the magical equivalent of the Avengers’ Steed. There’s incredible backstory work with Varvara, the Night Witch herself too. But early scenes with Peter ‘in deep shit’ with his superiors don’t add enough in terms of comedy to make up for the resultant rush when it comes to explaining the reason for the whole five-issue shebang. It nearly does – once one important fact comes to light, there’s a certain inevitable domino effect which means the whole palace of Russian villainy comes crashing down, but there are elements of which there have been no hint in the prior issues, but on which the whole thing hangs too, and to bring them screaming to the fore in the final issue might be realistic in terms of police work, but it feels like unsatisfying and overly convenient storytelling.

By now, you won’t need us to tell you that the whole thing is lifted way above the game of its fundamental storytelling by the art of Lee Sullivan and the colourwork of Luis Guerrero. This is by no means the first issue where this duo have elevated the Rivers of London comic-books to must-have status – and in case you’re confused by the lukewarm tone of this review, yes, Night Witch issue #5 is still a must-have. Sullivan’s art anchors the magic (such as it is in this issue) in a world that is as real and concrete as our own, and Guerrero makes that world just a little bit better than we can imagine. There are several world-class panels, one in particular which brings unusual shades of purple into play to deliver something rather wonderful, bizarre and not a little gruesome, and another couple that show the Night Witch in historic action and which clearly evoke Soviet propaganda posters – a neat touch from Sullivan that’s been loosely threaded through the five issues. But if you really start to look at the art-work, the quality of the work announces itself in smaller ways – the perspective of building, the shine on minimalist floors, the light levels and colour profiles of different interrogation panels, even the highlights and strand separation in hairstyles. They’re things your eyes and mind might well take for granted, because they probably do exactly the same in real life. The difference here is that they’ve been consciously thought about by Sullivan and Guerrero first, before you ever get a chance to take them for granted. So – don’t. Appreciate the skill that goes into creating this world; it’s worth your time and effort.

All this means that while Night Witch issue #5 is not perfect, seeming to cop out on its storytelling duty in favour of additional backstory, there’s plenty of pretty to look at, and again, while the result of the storytelling is not as satisfying as it should be, and as it’s had time to be, it’s definitively better than Body Work, and there are a handful of curiosity-hooks to pull us forward into the next Rivers of London story-arc, as some people get away with things that will need another arc to resolve. Two arcs in, Rivers of London is still not punching at the weight it should be, with Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel on scripting duties - but it’s definitely evolving in the direction of hope.

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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