Tony’s down by the river.
Rivers of London, in comic-books, has been developing over two story-arcs. The first, Body Work, had some interesting ideas, but faffed about rather too much and led to a loosely connected conclusion. The second, Night Witch, was tighter, more complex, with threads that at least ran the length of the story, although if you were in a nit-picking mood, you could claim the ending there was a little loose too.
Black Mould, the third story, blew the doors off our brains in its first issue, raising questions about whether it could sustain that level of storytelling.
It can – at least for the length of a second issue.
The story? Black mould is infesting the house of a pal of PC Guleed. When she goes to check it out, it emerges that this is one seriously creepy, aggressive dose of mould, which with some help from everybody’s favourite wizard on the beat, Peter Grant, is defeated by a liberal dousing with vinegar. (Don’t ask – there are fairly solid chemical reasons).
All is good and happy in Rivers of London land…except when double-checking with an expert whether any other buildings in the vicinity have an issue with black mould, they discover that one does. The gigunda-block of exclusive snob-boxes just over the road, soaring into the sky. If that’s filled with aggressive, intelligent black mould, Grant and Guleed are going to need more than a bucket of Domestos to get to the bottom of it.
You join us in issue #2 as Guleed and Grant stroll on into ‘Bienvenue Property Development,’ purveyors of ‘artisanal urban living spaces’ – snob-boxes to you and me - armed with nothing more than charm, wit and the right questions. The do bullshit-battle with the sales agent, and then, by doing a little more standard policework, they find out a little more about the historic mould problem in the block. Peter’s friendly neighbourhood mould-buster tells them that one flat, just one in the whole sky-scraping block, was entirely free of black mould when they were paid to do a number on it. As it happens, that one flat was rented by the only ‘affordable housing’ tenant who managed to get around the developer’s shenanigans and secure a place in the building. As Guleed says, intelligent aggressive black shape-shifting mould is one thing, but ‘class-war evil supernatural fungus’ is something else again. Blagging their way in to see the current occupants of the flat in question brings more surprises – a young, poor, hippy couple, with stories of their own. The mould, it seems, is not simply ‘class-war evil supernatural fungus,’ it’s ‘nerve-wrecking, nightmare-vision class-war evil supernatural fungus’ – several of the building’s older, richer, more successful residents came to warn the young couple to get the hell out of there as soon as they’d arrived. We hear stories of mothers dreaming of throwing their babies off balconies, champion swimmers terrified to even so much as take a bath, weightlifting gymbodies terrified that their (decades dead) father will find them and beat them up again – this is mould that taps into your deepest fears, and provokes dark fake memories to push you away from the building in which it’s made its home.
Except it doesn’t seem to have affected the young couple.
There’s more to this than meets the eye – there’s a connection back in time, via an old lady in a care home. Visiting the old lady uncovers a colourful past and another surprise connection to a really bad case of black mould.
Guleed’s enquiries meanwhile turn up other addresses with a mould problem, and Grant, checking one of them out, runs into far more than he bargained for, giving us a cliff-hanger that’s all the better for being pretty mystifying and coming out of left field.
The writing in this issue, and this storyline so far, is much tighter than anything that’s come before it, as though Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel are learning the art of comic-book storytelling from scratch, and are really beginning to get the hand of it. The banter between Grant and Guleed in Black Mould #2 makes the issue flow faster, and raises the game of the comic-book to the level which justifies Aaronovitch’s solo success with the novels. Peter’s narration too, which has always had a semi-comic sardonic edge to it, here begins to ramp up to proper sarcasm, and we like both him and the issue significantly more because of it. As far as the writing is concerned, Rivers of London (whisper it softly) is really starting to achieve its potential.
In terms of artwork, of course, it’s been there since issue #1, which is what you get when you combine Lee Sullivan’s crispness of vision (both in terms of architecture and built environments – a particularly important feature of this story – and in terms of characterisation, body language, facial expressions and ‘shot vision’ to take the story forward) and Luis Guerrero’s gift for adding vitality, action, and realistic interpretation of scenic mood. Particularly in this issue, that crispness of Sullivan’s geography works to the story’s advantage, lit as ever by Guerrero’s advanced understanding of light and colour and mood: the hyper-posh property development company looks squeaky clean, smooth, warm and anodyne, like a Teflon money-making machine; the visual representations of the visions of tenants in the tower block are very digital in their difference from the real world, visions of a fist coming towards an eye in shades of crimson, for instance, and the loneliness and fear of a pensioner terrified of her own bath washed in sickly algal blues and greens.
You don’t wake up in the morning able to do these things. The thought, the judgment that goes into the artistic representation of Rivers of London has been ahead of much in the comic-book game from the very beginning, but it, like Aaronovitch and Cartmel’s understanding of what can be done, what needs to be done in the writing, is evolving over time, and the harmony is getting better and better, delivering richer rewards as the series develops.
If you haven’t jumped on the Rivers of London bandwagon yet, you’re going to need to start running on the spot, because you’re moment is now. Black Mould is the most user-friendly story so far, the banter, the sarcasm, the art and colourwork are gelling into a must-have series, while the black mould of the title is the scariest, most active ‘villain’ to date. Get issues #1 and #2 of Black Mould and get yourself hooked on your latest geeky addiction. Lose yourself in the Rivers of London.
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
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