Category: Reviews

REVIEW: Power Trip
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REVIEW: Power Trip

Power Trip

By Jason Young

160 pages/$25/Oldtimes Blue Ribbon Digest

Growing up in the 1970s, comic book readers didn’t have a lot in the way of extensions of their favorite characters. There was the occasional novel and ABC’s Super Friends, but really, little else. As a result, getting new stories or new versions of stories on an album featuring your favorite heroes seemed like manna from Heaven.

Power Records or Peter Pan Records filled that gap, beginning in the early 1970s and petering out in the early 1980s. They may be best remembered for the wonderful art produced for the album covers by Continuity Studios, the outfit run by Neal Adams and (briefly) Dick Giordano. They featured familiar vocal talent and the stories weren’t half bad. They were successful enough that their thirty or so releases were repackaged time and again, eventually eschewing vinyl for cassette tapes to retain the audience.

Jason Young grew up during the era and adores the ephemera surrounding pop culture, so much that he’s research, written, and self-published Power Trip, about the records, and The Wonderful World of Wax Wrappers.

He begins with the company’s history, which surprisingly goes back to 1928 and a plastics company that added Peter Pan Records to their output. By the 1950s, the company began licensing characters suc as Popeye and Betty Boop. By the 1960s, they moved on to super-heroes, producing a fondly recalled Songs and Stories About the Justice League of America.

With the rise of renewed interest in super-heroes, they launched the Power imprint and began licensing Marvel’s key players. Most of the adventures were taken from the comics themselves with some music and sound effects, with a vocal cast led by Peter Fernandez (best known for his work on the name coming to America throughout the 1960s, notably Speed Racer. Soon after DC’s heroes arrived in brand new stories along with the Star Trek, Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of the Apes, Space: 1999 and other media franchises.

Young provides a page for each release, reprinting the album cover and other material (scans of the original art, source material, back cover, etc.) and a paragraph about the release. I wish he put a lot more effort into the text because information is missing such as which Marvel comic the story was adapted from or who did the voices or even who wrote the scripty (records seem scant but he knows some of this). He mistakenly credits Neal for much of the art when it’s clearly inked by Giordano and in one case mistakenly credits Jim Aparo. He doesn’t connect E. Nelson Bridwell, who scripted a few DC stories, as being from the company. He’s clearly passionate about the records but doesn’t use proper context or comics terminology.

For Star Trek, the fans always took these to task for making Sulu African-American, not Asian; and Uhura went from African to blonde Caucasian. He claims it had to do with likeness rights not being available, which was not a contractual issue back in the day nor can I find corroboration elsewhere for the claim. He also fails to connect Alan Dean Foster, who wrote many of the stories, with his writing the novelization of the animated Series episodes at the same time. Cary Bates and Adams actually wrote one, which is an oddity in itself.

The book is diffuse in organization and inconsistent in writing style and tone. This certainly could have used a matrix showing each story and the many places it was reprinted, the ultimate checklist. It would also have been nice to see more of the interior story pages that made these fun collectibles. The book, while passionate, would have benefitted from more text, a proofreader, and an editor. The 5″x8″ format also doesn’t let the material breathe. Only diehard fans of the material will find this worth the high cover price.

Fowl Language: Winging It by Brian Gordon
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Fowl Language: Winging It by Brian Gordon

If there’s only three books of something, and you read the first two and enjoy them, you’re gonna come back and hit the third one. It’s just one of those things.

I may not have anything new to say about Winging It , the third book collecting Brian Gordon’s online comic strip Fowl Language, since I’ve already written about Welcome to Parenting  and The Struggle Is Real  since March.

Gordon’s been doing this strip about a decade, and it’s entirely about his family life: he draws a family of ducks (viewpoint father, mother, older boy and younger girl) who match, as far as the reader can tell, his actual family, although the ducks have (very sporadically) had their own names, which don’t match Gordon’s family’s names. By the point of the strips in this 2019 book, the two kids were tweens: the obnoxious, demanding, argumentative years. (They’re all obnoxious years, as parents come to learn – it’s just different kinds of obnoxious as you go along.)

This one is more structured than the first two were, organized into a dozen thematic chapters, each one of which has a short intro by Gordon, laid out in a font that looks like the lettering in the strip so it’s “handwritten.” Those chapters loosely follow the kid-development timeline – at least as far as Gordon’s own kids have gotten – starting with “Babies” and running through things like “Food” and “School” on the way to “Growing Up Too Fast.” The intros are pretty close to the standard American “kids are wonderful and horrible” line of discussion, and don’t really add much: I’m sure Gordon means all of it and is being sincere and honest, but we’ve all seen this a million times before. His strips are more distinctive and original, since they have to be quick and precise and funny.

As someone who has assembled books and planned out publication schedules, I have suspicions about this book. In particular, I would bet a medium-sized sum of money that it includes all of the usable early strips that didn’t make it into the first two books, as a semi-housecleaning measure, along with some then-newer material. It was the “we have just enough for a third book, so we’re making a third book” kind of third book, is what I think. And the intros were partially an effort to hit the sentimentalist sweet spot of the market and partially a way to generate new content for the book fairly quickly. (I would not be surprised if Gordon knocked them all out over a weekend.)

So this is the least of the three books to date, but it’s still fun and funny. If you find it next to a cashwrap, or in a pop-up in your favorite online store, as your own kids are squabbling in the background, you will likely enjoy it only incrementally less than the first two. And that’s just fine.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Billionaires by Darryl Cunningham
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Billionaires by Darryl Cunningham

Billionaires  is a long, detailed book, with many more words than you’d expect for a graphic novel, and a long list of sources at the end – a well-researched and carefully-organized work of non-fiction. So my post here may be less detailed; any questions raised by the book will be best answered by the book.

Darryl Cunningham makes non-fiction comics, I think – the book I’ve previously seen by him was titled How To Fake a Moon Landing  in the US (and less puckishly in his native UK), and his bio in this book lists several other similar titles. From what I’ve seen, he’s not entirely serious – there’s a thread of humor here, mostly in commentary about events, or in how he draws things – but his purpose is essentially serious, and, in this book, mostly a warning.

This is a book, broadly, about how massive concentrations of wealth tend to degrade and destroy both democratic institutions and human lives, and, more specifically, about four very very rich men and how they have demonstrably made the world worse while they also accumulated massive amounts of money for themselves.

The four are Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and owner of Fox News; Charles and David Koch, the oil & gas magnates, libertarian nutbars and founders/funders of most of the most corrosive institutions of the American right wing; and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the single most destructive influence on the American working life of the past generation.

They’re all horrible in their own ways, though I tend to think Cunningham has arranged them in order of decreasing horribleness. Murdoch is a nasty old bastard whose creation was central in the near-coup that is still resonating in American life, and which has been proven, repeatedly, to make its habitual viewers stupider, worse informed, and more prone to radical violence. The Kochs have an even longer-term corrosive effect, made worse by the intellectual sheen they put on the brute selfishness of their libertarianism, and have been important for decades in climate-change denial that may well lead directly to the deaths of millions of people worldwide. Bezos, by comparison, is just a normal unpleasant tycoon: driven, obnoxious, with stupid manias (space travel!) and the usual mix of arguable benefits to the world (get things in a day from one retailer anywhere!) that come with obvious unpleasant side effects (horrible working conditions for both white and blue-collar workers! destruction of myriad competitors who provided jobs and careers and ownership for huge numbers of people! low-key demands for government handouts for new offices!).

Cunningham also says, near the end, that he could have done a similar book about lefty billionaires, which I think is at least partially disingenuous. That book might be clearer on how any billionaires, even ones who try to support charity as they get older and mellower (see: Bill Gates) are bad for democracy and everyone poorer than they are, but it would not have the frisson of these four very horrible people doing their very horrible things. Evil billionaires make a better case than vaguely neutral ones, or even inadvertently-destructive ones. And at least three of these four are very much evil billionaires.

This book may make you want to sharpen your guillotine and start gathering cobblestones for barricades, which is no bad thing.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Tales of Great Goddesses: Gaia: Goddess of Earth
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REVIEW: Tales of Great Goddesses: Gaia: Goddess of Earth

Tales of Great Goddesses: Gaia: Goddess of Earth

By Imogen and Isabel Greenberg

96 pages/Amulet Books/$14.99

Billed as being similar to the Nathan Hale historic biographies, this new series from Amulet takes a look at the goddesses throughout history. In this, the second offering from the Greenbergs, we get the Greek goddess Gaia. We have her story, including the creation of the world and its inhabitants along with her participation in the battle between the Titans and her offspring, led by her youngest, Zeus.

In a brisk 96 pages, we get her story along with a nice glossary and bibliography so enchanted readers can find more to read.

Today, adult authors have been rewriting the classic Greek tales for modern readers, starting with Madeline Miller’s brilliant Circe. It’s become quite the cottage industry and it makes me realize that despite being the mother of Gre4ek creation, Gaia is a secondary character in her own story and it makes me wish the Greenbergs focused more on her. They pick up after she exists, not at all referencing the chaos that preceded her, and they more or less gloss over the cosmic incest that resulted in other beings of great power that arrived.

We get the various beings she and her son Uranus brought to life, leading to the war between her children and Cronus.

The writing has some snark to it which younger readers will appreciate but they are also expecting her to be the focal point of the narrative and a far more active participant and here the book fails to meet that.

Isabel Greenberg’s art is crude and off-putting and does a disservice to the great beings of myth, from the cyclops to the fifty-headed Hecatonchires (a mere four heads are shown). The review copy was in black and white while the finished work will be in color which may bring more zest to the pages.

There are plenty of interesting goddesses for such a middle grade series and I hope the prominent ones from around the world, not just the more familiar Greek and Norse, get their due in subsequent volumes.

Celestia by Manuele Fior
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Celestia by Manuele Fior

Some books tell you their background in exquisite detail, laying out all of the world-building carefully and clearly, so the reader knows exactly what has happened.

I generally prefer the other kind. I’m a grown-up; I don’t need someone to hold my hand.

Manuele Fior, I think, does entirely stories of the other kind – 5,000 km per second was a great story about people, told sideways and indirectly, and the shorter pieces in Blackbird Days  were also non-obvious. His new graphic novel Celestia  is also one of the other kind: a modern story with no thought bubbles or long explanatory speeches, set in a nearish future world that was utterly transformed by something that I doubt anyone left in the world understands.

Here’s all the background we get, before the first page of comics:

The great invasion came by sea. It spread north, up the mainland. Many fled. Others took refuge on a small island. An island of stone, built in the water over a thousand years ago. Its name is Celestia.

We never know who or what invaded. I tend to doubt it was anything human, but it never gets any clearer than that. What happened to those who “fled” is also unclear. Unless they fled the planet somehow, though, they don’t seem to be there anymore. Take that as as you wish.

I suppose it’s possible that this was relatively local: maybe just this continent, this land. But that’s not the sense I get.

Celestia, a generation later, must be self-sufficient by definition. It has no contact with the rest of the world, if there is a rest of the world. A new, post-invasion generation has grown up: this story follows two of them, Dora and Pierrot, the two characters on the cover. They both have telepathic powers, not entirely under control – and I would say that is not uncommon for this new generation. Maybe even more so as time goes on.

This is a story about humanity transformed, but that story is mostly in the background. The Great Invasion perhaps had something to do with the transformation: in the best possible scenario, it was some kind of Childhood’s End thing. The worst possible scenario? Whatever your biggest fear is. Whatever is the most horrible thing you can think of.

Pierrot’s father, Dr. Vivaldi, is one of the leaders of Celestia. At least, he has followers, so he’s leading them – it’s not clear if there’s any real government on Celestia, and the back cover describes it as “an outpost for criminals and other outcasts.” (As I’ve said before: if you’re the only people left, there’s no other government and you are not criminals, by definition.) Vivaldi has some kind of plans; I’m pretty sure they have to do with self-aggrandizement and power and likely some underlying theory of the outside world.

Pierrot is privileged, respected. He can reject his father and still come and go in his father’s circles as he pleases. And his telepathy is mostly a positive thing in his life.

Dora, on the other hand, is being chased. She’s in hiding, her telepathy lighting up unexpectedly, her mind only half her own. Vivaldi’s group wants her, for something that the reader may suspect will not be good for her.

Before long, Pierrot and Dora flee Celestia, with the threat of violence behind them. They are the first to do so, we think, though Vivaldi talks about exploring the larger world, all the time.

Pierrot and Dora find people outside Celestia. But very few. And most of them are from the new generation: even younger, and even more different than their elders than Dora and Pierrot. (More Childhood’s End, with maybe a touch of Midwich Cuckoos or creepier stories about transformed children.)

As they must, Dora and Pierrot visit a few places on the mainland, and will eventually return to Celestia for a confrontation with the people chasing them. We still don’t quite know why they are in conflict, what the factions in Vivalid’s group are, and why some of them would dare to threaten their leader’s only son. But we come to the end, even without that knowledge.

Fior tells this story mostly quietly, in soft colors on large pages. Even the scenes of violence seem frozen; his panels are each a moment in time, inherently still. He will not tell you how to think about this; will not tell you everything that you want to know. If you only like the kind of story in which everything is explained five times, with captions including everyone’s code names, this is not a book for you. But I hope more of you are grown-ups than that.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: The Lost City
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REVIEW: The Lost City

The rom-com was considered a dead genre when it began to consume itself, generating imitations that paled with each iteration, the predictability unable to overcome the star power. There have been a few sparks of life here and there, but as a film genre, it’s more moribund than not.

So, it’s a bit of a surprise to see one of its queens, Sandra Bullock, starring in a glossy, big budget rom-com after moving away from them for so long. Here, she’s a producer and star and at one point considered it dated given the seven years it was in development (never a good sign). She was right, it is dated and somewhat tired and still as predictable as one would imagine. Still, The Lost City is the first of its kind in a while and when it arrived in March, we could all have used something light and dairy.

The film features Bullock as Loretta Sage, a best-selling writer of romances who feels a little bothered that the readers seem to be buying the books not for her prose but for the cover art, featuring model hunk Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum). She is coerced by her publisher Beth Hatten (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) to take Caprison on her latest book tour, something she hasn’t done since her husband died.

While on tour, she is taken by an eccentric billionaire, and criminal, Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who believes her historic research used for the new bool can help him locate an actual lost city where the fabled Crown of Fire is located.

It’s Caprison to rescue but he’s just smart enough to know he can’t go on his own so he recruits a human tracker, Jack Trainer (Brad Pitt) to help find her. The action and mild hilarity ensue.

Clearly, writers Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee, and Aaron Nee (from a story by Seth Gordon) aspire to be as fresh and quirky, and fun as Romancing the Stone. The Nees also direct and it is certainly visually lush, but they fall short on the freshness. Bullock is fine, Tatum is solid, and Radcliffe is chewing the scenery with a laugh but it’s not marking any new territory in the genre. With so few rom-coms these days, and with Bullock still a crowd-pleasing performer, this is winds up as a slight diversion, a fine popcorn film where only the scenery deserves the big screen. This works just as fine at home.

The film is streaming and available on 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack from Paramount Home Entertainment. Given the lush settings and high gloss the story and cast deserve, the 2160p/Doby Vision UHD disc is superb on every level. It glistens on a home screen so every blade of grass and drop of water is pristine. This is a case where the 4K is markedly improved over the fine Blu-ray. We should be thankful that the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is equal to the challenge.

We have the usual assortment of special features, all in 1080p, none of which are extraordinary. We start with Dynamic Duo (10:42), focusing on Bullock and Tatum; Location Profile (7:09); Jungle Rescue (6:25); The Jumpsuit (3:41); Charcuterie (3:32); The Villains of The Lost City (5:29); Building The Lost City (7:23); Deleted Scenes (8:52 total); and, of course, Bloopers (5:33).

REVIEW: Adventure Game Comics: Leviathan
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REVIEW: Adventure Game Comics: Leviathan

Adventure Game Comics: Leviathan
By Jason Shiga
144 pages/Amulet Books/14.99

Jason Shiga has been keeping readers guessing since his first Choose Your Own Adventure book, 2001’s The Last Supper. He’s gone on to produce similar works, including a wonderful maze for the cover of McSweeney’s. He’s back with a new one, Leviathan, aimed for 8-12-year-olds.

This time we’re taken on an odyssey across the Cobalt Isles as you attempt to defeat the dreaded Leviathan. These types of stories are hard enough to do as prose, made more complicated by making these graphics. Each page offers two to four options, keying you to go to the appropriate page. It’s cleverly constructed although you find yourself doing more page flipping than actual reading. This being a hardcover helps with the wear and tear. You may find yourself going back to the same page one once so familiarity can quickly occur.

The two-tone artwork is simple and easy to follow, with just enough detail to differentiate characters and settings. You are certainly not reading this for in-depth characterization and deep lessons on the human condition but it is a fun story with some nice twists and turn, seasoned with some humor.

REVIEW: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Seventh and Final Season
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REVIEW: DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Seventh and Final Season

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow didn’t start off being an off-the-wall ensemble, but as the various actors’ comedic talents lightened the dire circumstances, the producers pivoted and leaned into the absurdity. As a result, it became one of the freshest concepts on the CW, super-heroic action without as much angst (or shadow). When it worked, it was very entertaining but that came sporadically, oftentimes getting silly when they needed more restraint.

Still, the lovable ever-changing band of heroes has endured through seven seasons and unlike many shows, ended on a high note. All thirteen episodes of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Seventh and Final Season can be enjoyed on the Blu-ray box set from Warner Home Entertainment.

When last we left our stalwart misfits, a Waverider popped into the sky and destroyed the Waverider they were using. Now stranded in 1925, they have to adapt and find a way home. This leads them on a cross-country jaunt to find Dr. Gwyn Davies (Matt Ryan), the inventor of time travel. Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) and Ava Sharpe (Jes Macallan) are dubbed the Bullet Blondes, sisters in crime, prompting the nascent FBI to chase them, including J. Edgar Hoover (Giacomo Baessato), who turns out to be a robot suggesting something sinister is happening.  They also nicely handle the racism and sexism of the era.

Along the way, everyone gets their moment to shine as being stuck in one time period allows the writers to actually have the characters interact in new ways, deepening relationships. The odd relationship between Nate (Nick Zano) and Zari/Zari 2.0 (Tala Ashe) is resolved in a satisfactory manner. The odd friendship between Spooner (Lisseth Chavez) and Astra (Olivia Swann) is nicely handled. The best addition for this final season is Amy Louise Pemberton finally getting screentime as the AI Gideon made manifest thanks to a magical oops from Astra. Her fish-out-of-water naivete is refreshing. A less welcome addition was the return of Bishop (Raffi Barsoumian), who I just find annoying.

There is a very nicely handled 100th episode, directed by Lotz, that brings back Kendra Saunders (Ciara Renée), Jefferson “Jax” Jackson (Franz Drameh), Martin Stein (Victor Garber), Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), Carter Hall (Falk Hentschel), and even Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvil) in a delightful way.

As things begin to wrap up in this short season, we get the sense that the crew was veering away from recognizable DC Comics sources. As a result, Donald Faison turning up as Booster Gold is a nice twist, although I wish more were done with him.

The frustrating part of the final episode is the tag, which leaves things in disarray. A risky gambit from the Berlanti stable knowing the CW was changing and DC’s shows were in danger. Sure enough, the cancellation came weeks after the final episode aired.

The shows look terrific with a solid 1080p high definition transfer with an equally fine DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track so home viewing will be enjoyable. The episodes are supported with the usually funny Gag Reel, some deleted scenes, the 2021 SDCC Legends panel, and a short featurette on the 100th episode.

Raptor: A Sokol Graphic Novel by Dave McKean
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Raptor: A Sokol Graphic Novel by Dave McKean

Now I work in marketing, so I know not to trust marketing copy. (Don’t ask me how many times I’ve gotten something subtle wrong – or something obvious wrong.) But I have to look askance at the insistence of Raptor ‘s descriptive copy of being “Dave McKean’s first creator-owned character.”

I mean, this is still a world in which Cages  exists, right? Surely he didn’t do that as work-for-hire? (If he did, the world of comics is vastly more predatory and horrible than even I thought.) And there are original characters in things like Pictures That Tick  and his smutty book Celluloid , as well. So I wonder if that phrase is just puffery to say “hey, this is important” or if it’s using “creator-owned character” in the specifically comics sense of “a thing we expect to exploit in a lot of media for decades, starting now!”

In any case: Sokol! The sensational character find of 2021! A moody guy in a fantasy landscape who kills monsters, I think (mostly off-page) and then sometimes screws up handling the aftermath, letting the local villagers make things worse than the with-monster status quo!

Oh, and he’s not really the main character of this book, because it’s by Dave McKean, and nothing can be straightforward or not about the creation of art in a Dave McKean book. Arthur, who is some manner of late 19th century gentleman (he doesn’t seem to have to work, or at least doesn’t do anything in the course of this book) and who recently lost his lovely wife Amy, is writing the story of Sokol as a way to break his grief. His brother, Ed, would prefer that Arthur join his occult group instead, for the usual vague focus-your-mind and maybe transform-the-world aims.

The stories of Arthur and Sokol trade space on the page, with McKean’s elegant – sometimes too elegant, since he’s never seen a ten-dollar-word he couldn’t replace with a fifteen-dollar one – prose as captions to give atmosphere and some context to their experiences. It’s still McKean, though, so it’s moody and evocative, with wordless sequences in which dark birds transform into blue women who fuck (?!) one of the main characters in what I hope is meant to be creepy rather than happy.

Raptor is not as clearly about grief as I thought it would be, with Arthur’s mourning so central to it. Sokol does not seem to have lost anything, and his story has nothing to do with loss. The mystic rigmarole also does not seem to have anything to do with contacting the dead: it’s more the 19th century equivalent of aligning one’s chakras and becoming one with the numinous aether.

What we do get is a lot of scenes. Sokol tromps around, and may have been rewritten by Arthur (after meeting Arthur, because it’s that kind of book) to create a better ending to his first major story. (Or maybe this ending will be even worse; such is life.) Ed and Arthur sit around like clubmen discussing Very Serious Things, and stand and declaim at Tarot cards with the rest of the mystic group. There are scenes that are clearly Meaningful and Symbolic and possibly even Mystic themselves. None of this forms a conventional narrative, because Dave McKean.

Frankly, like a lot of McKean’s work, I don’t bother to do all the work to figure out just exactly what it is about. It’s moody and gorgeous and full of fancy words and fine feeling, and that’s fine: it doesn’t need to add up to anything. So I can tell you that I think McKean does intend it all to add up to something, but I could not tell you what that “something” is.

Perhaps the further adventures of this “creator-owned character” will give us all more context.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Bad Machinery, Vol. 10: The Case of the Severed Alliance by John Allison
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Bad Machinery, Vol. 10: The Case of the Severed Alliance by John Allison

When last we left the Mystery Teens of Tackleford, at the end of The Case of the Missing Piece , they had mostly stopped solving mysteries, and two of the core girls, Lottie and Shauna, had just fallen out. That’s what the title refers to for this final collection: not the supernatural menace that threatens Tackleford (which is quite real and sinister), but the break between two of the main characters.

This is the tenth and last Bad Machinery collection, The Case of the Severed Alliance . Creator John Allison has a short afterword where he says his original intention was to have one case for each term of the Mystery Tweens/Teens’ seven years at school, which would have been twenty-one books. He gives a few reasons why he only made half that many stories, but I think he quietly missed the most obvious one: time. Allison is a creator whose stories take place in time. He sometimes drops back into the past – the Bobbins flashback series, for example, or, in an odd way, all of Giant Days – but time always passes in his stories, things change, and his characters grow older. The Bad Machinery stories came out about two a year, not three a year, and I think his characters just grew up, in his head, faster than he expected.

The Bad Machinery books are a creative peak for Allison – he’s had several; most people are more familiar with Giant Days – with a big cast well deployed, a complex and quirky world for them to live in and explore, wonderful dialogue on every page, oddball supernatural menaces that lurk deep in the story and only emerge fully near the end, and long rambly plots full of interesting incidents and unexpected moments that all come together for bang-up finishes. These can’t have been easy stories to plot, write and draw; my sense is that Allison is more of a plotter these days than a pantser, but any multiple-times-a-week comic is going to morph and change as the individual installments come out, so I don’t think anything quite ended up exactly the way he expected.

In any case: this is the “teens get jobs” storyline. All six of the main cast are about 15-16 here. Lotty works at the local newspaper, partially to have a work-study arrangement (called “P&Q” here, which is some British term that I don’t think is ever spelled out) [1] and partially because she is frustrated with her lack of movement in her preferred solving-mysteries-as-a-teenage career. (Yes, that is a thing in the Allisonverse, with glossy magazines and gala awards and all. See Wicked Things .) And Shauna is working for Amy Beckwith-Chilton, one of the old-time Tackleford characters, in her antiques shop, along with a young man named Romesh who Shauna found and who has a mystical ability to detect valuable antiquities among junk.

But the story is mostly about the gentrification of Tackleford: the main street is filling up with posh, expensive shops, rents are skyrocketing, houses prices are ditto, and an “Inland Marina” is being built where the kids used to swim in the local river. We also meet Sewerman General Johnson, the tough man who keeps the drains of Tackleford running, and the massive, possibly sentient, Tackleford Fatberg that he’s been trying to break up. Amy and her competitors in the very Lovejoy-esque antiques trade are chasing after the fabled cursed Pearl of the Quarter, a gem of immense power that disappeared at the death of its previous owner Tommy Binks, the man who made Tackleford the modern success it is.

Oh, and there’s something going on with Tackleford’s sister town, Wendlefield, which is as run-down and hopeless as Tackleford is shiny and expensive.

Shauna and Lottie work opposite ends of this mystery – do they eventually come to find it is the same mystery? Are they forced to work together? Is there a shocking confrontation in a half-constructed industrial scene? Has the mystic Pearl been incorporated into some weapon that threatens the whole town? Is there a fiendish villain who must be stopped? Do all of the Mystery Teens, and their new powers and abilities – I’ve neglected to mention that Mildred has been learning to drive a car! – come into play at the end? Is Tackleford saved?

Reader: yes and yes and yes and yes and yes and yes and sort of.

I would not start here, if you haven’t read Bad Machinery. Severed Alliance is wonderful and funny and exciting and marvelous, but it works much better if you know the characters. So find the first book, The Case of the Team Spirit , and start there. But Bad Machinery is awesome; you should read it if you haven’t already. And if you read it online (it was originally on Allison’s site but now lives on GoComics ), it might be time to get the books and read it again.

[1] Utterly nonamusing anecdote: on a call with some Brits this past week, I realized that what Americans call an “intern” (college-age person working in a business for a limited period of time, usually tied to and providing credit for their school) is called an “apprentice” in the UK. This, I think, is a similar issue.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.