Travelling Man's Blog


Review: Department of Monsterology Volume 2: Sabbaticals by Travelling Man

sabbaticalsWritten by Gordon Rennie

Art by PJ Holden

Colours by Steve Denton

Letters by Jim Campbell

Published by Renegade Arts Entertainment

£13.99

Available from Renegade Arts and Comixology

 

After the disastrous events of the last volume, the Department of Monsterology are all recuperating by throwing themselves into their work. Professor Jang takes Samwi to Tibet to learn about her true nature, Michael Calvary leads Team Challenger to a Scottish haunted house that shouldn’t exist anymore while Team Carnacki and their grad students encounter a forgotten branch of science that has no intention of staying that way. And elsewhere, Professor Tovar comes to terms with what he is, and what he may become…

 

Welcome to one of my favourite books. Department of Monsterology takes the ‘action and learning things!’ sub-genre that includes everything from Stargate Atlantis to Atomic Robot and turns it into the best TV show not yet made. It’s energetic, smart and immensely fun storytelling and this volume is a perfect jumping on point.

Rennie’s script combines three main plots and two sub plots to create a detailed map of the world the series takes place in. Each one includes classic moments of pulp action but each one is also remarkably grounded and human. Tovar’s sub plot is a great example of why this book works so well; it’s both ghastly body horror and an increasingly tragic look at a man pushed way too far. Likewise Jang and Samwi’s story is both a punch up with a mountain-based monster and a touching look at what happens when you realize your child is growing up. Team Challenger’s plot is the one that stays with you though, detailing a very personal version of Hell and a very different take on the ghosts that haunt us.

Which isn’t to say this is grim stuff, it really isn’t. Team Carnacki’s plot in particular is exuberant mad science action that involves robot punching and extensive running away from things that explode. But even there it’s the characters that and how much they care about each other that you remember. This isn’t a utopian world by any means and none of these people back down from a fight but it is awfully nice to see characters understand a problem to death instead of pummel it.

Also, this book is gorgeous. Denton’s colour work takes great care to differentiate between the environments and really emphasizes the scale and cinematic tone of the book. Campbell’s letter work is always impressive but he’s especially good here too. This is a huge cast and one peppered with different speech patterns. Campbell not only gives them all the room they need but helps make those speech patterns exactly what they need to be; indicators of character and subtle, vital parts of the story.

Holden is one of the best artists in the industry and here he shows just why. Every character is distinct and subtle, every action beat is perfectly realized. Each moment is exactly the right pace, nothing gets lost and the sheer, wonderful mad spectacle of what the department does is on every page. Its amazing work that combines with the amazing work everyone else does, much like the characters they’re showing us.

This is a joy to read. Pulpy but never arch, humane but never grim it’s another brilliant look at the lives of the sort of scientist the Doctor would nod at approvingly. Go buy it, and volume 1 too.

 



Review: Numbercruncher by Travelling Man

Written by Si Spurrier

Artwork by PJ Holden

Colours by Jordie Bellaire

Letters by Simon Bowland

Logo designed by Simon Parr

£14.99

Piblished by Titan

This is a love story. It’s also a story about beating the system, a story about a particularly British kind of afterlife and what your job can make you. It involves a large amount of punching, a tremendous amount of reality hacking and huge, huge heart. Imagine A Matter of Life and Death with lots more swearing and violence and much less David Niven. If you haven’t seen A Matter of Life and Death, go and watch it, it’s lovely. Read this first though.

Bastard Zane works for the Karmic Accountancy. The Accountancy is the Afterlife, run by the Divine Calculator. The Calculator is calculating the biggest number in creation and each of us is part of his workings. Good choices, bad choices, life and death. None of it matters more than a line on a balance sheet, until Richard Thyme dies in 1969. A young, brilliant mathematician, Richard is intent on being reunited with the love of his life, Jessica Reed. Zane, all pinstripe suit and cockney seething rage, is on hand to get him. Operatives work until someone else agrees to take their spot and Zane is very tired of the Accountancy business. But Richard Thyme, on his death bed, has worked out how the universe works and he has a plan…

Spurrier’s script is balanced perfectly between Neal Stephenson-esque high end math and deep, painfully honest compassion. This is a story entirely about two people who love one another, and the hero has absolutely nothing going for him but his brain. The ingenious ways Thyme begins to execute his plan are as complex and graceful as the equations the Calculator loves, and much easier to follow too. Spurrier puts Thyme and Zane together constantly, and the Road Runner/Wile E. Stitch That Sunshine double act they form is weirdly endearing. Very slowly, the two men begin to evolve, both realizing the consequences of their actions and what changing their behaviour will get them. It’s a weirdly gentle, deeply compassionate way of exploring two broken character’s psyches and it leads to a beautiful panel of Zane in the closing pages. You’ll know it when you see it, believe me.

This is a beautiful book throughout and in a way that very few other comics manage. The Karmic Accountancy is black and white and so, when he’s in the real world, is Zane. It’s a lovely conceit, showing us just how otherworldly he is whilst still having him as a foul mouthed cockney violence machine. Bellaire, whose work always impresses, amazes here as the colours slide in and out across individual panels and drive the story as they go. She’s in perfect lockstep with Holden too, whose work is always impressive but, again, on blistering form here. Zane is a glorious mountain of seething cockney pinstripe and the massive amount of time that passes as the story progresses is smartly essayed. His character work is lovely throughout, especially on Zane. His Gilliam-esque Karmic Accountancy is also great fun. Likewise, Bowland’s lettering has a lightness of touch and versatility that helps the story no end.

Numbercruncher comes from some of the best comic creators on the planet working together to tell a story. It was always going to be good, but this is exceptional. A witty, gentle, magnificently violent and very funny take on life, love, death and letting go it’s wonderful stuff. Plus, what other love story would feature something called The Accident Gun?




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