Creator/Plot: Trainor Houghton
Script: Lovern Kindzierski
Artists: Martin Montiel Luna (p), Jose Carlos Buelna (i)
Publisher: Penny Farthing Press
This is the first "Act" in a five-act story, and you immediately notice the difference between this and a more open-ended series by the number of balls thrown into the air throughout this book, very few of which land anywhere that makes total sense by the end. I mean this in the positive sense - the mysteries and weirdness grow and grow, and at the conclusion of the book you can't wait to get right into book two to see what happens next.
There's so much going on that the book reminds you of a comics version of 24 - except this was published two years before that programme started! Let me give you an example - on more than one occasion you'll have three or four seemingly disparate storylines going on at the same time on a particular double-page spread. The good news is that this has been designed with great skill, it's never confusing and, to some degree, reads like the creators are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in comics further than they've ever been pushed before. I mean, you see the occasional comic with pictures following one plot whilst the words follow a second...but four at once? With clarity? Maybe a couple of issues of Matt Wagner's Grendel have achieved something similar, but not much else.
Let's see what sort of plots we have in this mix: The Victorian himself is a vigilante, killing or torturing criminals whilst trying to trace a larger crime underway by a chap called Ballare, there's some element of time travel and 1890s secret societies involved too; Winston "Fitz" Fitzrandolph is a college lecturer at Amherst, seeking tenure yet his courses are too esoteric for the Dean - he's an expert on Victorian-era science and achievements, and has some strange ideas as to the lasting impact of people from that time; Shumpert, Harriman, Keller and Starkweather are New Orleans homicide detectives, between them investigating some minor cases (including a whole bunch of crooks handing themselves in before the Man in the Hat *gets* them), but they stumble across a voodoo-esque scene that will led them towards The Victorian, one suspects; Eudora Kincaid is a young photographer who is nearly run-down by one Trace Babineaux - a cab driver who has seen The Victorian and is trying to make sense of it - Eudora loses her film in Trace's cab, she's being pursued because of what is on it; HMS Stormbringer is a British nuclear submarine, which goes missing in the Arctic Circle; in 2006, Fitz visits what we assume is The Retired Victorian, but mysteries still abound; in 1963, a very young Fitz encounters The Victorian for the first time (probably sparking his interest in that era)...and there's more.
So yes, there's a hell of a lot here. And this is partly why the book gets instead of the 5 - I agonised over the decision, but the first couple of chapters of this book are quite hard going. I can't imagine how tricky they must've been to negotiate when originally published - from chapter three onwards the book really kicks into gear (maybe the writer was told to clarify a few things, or slow the pace down a bit, I don't know), but it begins to fall into place until the final breathtaking denouement at the end of chapter six. Chapter Seven wraps the book up, and whilst it picks up one or two threads from the ongoing story, spends much of its time filling in some important backstory from 1885.
Overall, the book is a fantastic read, well worth the asking price, it'll set you on the road to desiring the remaining four acts of the story; just beware of the first couple of chapters and persevere with them (rereading them after finishing the book is a great help).
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