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Scarlet Traces

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2003
By: Paul Brian McCoy



Writer: Ian Edginton
Artist: DíIsraeli

Publisher: Dark Horse (Retail price 14.95 US and ISBN 1-56971-940-3)

The setting is London, ten years after the Martian invasion collapsed in upon itself and our germs killed them all off (surely youíve heard of this, right? There was a book about it, and a movie?). Martian technology has made England the superpower of the world and now young girls from around the world, lured to the big city looking for work, are disappearing. When an elderly drunk named Ned Penny stumbles across the a number of bodies filled with holes and drained of blood, rumors of vampires begin to circulate. But is a vampire responsible or something far more sinister? You guessed it. Far more sinister.

Ian Edginton is currently writing Sojourn for CrossGen and was responsible for one of my favorite comics of the past few years, The Establishment Ė which none of you bastards read, so itís gone now. DíIsraeli is the artist responsible for (along with Warren Ellis) Lazarus Churchyard, a drug-swilling assassin whose really just a bit of brain locked inside a sculpted intelligent plastic body, which of course, renders him immortal. ďAnd all he wants to do is die.Ē Very nice stuff that all Ellis fans, DíIsraeli fans, and fans of obscene violence and swearing, should read. He and Edginton have worked together on a number of occasions over the years (all of which are harder than hell to find, by the way, but Iím looking), and what we have here is a wonderful science fiction mystery in a handsome hardback format.

The production values on this are perfect. The colors are vibrant and the pages are firmly sewn. This looks good on the shelf and reads even better. Being a free-standing one-shot hardback, the creators didnít even bother trying to pander to the regular comics crowd, and will probably be overlooked by many because of it. Hell, I forgot it was even being released, having only seen it listed in the Previews catalog months ago and then having heard nothing about it since. So when Cheryl, the owner of my local comics shop, handed it to me upon my arrival this past Wednesday, I was surprised and overjoyed. Iíve been bitching about what publishers should be putting out to attract adult readers and their green green money (in America anyway) for a while now, and here in my hands is a very good example. Of course itís not being marketed at all that I can tell, so weíve still got a way to go.

The story is dark and realistic, set among the many spider-legged machines that are roaming the streets of London. The Martian technology is everywhere and DíIsraeliís design work, often inspired by Edgintonís ideas, is fantastic. The cityscapes are a wonder of style and detail. Every page is a work of art. A joy to look at. The human characters are stylized and cartoonish, reminding me at times of the work of Charles Burns and at other times of Dan Clowes. Needless to say there are some creepy characters lurking around in the shadows of this story.

The main characters, Major Robert Autumn and his manservant Sergeant Archibald Currie, are on the hunt for who is responsible for the missing girls Ė one of which is Sergeant Currieís niece. There are government plots, near death experiences, and heartbreaking losses along the way, and while the ending is not quite what many people may want it to be, it stands strong. Like I said, this is not for your average comics fan. This is for fans of science fiction and alternate histories. If Planetary #16 hadnít come out at the same time, this would have easily been the best thing I read all week.

Engaging and intelligent speculative fiction paired up with excellent and innovative artwork. It will cost you a bit more than you might want to part with, but for a graphic novel that really has enough story to be called a novel (or a novella, anyway, at around 80 pages), itís a good deal.



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