EDITOR's NOTE: Septic Isle is solicited in the August 2008 edition of Previews.
Jacob Marley retired from MI5 years ago, but now personal tragedy has brought him back to the service for one last job. Bring in a new, younger partner and a relationship that begins poorly before developing into something warmer, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd seen this story a hundred times before. And perhaps you'd be right, but that may be missing the point somewhat; I think there's something to be said for doing simple or familiar things well, and that's exactly what this creative team does.
Winter and Trimble don't attempt to reinvent the genre here, and instead deliver a solid bit of action-espionage reminiscent of top quality TV drama like Spooks, or comics like Queen and Country. The plot goes in some interesting and unexpected directions, as any decent story of this kind should, and the comic benefits from a strong cast of complex individuals with complicated motivations; while there are clear heroes and villains, Winter doesn't fall into the trap of offering easy answers to the idealogical conflicts at the heart of the story. Trimble's detailed art conveys a strong sense of place, which in turn evokes a sense of realism, both of which are almost essential to make this kind of down-to-earth approach work.
That said, Trimble's linework is a bit wobbly at times, and there's a sex scene about half way through the book which just doesn't work at all. This latter is not entirely the artist's fault, as such scenes, like car chases, are probably not best suited to the comics medium (and to be clear, I'm talking about storytelling rather than prudishness here), and it's a rare artist who can do either well. If I'm wrong, do drop me a line or post in the forums with examples. In the meantime, I'm sure this paragraph has improved Comics Bulletin's search rankings.
The opening / closing framing sequence is somewhat baffling, and I'm not entirely sure what Winter is attempting to achieve with the mystery regarding the hospital bed's occupant. I think the intended implication, from how the story is structured, is that it's Marley's new partner, but snippets of dialogue throughout the book instead suggest that it's someone else in the bed, and lo and behold, it turns out to be exactly that person. Perhaps I'm attempting to read too much into the "twist", or perhaps I just missed something; either way, it doesn't ruin the comic, but it is a touch confusing.
Those minor flaws aside, there's much to enjoy here, and plenty to think about. Septic Isle is not a groundbreaking piece of work, but it is nonetheless a strong and very welcome addition to a genre that is under-represented in modern western comics.
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