The Department of Monsterology #1

Dept of Monsterology #1
Gordon Rennie, PJ Holden,
Renegade Arts

department-monsterology-1-rennie-holden-renegade-cover

Starting in October Renegade Arts kicks off a new mini series from Gordon Rennie and PJ Holden, two creators well known on the UK/Irish comics scene, especially for their 2000 AD work. Dept of Monsterology will be a four-part mini-series, which sees field groups from Dunsany College’s Department of Cryptozoology, Mythological Studies, Parapsychology and Fortean Phenomena.

We first meet Dunsany’s ‘Team Challenger’ on board the Derleth, in the South Pacific. While Professor Javier De Tovar, on loan from the University of Salamanca, and Victor monitor from the ship their field expert Amelia Court dives below, investigating some ruins but finding most have fallen into a deep undersea trench; quite possibly a lost civilisation, but is it the type they are interested in? And are they able to explore further before some rather peckish looking humanoid/piscine hybrids decide they are the human equivalent of sushi…

department-monsterology-1-rennie-holden-renegade-01 department-monsterology-1-rennie-holden-renegade-02

The second half of the issue deals with ‘Team Carnacki’, where young Samwi flits her lithe form easily over the roofs of nocturnal Budapest, guided telepathically by Belasco, Doctor Jan Sonam (an Oxford and Stanford scholar now but a former Ghurkha Rifles veteran, so handy in a physical struggle too) and Doctor Calvary. What looks like some ‘wire-fu’ style flitting across roofs is actually Samwi’s spirit form – her body back at base while her spirit form explores a building for a mysterious stolen consignment from China. But on finding the space where the goods are hidden she finds broken rubble and the dead bodies of the thieves – they are too late, something is loose…

department-monsterology-1-rennie-holden-renegade-03

This is a cracking supernatural adventure yarn; as you’ve probably already garnered from some of the names – Challenger, Derleth, Dunsany and more – this is a series which is very well aware of its influences, and also realises most readers will be too, and plays to them very well. There are all sorts of elements at play here, influences from the classic – Lovecraft, Conan Doyle and more – to the modern – notably Mignola’s wonderful Hellboy. Rennie has never been one to simply riff on popular genre elements though, he’s always been good at referencing other works genre readers will know and love but making them quite his own (as he did with the excellent Absalom, for instance). PJ, as ever, crafts some lovely art to accompany the script, pitching it nicely somewhere between Mignola meets European adventure tale bande dessinee.

Structurally I was surprised at the two-part approach, especially in a first issue. First issues are always very much about introducing characters and the initial set up, as well as hooking readers into wanting to read the following issues. Splitting a first issue into two halves dealing with two groups seemed like an odd choice to me – it can be hard enough to do justice to characters and narrative in a single first issue, after all, without doubling the trouble. But then of course Rennie and PJ are both schooled in the classic Brit comics weekly anthology school, where you have to make episodes of only three to five pages work well, so having thirty odd pages is a luxury for them, no doubt, and the necessity of economy in characterisation and narrative learned in that Brit weekly publications like 2000 AD pays dividends here as the pair skilfully fit these two halves of an introductory set-up into the issue in a very satisfying manner: the initial set-up revealed, the main characters introduced and some of what they can do shown and the lingering ‘what next’ thread dangled enticingly. All in one issue. Damned good comics storytelling, if you ask me.

department-monsterology-1-rennie-holden-renegade-04

I’m looking forward to the rest of this series – it’s in pre-orders right now and I hope you’ll give it some support, it’s ideal for those of you (like me) who love a clever work with Mignola and Lovecraftian tones. The first issue is in the current issue of Previews and us due for publication  in October, it can be pre-ordered via our comics subscription site now.

This review was originally penned for the (shiny new-look!) Forbidden Planet blog

Absalom

Another review I recently penned for the Forbidden Planet blog:

Absalom : Ghosts of London

Gordon Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion

2000 AD/Rebellion

Meet Detective Inspector Harry Absalom; Inspector Morse he isn’t. Old Harry is a bitter, tough as old boots copper with a very special beat – the supernatural and demonic and the bloody odd (with an emphasis on ‘bloody’). This isn’t some sort of X-Files inspired law enforcement agents deal with bizarre cases though, oh no. Harry’s department is above even the Special Branch or the anti-terrorism units; the people he answers to are the people, as he so charmingly puts it, that even the senior politicians and civil servants pee themselves in fear when they hear their names. This is a Britain a little different from the one we know, following the capture of a real, live demon in the 16th century, a deal is struck between the throne and Hell, which, as was the fashion for treaties of those days, was cemented by inter-marriage – several of the noble houses of Albion and the infernal regions have inter-married and inter-bred to increase their family power and influence. You think the Old Boy network is bad for hidden influence and string pulling to direct affairs of state? Imagine when many of those old boys are ancient half-human, half-demonic creatures of huge power.

Some are well-behaved, at least in public, and seem human, others are simply a Hellish mess, inhuman and uncontrollable, locked away in a secure countryside facility, others sometimes push their influence further than is allowed. And then in comes Harry, the copper charged with policing The Accord and quite delighted if that involves smashing the face of some part demonic upper class ponce. Joined by a newly transferred officer, Jemima Hopkins, we follow Harry on a series of increasingly desperate events, from small scale (mind reading tricks by low life to steal PIN numbers, a new angle on identity and credit card theft) to escaped demonic inmates from the rural facility, right through to a fracturing of history that sees pivotal scenes from the history of London spilling into the present – pursuing a villain down a street they find themselves in the middle of the Great Fire, severed heads are found in the Thames, but rather than a single murder there are thousands, and all Roman, those killed by Boudica…

It’s a world populated by grotesques where nothing is quite as it seems (Harry himself has a hidden past involving something bad happening to his family and a cancer eating at his body while a diseased doppelganger taunts him, unknown to his team), Jemima, the up and coming high-flyer has her own secrets and those who oversee and direct the team also have their own agenda. The art by new talent Tiernen Trevallion is superb and stylish, perfectly suited to the mood of Gordon Rennie’s series, while Rennie not only turns in a cracking set of tales and neatly builds up interest in the characters, he develops a feeling of far more going on behind the scenes, waiting to be explained in later tales, while also delighting in lashing out plenty of cynical, deeply sarcastic dark humour, gleefully taking swipes at pop culture and class issues. For me Absalom falls somewhere between its brilliant 2000 AD stablemate Stickleback and Mignola’s Hellboy, and believe me that is high praise. More of this, please.