Authors Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel have recently brought the former’s urban-fantasy-noir to the realm of graphic fiction with the release of Rivers of London #1: Action at a Distance, distributed by Titan Comics. The text is masterfully brought to life by Brian Williamson, with colors and letters by Stefani Renne and Rob Steen, respectively.
The story opens with an elderly Officer Thomas Nightingale on his way to a funeral for a friend he served in World War Two with, Angus Strallen. During the war, he and Nightingale served in the same company. The two are first introduced when Nightingale is brought in to use his magical abilities to bring down an enemy plane. After the war, the two followed similar paths, with both doing detective work or law enforcement for different agencies. They meet up again in London, in 1957, with Strallen in pursuit of Professor Uwe Fischer, a former-Luftwaffe pilot-turned-ally, who is implicated in a couple of murders.
Fischer had strings pulled to be released after his arrest, allowing him to escape to London, with Strallen in hot pursuit. After being briefed on the situation, Nightingale leads the duo into the London night to find Fischer, whereupon they happen upon a scene that may lead to more devious ends than suspected.
Although Rivers of London #1 does not explicitly deal with the series’ protagonist, Peter Grant, it does reveal invaluable information about the organization he works for and delves into his superior, Thomas Nightingale’s, backstory.
For primarily being a flashback-through-case file, the narrative in Rivers of London #1 is pretty cohesive. The story is told in a straightforward manner, with no deviation back into the time and place Peter Grant is reading the file. This allows the reader to more easily be absorbed into the comic and the unfolding events of the narrative.
Characters are pretty well-managed throughout. Not too many of them introduced, but just enough to stir up a little mystery and intrigue. Not to mention that they are all pretty well developed for the comic to only be on its first issue. One can easily see how a story about police, Nazis, and the occult can lend itself to harboring outlandish and cartoonish characters/personalities, but everyone seems multi-dimensional, and, most importantly, believable.
Nightingale is suave and sophisticated. An old-fashioned gentleman with quite the pedigree (having worked with the British during colonial times adds to that), and, you know, magic powers. For being a magician, he appears exceptionally calculated and logical, conditioning he most likely received from his time spent with a Special Operations Unit with London’s Metropolitan Police. He builds genuine connections and seems pretty open about divulging secrets to those he trusts.
Angus Straller is similarly sophisticated and well-to-do. Though his character is shown as being flawed, by having an affair with Dr. Frye (whom he’d later marry), he is still a good guy for being a war hero and now someone intent on catching dangerous criminals. His lover, Dr. Frye is a terrific complement to him, as she was as Nightingale put it, “the brains of the team,” and a certifiable badass for allowing herself to be used as a decoy to catch Professor Fischer.
Speaking of the Professor, he may be the weakest character in Rivers of London #1, with any immediate significance to the story. He sort of follows that typical former-Nazi trope. Granted, a nearly impossible trope to ignore in a story about the occult and Nazis. Not much is made known about him, aside from the fact that he’s still a murderer, which adds to his mystique. I trust that in future installments, his character is bound to grow exponentially and become a more integral element of the narrative, as “occult Nazis” are far more interesting than ordinary ones.
As for the art—simply spectacular. Certainly, one can always tell that they are reading a comic book, but everyone looks like they are based on actual people, not stereotypical visages meant to decorate the pages. Background characters included. The colors lend themselves to create a more convincing atmosphere during the flashbacks. Some colors become more subdued, while others pop out more. The interplay of shadows and angles really help give the comic the “noir look.”
What I really liked was how the panels were arranged. With no more than 5 panels per page, the reader is better able to understand what is happening. To that credit, the text boxes/balloons are carefully arranged as well. One is not bombarded by too many words at once. It is a pleasurable experience alternating between the words and images, as the reader has more liberty to enjoy and study what is occurring on the page.
Perhaps the most arresting part of Rivers of London #1 was the sequence in which Nightingale first shows up, during the war. He’s first shown walking stoically down train tracks, closer toward an incoming enemy plane with a pilot determined to wreak havoc. The pilot’s face goes from one of steely determination to frustration, and ultimately to absolute horror as he realizes that Nightingale effortlessly disabled his plane, with magic!
All-in-all, a very captivating comic. Being one inclined to take interest in noirs, this one made me take notice by being so unique in scope. Having familiarized myself with the novels that inspired this run, I’m quite excited to see how the series develops from here.