This graphic novel, originally published by Titan Books in 1989, features some of writer James Robinson’s earliest work (who went on to fame on DC’s Starman series, and some would same infamy on the more recent Justice league: Cry for Justice mini-series). The black & white art is provided by fellow Englishman Paul Johnson.
Set in London in 1940, this World War II story is a nice mix of war, romance, and the supernatural. Jack Brookes is a patriot denied entry into the army due to a bad heart, so he does what he can on the home front as an air-raid warden, enforcing blackouts. Circumstances bring him into contact with the beautiful Sophie, a psychic/medium, and the two are soon embroiled in a murder that exposes the profitable black markets of the war-torn city.
The storytelling is tight and confident, and experiments with different narrative devices such as multiple voices, flashbacks, and prose interludes. I felt that Robinson captured the bleak uncertainty of life during wartime quite well, while writing a story that’s ultimately optimistic (no small feat).
The black & white art is equally experimental, using techniques ranging from photo collages to expressive brushwork, but is really difficult to follow in some places. For example, telling the different antagonists apart was a problem, and some panels are just so dark and cluttered that following the action is somewhat of a chore (sorry, I can’t get a good scan of the interior pages without breaking the binding on the book). Johnson’s later fully-painted color work in series such as The Books of Magic and Interface are amongst my favorites, but here I get the feeling he was still coming into his own. He does a good job with setting the right tone and mood for the story, though.
Still, a good read overall, and quite a nice little departure from most of the books out on the stands now. It’s always fun to see the early work of obviously talented creators.
(A version of this review appeared on my old Ferret Press blog, February 2011)