Monday, December 24, 2012

Absalom: Ghosts of London

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Absalom: Ghosts of London (Rebellion, 2012).

Seven or eight years back, there was a successful and popular series in 2000 AD called Caballistics Inc. that followed the adventures of a gang of occult demonbusters. Among the supporting players in the series was an aging, alcoholic, hard-as-nails London copper called DI Harry Absolam, who took a keen interest in the team when he learned one of them was harboring a nasty demon.

Fast forward a few years. Caballistics' writer, Gordon Rennie, had stepped away from comics for a time to do some work in the video game industry. When he returned, quite welcome, to the pages of the Galaxy's Greatest, many people hoped that he would resume that series, and some others, and deal with the lingering subplots left behind. But he did what has, surprisingly, turned out to be a much more fun idea instead. He took that supporting character, brushed off almost every connection to Caballistics, even changing his name from Absolam to Absalom, just so everybody's clear, and made him the headliner of his own unrelated series. And good grief, does he ever carry it well.

Harry Absalom has got to be one of the least likely lead characters for an adventure story. Rennie, very ably assisted by Tiernen Trevallion on art chores, has gone back to the old ideal that 2000 AD's leads shouldn't be pin-ups. He appears to be in his late sixties and keeps a "purely medicinal" flask of some kind of spirit around, but it's strongly hinted that he's much older than he appears, and he's a lot meaner and tougher. Trevallion draws him with so much impact that somehow, this skinny, cancer-ridden old cuss, with dialogue that deliberately echoes John Thaw from TV's The Sweeney, appears to be the most intimidating copper in London. Put another way, if I had to go rounds with a comic book cop, I'd rather take the short experience of Judge Dredd's daystick than worry about what Absalom's going to do when he tells me I'm nicked.

Absalom heads a special task force assembled to enforce The Accord, a five hundred year-old diplomatic treaty between the throne of England and Hell. Unfortunately, Hell has a hard time keeping track of all its denizens, who often find themselves tempted to cause trouble on Absalom's manor. As we follow a new detective sergeant assigned to his force, we learn that there are creepy and occasionally timelost entities throughout the country. Some of them seem to want to behave or assist Absalom in keeping the peace, and others have mayhem in mind. Once again, Rennie is creating another big supporting cast in a deeply-layered story full of subplots. I hope we meet the weird undertaker with the strange eyes and - is that a brass plate in the back of his head?! - again very soon.

Absalom was an immediate hit when it launched in the summer of 2011. This collected edition compiles the first three stories from 2000 AD: two serialized adventures and a one-off. There's a fourth story, another one-off, currently available in the annual year-end bumper edition of the comic, Prog 2013, and fingers are crossed that Absalom will be back defending his manor in another serialized adventure later this year. It's a terrific series, and one which everybody would love to see much more frequently. Nobody would complain if this were given a seven-month residency. Absolutely recommended.

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