Written by Roger Gibson and drawn by Vince Danks
Published by Titan Books
This hardback collects the six issues of the independent comic, which is (as the author admits) a police procedural television show you might see on ITV on a weekday evening at 8pm, but in comic-book form. It’s unusual to see something like this in comic books – the prevalent form of the crime genre in comic books tends towards the violent noir side, so this redresses the balance somewhat.
This is classic television detective stuff: DCI Harker is grumpy, belligerent, squeamish, intelligent in an aloof way (a bit like Morse) whereas his assistant DS Critchley is more easy-going, more worldly-wise, with a sense of humour and an eye for the ladies. To give you an idea of the off-beat quality to their relationship, the first time we meet them is outside an old church in the centre of London at the scene of a grisly murder, in a full-page spread – Harker: ‘Did you bring the packed lunch, Critchley?’ Critchley: ‘It’s in the boot, guv. Cheese and pickles.’ This is while standing outside Harker’s vintage car, as he lights a cigarette and Critchley poses, arms akimbo, with his shaved head, goatee and sunglasses. I think that was when I knew I liked this book.
The detectives are called in to investigate because of the ritual aspects of the murder, which happened very close to the British Museum, from where Critchley finds a link to an old book, The Key Of Solomon (‘The Harry Potter of black magic books’). Meanwhile, investigating the murder victim leads them to a group of Satanists. Critchley is convinced that these are connected; Harker disagrees and thinks that he is jumping to conclusions (‘Devil worshippers, my fat backside’). The interplay between the two characters is very good: there’s an element of Holmes–Watson, as well as Morse–Lewis, with Harker as the intellectual slightly outside humanity, Critchley as the man who has to deal with the normal mechanics of police and people (which makes me wonder why the series is called Harker instead of Harker And Critchley).
The story is a good murder mystery with a real sense of London and fully realised characters, and this is achieved not just by the writing but by the art. Danks has a clear style – I was reminded of Gary Spencer Millidge on Strangehaven, and I’m sure I detected a hint of Paul Gulacy on the cover – and he is good with both the characters and the settings. There are some great pages of views of London (there’s a lovely full-page aerial shot of Bloomsbury, and some equally good shots of the British Museum) that puts me in the places I know so well – the British Museum is across the road from where Gosh! used to be located, so it’s very familiar – and yet is more than just good drawings from photographs, setting the scene and placing the characters in real locations. Danks also has a talent for storytelling – there is a lovely section in the middle of the book that is six full-page spreads of Harker and Critchley in a pub having a conversation about their investigation that is a great piece of comic books.
This is a very enjoyable book. It’s a good story, told with wit and authenticity. It goes a bit bonkers and action-based towards the end, but it does it with a sense of humour and homage to television detective series that it has earned the right to go in that direction. The creators have plans for more Harker books, which can only be a good thing based on this first collection.