In review of the new trade available from Titan Comics, Rivers of London: Night Witch, I find myself encountering a supernatural series that was no where near my radar. So be warned that going in to this review if you are a fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London (Peter Grant) novels, this is purely an outsiders point of view and if I didn’t have the same reaction that you did, feel free to convince me why I should dive in to the novels.
The Rivers of London series, released state side as Midnight Riot, is a cop procedural series with a supernatural bend. Sort of like Law and Order meets Harry Potter meets Men in Black. Now, where Night Witch falls in this “Potter P.D.” world is as a precursor to the next novel in the series, The Hanging Tree, to be released January 31, 2017 per the great internet ethereal being known as Amazon. The premise sounds spectacular and in the realm of comics, it could go in the sorts of directions that works like Dylan Dog and R.I.P.D failed to go. The idea is ripe with exploration and would be a world builder’s dream premise. However, the execution of this 5-Part mini-series left quite a bit to be desired, and feels rushed to print.
Taking up the helm on this story is Aaronvitch himself along with some help from Doctor Who ex-showrunner Andrew Cartmel. Handling the duty of artwork is Doctor Who comic artists Lee Sullivan and Luis Guerrero. Now, if this work would have been contracted out to a ghost writer or even an industry mercenary, I could understand the quality of the story we received. However, to have the series creator and a former showrunner of one of the world’s most popular television programs, I struggle to determine what sort of situation could result in what we received.
The overall issue with the story is primarily how lazy the execution is. We have in front of us a world where wizardry, witchcraft, and creatures who steal children are real. They interact with police, the Russian mob, and faceless antagonists. The reality is this should be a playground of the fantastic meeting the hardened truth. However, what we receive is something much more pedestrian and elementary. This is, at best, an average episode of Law and Order.
The story its self follows Peter Grant, the protagonist of the novels, as he becomes mixed up with the Russian Mob who may or may not be looking for a former Soviet Witch and a missing child. That is part of the problem, it’s never quite clear what exactly is going on, and what the motivation is. The pages are muddled with haphazard story lines lazily bumping in to one another, and dialogue that is only fitting of early 90’s late night programming. There’s no clear cut direction, and by the time we reach the end, while it becomes clear what has occurred, none of it feels like it has the weight needed for a story like this to really stand on its own. Usually an issue like this, especially within comics, rises from the artwork being unclear, and the modeling being strange. However, this time, it is clear the artists are doing the best they can with the script they’ve got.
The art is perfectly serviceable and actually has some standout moments. Lee Sullivan and Luis Guerrero do a great job with visual comic relief and action sequences, and even make spell casting an interesting interaction. While it may not win any awards, the art style is one of the stand out reasons to buy the book. Unfortunately, there is really not much else here that makes it worth while.
Overall, I feel like the Rivers of London series has potential, but this mini-series did not convince me of its status. What we got instead of an interesting supernatural police procedural was a mediocre episode of Law and Order with some magic thrown in for good measure. This one is just for the fans.