Best Of British: ‘Harker: The Book Of Solomon’ Part 1 Is The Perfect Police Procedural
by Richard Bruton
Harker, by Roger Gibson & Vincent Danks is, according to the quote from me on the back cover, ‘A great detective thriller with an intriguing story, wonderful art, cracking dialogue and moments of out and out comedy… an absolute triumph of a comic.‘
Yes, I totally agree with me there – and now it’s your chance to get your hands on the greatest police procedural comic I’ve read in many, many years… Harker: The Book of Solomon (Part 1).
Harker has had a long, long genesis to get to this Time Bomb Comics colour edition. It first came out as a self-published black & white comic, in 2009. Gibson & Danks published 12 issues and two collections (The complete Book of Solomon in issues #1-6 and The Woman In Black in issues #7-12) before the Book of Solomon‘s six-parts were republished by Titan Books in 2012.
Now, for the first time in colour, we get to experience Harker all over again, fresh from the first of several Kickstarter campaigns, beginning with a 4-volume reprint of the 12 issue series, followed by all-new tales of my two favourite cops – this pair right here..
Okay, on the left, that’s DCI Harker (Detective Chief Inspector) and, on the right, DS Critchley (Detective Sergeant).
Harker’s your perfect miserable and eccentric detective copper who has a real love of a good sandwich. And Critchley’s a sharper dresser, quick with the good lines, something of the comedy sidekick but also the perfect bagman for his DCI.
The pair are multiple murder specialists, called in by the authorities around Britain whenever something strange, gruesome, and deadly crops up.
Case in point, this time it’s London with a series of particularly nasty and bloody murders take place near the British Museum. This sort of thing…
We see the first murder as a four-page pre-titles sequence, perfectly setting up the very televisual nature of the series. Because this is very much a cop procedural, all of the familiar elements there right from the beginning – the murder before the titles, the unusual double-act cops, Critchley supplying the funny lines to his boss’s disdain, the forensics team coming in, the subsequent investigation, before (coming in book 2) Harker makes the deductive leap to blow the case wide open and get the villains banged up.
Essentially, this is a sublime mixing and mashing of all your favourite police shows, whether that’s The Sweeney, Inspector Morse, Columbo, or so many others. But into the mix, there’s also that bit of classic Agatha Christie sleuthing, a little weirdness, The X-Files style, and a wonderful dash of that buddy comedy going on.
Yes, it’s got a predictable structure, of course it has. But that’s absolutely not the point here. It’s a predictable structure done superbly well, with Gibson’s storytelling so fresh and sharp, the dialogue crackling with sarcasm and comedy, and the twists and turns all suitably twisty and turny… with the clues all seeming to point to something surburban, middle-class, and satanic, or at least that’s what DS Critchley thinks.
Harker’s less convinced, something he takes great pains to point out to poor Critchley, suffering yet another dressing down (a regular feature of their relationship).
And then you have Danks’ artwork, newly coloured in sympathetic fashion by Ben Lopez here in this Time Bomb version. I was just a little worried when it was announced that Harker would be in colour this time round as Danks’ black and white art has such a fine and refined line, packed with intricate details, reminiscent of the work of Gerhard on Cerebus, with all of the sumptuous detailing of the architecture and backgrounds adding so much to his great figure work.
But no, Lopez has done a grand job of it, with Danks’ linework retained. Which means you get just the same wow moments that I did, as you see Danks’ architectural brilliance at play when he goes heavy on the backgrounds, or his excellent expressive figure work when it’s needed, just like this…
Now that, I think we can all agree, is rather spectacular.
Anyway, what all of this means is that you now get to enjoy Harker for the very first time, just as I did all those years back, a perfect bit of genre comics, something that grabs you and draws you inside its carefully constructed world, wonderfully familiar to you already.
There are so many wonderful moments, of great intrigue, wonderful comedy, sparkling dialogue, and everything in-between, and I could have loaded this with so much artwork to hammer home the point. But instead, I’m going to finish with the pivotal moment in this first book, with the concluding setpiece, with Harker and Critchley headed to the pub to put everything together, take a break in the madness, and talk everything through.
And, quite brilliantly, this happens across six near-identical pages, all happening from the exact same point of view in the pub, with Harker and Critchley talking, Harker explaining things to his younger DS and, as beautifully done by Gibson, completely summarising and encapsulating the relationship between the two men, professional and personal. But not only do you get that, not only do we get to luxuriate in Danks’ sumptuous backgrounds throughout, but we also get to see those little dramas going off all around our two main players.
It’s a wonderfully done little setpiece, perfectly showing us not just the men we’re dealing with on the page but also the two creators behind this most perfectly entertaining of comics. Here, just to show you exactly what I mean, are just two of the six pages I’m talking about. Superb stuff…
Harker: The Book Of Solomon – Part One. Written and lettered by Roger Gibson, art by Vincent Danks. Colours for this new edition by Ben Lopez. Published by Time Bomb Comics.
This first collection contains the first half of the first Harker adventure and will be concluded in The Book Of Solomon – Part 2 – coming soon!
Oh, and finally, just a little chance to do a side-by-side comparison to give you some idea of that sympathetic colouring by Lopez and prove there’s very little loss of clarity in Danks’ artwork…