Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bad Machinery, Vol. 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison

OK, to get it out of the way up front, here are links to the previous cases of the six young people who are definitely not called the Tackleford Mystery Teens: one, two, three, four, five. Oh, and have a link to some pre-Bad Machinery collections of Scary Go Round, also set in Tackleford, and the first two volumes of the only loosely related Giant Days.

When Bad Machinery began, there was something like a loose formula: the six young people (tweens then) were investigating some local mysteries with a supernatural element, as typically the three girls dug into one odd thing and the three boys another. And then, of course, the two cases would turn out to be intertwined, and the groups would either work together or compete to solve it first. That "formula" didn't last long, as the kids kept growing up -- each book takes something like a third or half of a year -- and developed crushes and love interests (on each other at least once) and just got older and more sophisticated.

By the time of The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor, another school year has just ended with the wrap-up of the not-otherwise-chronicled "Case of the Rock Bottom," in which they fingered a local '90s alternative-band drummer for the murder of his singer (now a ghost). Shauna and Mildred and Sonny -- the relatively posh kids, which Allison doesn't say but a careful reader will have realized -- are all away for the summer at various vacation activities. Ace reporter Erin Winters is back in Tackleford and shaking up the staid local paper, the Cormorant.

And there's a strange figure appearing at night and frightening people into comatose states -- mostly the local miscreants, true. Some call him the Night Hero, some the Night Creeper. Charlotte thinks that he's her mother's new boyfriend, a boring sewer engineer who has just moved into town. (Though Charlotte's sister has also just moved back to town with her boyfriend, a dashing young doctor.) Linton's father is the new Chief of Police, and so he wants to solve the mystery to help his dad.

All of the theories are not quite right, and the story of the Night Hero/Night Creeper is more satisfyingly complicated than it seems at first. But the teens left in town, with the help of Erin, do get to the bottom of it, and save Tackleford from another bizarre supernatural thing before the story is done.

Allison told this story once in the Bad Machinery webcomic, but the book version is longer, better paced, and gorgeous -- the books are in an appealingly large format, giving his sprightly art room to breathe and work at its best. And his dialogue is as funny and spiky as ever, particularly since this story is very Charlote Grote-focused. (Allison's best characters, in each generation of his Tackleford stories, are the smart, sharp-tongued young women, from Erin to Esther DeGroot to Charlotte.)

Look, Bad Machinery is one of the great comics of our times, period. You should be reading it, if you read comics at all. I can't say it any plainer than that.

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