Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bad Machinery, Vol. 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison

The Mystery Tweens are solidly becoming Mystery Teens in The Case of the Forked Road, which means the boys have all seemingly lost 50 IQ points and keep punching each other for no reason. [1] So any mystery solving will be left to the girls, this time out.

Since this is a volume seven, before I go any further, there are two notes. First is that you don't need to know anything going into this book. Well, OK: these are kids in a secondary school in Tackleford, the oddest town in England. You can pick that up from the book, and it's all you need to know. Also, this is a collection of a webcomic, so you can always read as much of it as you want online.

But, if you do want to know more, let me direct you to my posts about Bad Machinery books one, two, three, four, five, and six. You may also be interested in the pre-Bad Machinery comic Scary Go Round, also set in Tackleford, which led to the comic-book format Giant Days, of which there have been several collections so far: one two three four.

The book version of The Case of the Forked Road, as usual, is slightly expanded from the webcomics version, with some pages redrawn a bit and others added to aid the flow. It also begins with a new page introducing the main characters and ends with several related old Scary Go Round pages -- both of those introduced and narrated by Charlotte Grote, Allison's current troublemaking smart-girl character (following a string of such in the past).

As usual, Allison is great at capturing speech patterns and the half-fascinated, half-oblivious attitude of teens -- the girls discover a mystery this time, in the suspicious activities of a elderly lab assistant they call "Grumpaw." But they have no idea what this guy's name is, and have to go through convolutions just to get their investigation started.

They do, of course, and eventually find a fantastical explanation to the question of Grumpaw and the mysterious and strangely ignorant schoolboy Calvin. And the dangers they have to deal with this time out are directly related to the stupid violence of some male classmates. (Though the cover shows that it's not the boy Mystery Teens; they stay offstage most of the time, and are useless when they're on it.)

Allison writes smart stories that wander interestingly through his story-space and gives his characters very funny, real dialogue to say on every page. And I think his stories are best when he draws them himself: his line is just as puckish and true as his writing. That makes the Bad Machinery cases the very best Allison books coming out now.

One last point: if you've complained that previous Bad Machinery volumes -- wide oblong shapes to show off the webcomic strips -- were physically problematic, then you are in luck. The Case of the Forked Road is laid out like normal comic-book-style pages, just as these strips appeared online. So you no longer have that excuse, and must, by law, buy Forked Road immediately.

[1] If you think this is some kind of sexist nonsense, my currently sixteen-year-old son can tell you a story of some of his fellow students on his recent trip to Germany and Italy. These young men got into trouble because they were throwing some "hot rocks" around -- as you do when you discover some rocks that are warmed by the sun, in a nice hotel in a foreign county -- until, inevitably, windows got broken. There are boys who avoid the Enstupiding and Masculinizing Ray of Puberty, but they are few and beleaguered, and the general effects of the ray hugely debilitating.

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