Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Bad Machinery, Book 8: The Case of the Modern Men by John Allison

I always ponder how far to get into history and minutia when I'm writing about, say, the eighth volume collecting a webcomic.

I mean, on the one hand I can just say go read the webcomic already, which is perfectly legitimate. But it makes for a very short post, if nothing else.

Or I can delve into the history of Bad Machinery, linking to my posts on the previous volumes (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven), talking about how it was the follow-up to creator John Allison's previous webcomic Scary-Go-Round (q.v.), and possibly even sidetracking into a discussion of the only-vaguely-related Giant Days (viz.).

It is a puzzlement.

So, instead, I'll pretend to consider both options while actually putting them both in this post, and then dive into the current book: The Case of the Modern Men, the eighth case of the Tackleford Mystery Tweens Teens. It ran in the webcomic in early-mid 2014, with the core cast clearly teenaged and (as usual for teens) somewhat less interested in solving weird external mysteries and somewhat more interested in the more fleshy mysteries of their various innamorata (which, as also is usual with teens, were sometimes each other, though, also sadly usual, never reciprocally).

This story combines French exchange students with the thrill of the Mod lifestyle, in clothing and scooters and the music of The Whom. (Allison's world is much like, but not exactly the same as, our own.) Lottie's family hosts Mimi; Little Claire's hosts Camille. Those two young women had a previous conflict which flourishes quirkily in the fertile Tackleford soil. There is a fabled scooter that may perhaps be cursed, so that every rider becomes King of the Mods and is eventually beheaded.

The Mystery Teens do not exactly try to solve the mystery as try to help their friends, to stave off a riotous Rocker-Mod conflict throughout the surrounding borough, and to foil one of those French young women in her fiendish plans. In the end, at least no one is beheaded, and there have been some kisses exchanged.

In retrospect, this (or possibly the prior story, The Case of the Forked Road) is where Bad Machinery started coming apart. Allison always sets his stories in something like real time, so his cast will inevitably grow and change -- and he tends to write about young people (tweens, teens, twenties), so they have a lot of changing to do, and can do it very quickly. So when I say "coming apart," I mean the premise -- kids solve crimes -- rather than anything on the story level.

Here they were no longer kids. After an event in this story, solving crimes had much less appeal. And that's clear from the Bad Machinery page on Allison's site: right after this case, there was a sidebar story about Lottie and Shauna called "Space Is the Place," then one more case, then another sidebar (more of a Bobbins story, actually) under the ominous title "The Big Hiatus," and then the final Bad Machinery case.

Some creators -- naming no names here -- are content to keep their characters exactly the same age, in exactly the same relationships, for decades at a time, and many of them rake in buckets of sweet, sweet syndication money. (Or the trusts established to keep their descendants from ever working again do, in some cases.) John Allison will have no truck with that, and his work is vastly stronger for it. Every Allison story is set in a moment that will not recur -- just like every moment in each of our own real lives.

So I'm sad, even re-reading half a decade later, to remember that Bad Machinery must inevitably end. But all things must inevitably end. Allison is just better at the process along the way than many others.

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