Thursday, May 06, 2021

Wicked Things by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Whitney Cogar

I have to assume the plan - or maybe the hope - was that this would replicate Giant Days's success, and turn into a long-running comics series. And maybe it still will: I get the sense that the days when a publisher could say, mid-run, "hey, the numbers are great, and we're just going to keep on going with this book!" are now over, and were even basically over in 2013 when Giant Days started. So there could be another Wicked Things series: we're still in early days, since this paperback came out (checks planned posting day) last month.

Anyway, Wicked Things. It collects a six-issue series from 2020 about Charlotte "Lotty" Grote, the biggest character from writer John Allison's Bad Machinery webcomic, who also made a few appearances in his popular Giant Days comics series. He's joined here by the core end-Giant Days crew, with Max Sarin on art and Whitney Cogar on colors.

(I pause here to mention that I've seen reviews of Wicked Things issues that refer to Lotty as a fan-favorite who first appeared in Giant Days and thus afterward appeared in Bad Machinery, which betrays an essential lack of understanding that time is a thing that goes forward.)

Anyway (once again), Lotty has spent the few years since Bad Machinery ended still solving odd crimes in Tackleford, even if the rest of the Mystery Tweens gave up and went on to more normal teen lives. As this book opens, she's on her way to the gala Solver Awards in London, where's she's nominated in the Teen Detective of the Year (16-18) category. She is also accompanied by Little Claire, the only other character old fans will recognize.

And, as the reader settles in, expecting a biting satire of comics awards and related stuff, the whole story shifts: Lotty wins her award, but isn't there, because she's being framed for a murder.

Well, attempted murder. Luckily for her, the victim is alive. Unluckily for her, the victim is also in a coma, and unable to report that Lotty is not the (attempted) murderess. And one of the top coppers on the case is convinced enough by her protests of innocence - no one else is; it's a very good frame - to put her on a kind of work-release to "assist the police with their inquiries."

In this case, that means spending her nights in a kind of halfway house, locked in with a few other possibly-reformed criminals and monitored by ankle bracelet, and spending her days at the cop shop making tea and being ignored by the actual police as she spins crazy but generally-correct theories about the crimes those cops are investigating. She does remarkably little investigating of the actual murder she's accused of, possibly because Claire is digging into that (not well) and possibly because she's more excited by the other crimes the cops around her are working on.

It does all come together in the end, more or less. (The moment where Lotty is cleared of the attempted murder seemed less than definitive to me.) Lotty's crime-fighting instincts are nearly always correct, but nearly always unheeded, which is amusing but would need to be adjusted if Wicked Things turns into an ongoing series.

And it reminded me that Allison keeps doing big action stuff - Scarygoround was full of it, and Bad Machinery measured it out more carefully in bursts at the end of each case - but not always successfully in an American floppy-comics context. (It's one of the things that I thought made his By Night, which also tries not-entirely-successfully to translate his essential Britishness to a middle-American setting, not as strong as it could have been: he's just not the guy for the big fight scene.) It works reasonably well here, but Wicked Things, if it returns, would be less slice-of-life and "bigger" than Giant Days was, so I do wonder if his current audience would be as interested.

I would love myself more Lotty Grote, especially on a regular basis, so I hope they would as well. Globe-trotting teenage detectives - or even mid-England-trotting - would be a lot of fun. Let's hope Allison, Sarin and Cogar get to do more.

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