Friday, February 03, 2023

Steeple, Vol. 3: That's the Spirit! by John Allison with Sammy Borras

The third collection of John Allison's Steeple comics is a big, capacious thing, with one long Steeple story, a short Steeple story to start off, and a crossover with...maybe Solver? or Wicked Things? [1] ...called "Author Unknown?" in the middle. It features no page numbers, but a quick count shows it to have over 150 story pages, plus covers and some sketches in the back to bring the whole package up to what I think I accurately counted off as a 176-page package.

That, then, is Steeple, Vol. 3: That's the Spirit! All written and drawn by creator Allison, with colors on "issues 4-6" by Sammy Borras (note - nothing is identified as an "issue" within the book itself; the three stories have full-page titles but no issue breaks other than that). A big wodge of excellent Allisonian comics, all of which (I think) originally appeared on his website. [2]

Before I write about those three stories, let me link back to my posts on the first two collections (one and two) and sketch the setup: Tredregeyn is a picturesque Cornwall village, home to St. Pirin's church (CoE) and an outpost of the Church of Satan. Running St. Pirin's is Rev David Penrose, a beefy exemplar of a man who spends most of his time fighting off nightly invasions from a very diverse group of aquatic monsters who are evil but seem so far to be unconnected to the Satanists. Running the Other Side is Magus Tom Pendennis, a thin, weedy bastard who seems to be not so much evil as just a selfish, unpleasant twerp. The main characters are Billie Barker, who was a trainee CoE priest but defected to the Other Side, and Maggie Warren, who ditto in reverse - they are best friends despite their officially-opposed roles.

Right! So the first story is a single "issue" long, with a cover and twenty-two story pages, and sees Billie and Maggie having imbibed too much before and after (and possibly during) a midnight Christmas Eve service at St. Pirin's and subsequently having attracted a minor supernatural creature that torments them, because that's what happens in Allison's worlds. I hope I'm not spoiling anything by saying they are not cursed for ever and ever on page twenty-six of a 176-page book, but it is a close-run thing.

Then comes "Author Unknown?" in which Shelly comes to town on a book-signing tour - she does a series of picture books for kids called "Tibkins" after the tribble-ish main character - and gets into danger. Lotty is dispatched to find and save her, and, after some misunderstandings, is aided by Billie and the Rev. in doing so. The danger is very Tredregeyn, I'll say that much.

And then the bulk of the book is the long story, which I suppose is probably titled "That's the Spirit!" It's sparked by a couple of things: Maggie and Billie love the cozy detective drama Clotted Crime, which is set in Cornwall but filmed in Devon, and Billie is learning just how different Satan is from The Chap Upstairs (the CoE provides their curates with free living quarters and a small living stipend; Satan doesn't pay at all but does charge rent), which is causing her financial trouble. One plea to Baphomet later - and some related odd events, since this is Steeple - and Clotted Crime starts filming its new series right in Tredregeyn.

This is a longer story, so the complications continue to pile up from there, including an attractive but dim actor who dates Billie, Maggie's estranged father (a former MP and high muckety-muck in a more evil, larger Satanic church), and the inevitable aquatic horrors that Tredregeyn can never seem to get beyond. It does all end reasonably well, but Allison sets a number of obvious hooks for future stories along the way.

I'll also note that Steeple seems to want to be about sex - Lottie and Shelly note, when leaving Tredregeyn, how deeply "horny" the whole place is, and the Satanic rites mentioned seem to be entirely orgies rather than sacrificing goats and seeing to destroy one's enemies and so forth. But it's also very British in its attitude towards sex, and Allison seems to have gotten more reticent at presenting his main characters even post-coitus than in the Scary Go Round days, so sometimes they seem to be protesting way too much and not actually fucking very much at all.

Perhaps one is to assume there is always some fucking going on, just off-panel, all of the time - or maybe just that everyone else is fucking all the time, but Maggie and Billie are not. (Or maybe Maggie used to, and Billie does now - that job seems to be very heavy on the facilitating-orgies work, but it is vague as to how much "facilitating" includes "participating," for maximum humorous and dramatic opportunities.)

In any case: it's zippy and funny adventure stories, Allison-style, towards the more supernatural end of his work, with more references to sex than typical. His dialogue is still like no one else's, his body language is excellent, and his plots are convoluted in the best ways. As always, I highly recommend anything by Allison, and this is his newest book.

[1] The main guest star is the incomparable Lotty Grote, star of both Solver (currently ongoing online, at least intermittently) and Wicked Things (on hiatus at best). The secondary guest star is Shelly Winters of old, who seems mostly settled into comfortable adulthood now after the usual Allisonian young-adult chaos.

[2] Note: navigation has gotten more complicated, after what I think was at least one webcrash, the migration of the vast Bad Machinery archives to GoComics and other activities involving older comics like ScaryGoRound and even the fabled Bobbins moving mostly into paid spaces. Scroll down, look for a calendar on the right, and choose from the selector below the calendar to get to the beginnings of the various stories still available there. See also this blog post from Allison for a list of stuff and where to read and/or buy it.

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