Rivers of London: Black Mould (#1 – 5) – Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel

3 out of 5

Writer Ben Aaronovitch’s Doctor Who roots become very clear with this installment of Rivers of London.  There’s the obvious sci-fi / fantasy connection, but moreso in the tone and structure: it’s a bit more obvious with New Who versus the serialized setup of the original, but the show has always essentially followed a Problem of the Week format.  Of which there’s nothing wrong – as sixty or whatever years of episodes can attest – but it suggests certain aspects of River of London shares: People change and events occur, but …of-the-Weeks are based on consistency, so such events tend to not occur organically, but rather in a way to not affect a current storyline.  It’s not directly part of that week’s tale in other words; it’s that the actor is leaving or we’re tired of a character.  In other other words: There are no real stakes.

And again: That’s fine.  This format is much less common in comics, so its sort of novel and charming to read.  Rivers of London has a nice, chummy vibe to it, encouraged by the London-exploring extras, which are told with a very nudge nudge wink wink communal tone.  But its also less common, perhaps, because the inevitable lessening of stakes is often at odds with the format, which – in an ongoing series (or an ongoing set of mini-series, like RoL), generally requires a touch of sensationalism; something to justify why the story is in this form and not another.

A title struggling with something similar is Greg Rucka’s low-rent PI Stumptown books: A personable set of characters and a truly lived-in environment, but the cases are such low stakes it can be hard to dress them up effectively for the reader.  One major difference?  Greg’s been writing comics for a while.  So he’s developed years of methods and tricks to, on average, make Stumptown a lot of fun.

Aaronovitch hasn’t been in comics prior to RoL.  The methods and tricks aren’t yet there, and so you get some TV tics – see the Doctor Who mention – in which Aaronovitch “directs” his panels as per a TV camera and not a comic page, as well as habits likely from his book writing, in which a scene buildup that would probably work just fine in text form tends to fall flat here.

This makes Black Mould sound horrible, which it isn’t, by any means.  It’s a typically fun, harmless RoL jaunt, and Peter and crew come up against a sentient creature as per the subtitle, which is cleverly acting as an aggressive landlord to various buildings’ tenants of which it disapproves.  It’s a quirky setup, done justice by Aarowsmith’s well established characterizations.  Artist Lee Sullivan backs this up with his expressive character models, the lived-in environments brought to rich life by Luis Guerrero’s colors.  But I go back to that ‘harmless’ adjective, backed up by my above blabber: The mould is meant to frighten, and it acts quite aggressively on that front, but neither the writing or art can actually back that up, the tone so firmly established as hunky-dory at this point.

And overall, once some pointers are in place a couple issues in, there’s not much mystery involved in the goings-ons, or at least not enough so to really intrigue, thus further relegating the tale to: Harmless.

I imagine the RoL books are a good time, and I intend to check them out.  But Aaronovitch has a while to go before he has the right instincts for a comic.