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Robots make bad therapists in the deadpan Mooncop

The lunar colony on Earth’s moon has one police officer, and he’s not doing too well. His 100 percent crime solution rate is only that high because there are no crimes for him to solve, and the quiet isolation of his work is starting to have a serious impact on his mental health. Tom Gauld’s new graphic novel, Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly), explores this unnamed officer’s intensifying depression as more and more people depart the colony and return to Earth, but it’s not as dour as it sounds. Gauld is known for his minimalist aesthetic and deadpan sense of humor, and these two elements work wonderfully together to bring levity to the emotional crisis in these pages.

Gauld’s storytelling style keeps the reader at a distance, and he uses the general lunar atmosphere to reflect the officer’s feelings rather than getting too deep in the character’s head. Mooncop opens with a series of silent pages emphasizing the vast emptiness of the colony, showing snapshots of the various structures on the moon’s surface, completely devoid of any people. The first time the reader sees the lead, the cop is driving through the barren landscape alone, occupying a small portion of the full-page panel. The image is fairly simple on the surface, but there’s remarkable complexity in Gauld’s composition; he has an acute understanding of how this character relates to the world around him, and each visual element on the page conveys a different aspect of that relationship.

The fixed perspective of those first pages introduces a monotony that downplays the majesty of the moon, which is appropriate for a story about a man disenchanted with a situation that once held promise. Unable to get a transfer back to Earth approved, the officer is both prisoner and warden, tasked with the responsibility of watching over the almost entirely empty territory that he can’t leave. He’s starved for human interaction, and Gauld heightens that hunger through the officer’s comedic moments with various machines. Some he’s familiar with, like the museum’s Neil Armstrong automaton, and some are new to his life, like the robotic therapist sent to him after his latest transfer denial, but nearly all of them are used for punchlines built around their inefficiency. These machines don’t understand communication and often have technical flaws that prevent them from performing their central functions, and much of the humor in the story comes from the numerous ways machinery fails the officer.

These circumstances make each human interaction especially meaningful. The officer’s initial scenes with other humans highlight the ongoing exodus away from the moon to reinforce the officer’s growing solitude, but the tone begins to change when there’s a new arrival rather than a new departure. The human barista at the new Lunar Donuts Minicafe is the officer’s only chance at creating the personal connection he so desperately needs, and although Mooncop doesn’t show whether or not this new friendship pulls the officer out of his depression, the formation of that relationship ends the book with surprising sweetness and optimism. [Oliver Sava]

Fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s supernatural police procedural novels were understandably excited when it was announced that Rivers Of London would be adapted into comics. Aaronovitch has created a lush world with deep mythology and a lot of fascinating characters, and his experience working with Doctor Who on both television and the printed page spurred high hopes. Rivers Of London: Night Witch #5 (Titan Comics) is the final issue of the second distinct story arc in the Rivers Of London comics, so there’s certainly not a great amount of character development happening on the pages, but it’s a good last installment in a fun ride through both history and urban legend.

Night Witch, as the title implies, finds main characters Peter Grant and Thomas Nightingale tangled up in a Russian kidnapping that allies them with a woman who was part of the USSR’s infamous female pilot program in World War II. The implication that the night witches weren’t merely excellent pilots but also actual witches is an interesting one, and raises all sorts of possibilities for future stories. But this is where Rivers Of London suffers, a lot like Doctor Who: There is just too much to show on the page. Night Witch features one of Grant’s exes and his current girlfriend, both of whom are apparently important enough to feature but never get quite enough time on the page to explain who or what they are to anyone who’s not familiar with the prose novels already. Aaronovitch and co-writer Andrew Cartmel do a good job of setting up an interesting mystery that’s complete in five short issues, but that’s hardly enough to get any steam built up. Even including the five issues from the previous arc, Body Work, there’s just not a lot of meat on Grant’s and Nightingale’s bones yet. They’re trying to do what Warren Ellis’ current run on the James Bond comic is doing, but without the benefit of near universal name recognition and decades of widespread popular culture success, and they’re missing the mark.

The art for Night Witch, as with Body Work, is by Lee Sullivan and colored by Luis Guerrero, and it’s executed almost flawlessly. For being a smaller publisher and a lesser-known title, Sullivan and Guerrero are a great team that bring out the best in each other to deliver a book that would look at home as the core house style at a much larger company; it’s technical and nuanced with a lot of sight gags that strengthen the sometimes stiff writing and help overcome awkward pacing. Taken as a whole, Rivers Of London is a fun read, but it’s definitely better to binge than to read monthly. This is one of the biggest challenges of switching from prose to comics: The pacing is inherently different and it can be difficult to nail down. That said, Night Witch builds on Body Work well, and is stronger than the first arc. A third could be just what’s needed to perfect the strategy. [Caitlin Rosberg]

The first in a tenuously planned five-volume collection of the popular webcomic of the same name, Kill Six Billion Demons Book 1 (Image Comics) opens with a girl named Allison attempting to lose her virginity. But then a sovereign king of hell appears, only to lose his head and transfer his ungodly power to Allison. As a result she is thrust into the bowels of a trans-dimensional city and, with the help of an angel in a stone body, is forced to figure out what’s going on and fight off the forces that want her dead. A lot happens in the volume’s relatively low page count, and a clear and stated purpose propels each scene forward. The series exudes a very plot-heavy tone.

Author Tom Parkinson-Morgan successfully conveys the feeling that there is some underlying story, and it must constantly progress at all times. This emphasis on plot, however, is merely a ruse, and it is quietly subverted. Parkinson-Morgan gives much of the chapters collected in this first volume to digressions, histories, fights, and, as a result, Kill Six Billion Demons merely echoes the tone of a prioritized plot. Like the shonen manga that Parkinson-Morgan appears to drawn on for his aesthetic—with his jagged and oddly apportioned panels, and his slick lines that balances detail and simplicity, realism and a warped anatomy—the series moves toward an inevitable conclusion, but its path there is slow. In fact, the plot unfolds at a positively glacial pace. As a substitute for movement, Parkinson-Morgan instead offers two page cut-outs of its world, baroquely designed bodies moving through space, contorting themselves around one another, and meta-fictive excerpts from otherworldly psalms. Consequently, this first volume is infatuated with space, time, and atmosphere, as opposed to story. It lovingly constructs and textures that space, populating it with ghoulish beasts, and it carefully, thoughtfully escorts us around.

The author accomplishes this primarily with his art. Blending hyper-dense compositions and panels with a considerably lean style of drawing, Parkinson-Morgan’s images are lush and pack with figures, objects, details; they threaten to overwhelm the eye. But his clean and broadly expressive lines lend these busy pages a sense of clarity, and he draws a metaphoric emotional thread through the page, which you can follow quite nicely. With this aesthetic, Parkinson-Morgan easily switches back and forth between action and melodrama, sometimes even between panels, and those switches feel comfortable and right. His facility with acting buoys close-ups and conversations, giving them an immensely effective range, but his dynamic lines, anarchic page designs, and lightly cartooned anatomy weighs down the action. It dissonantly feels both visceral and deliciously over the top. Parkinson-Morgan creates something that successfully invites you to read more while prioritizing individual beats and moments, and it actively encourages you to linger over things like White Chain’s (the angel) finishing move. This, it makes you feel, is a space you want to explore, stay in, and soak in. [Shea Hennum]

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