Review: The Needle Man (Soaring Penguin Press)

They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (and we have certainly seen enough indie books where a beautiful cover conceals a dogs dinner inside), but that is most definitely not the case with The Needle Man, a new book from Soaring Penguin Press. Bringing together the first story of Martin Simpson’s dystopian art deco investigator that were previously published in SPP’s Meanwhile anthology, this is a book which had us hooked from the minute we saw the iconic cover and didn’t disappoint from start to finish.

Publisher: Soaring Penguin Press
Writer: Martin Simpson
Artist: Martin Simpson
Price: TBC

Set in a neo-futurist world which has echoes of Bladerunner with it’’s sprawling mega cities, but also the Art Deco and German Expressionist landscapes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, The Needle Man sees one of the titular investigators (so called because they use a needle to torture info out of criminals) reporting into a senior, after discovering something so extraordinary that he felt the need to bypass the normal chain of command. And that is as much as we want to tell you, as the journey to this point is every bit as thrilling as the world it is presented in.

While the story is perhaps not the most original – the idea of an investigator in a strict dystopian world discovering something which skews their world view is a staple of this kind of bleak science fiction. However  it is the world building and design of the location which is what makes The Needle Man so compelling. There are shades of everything from modern science fiction like 2000 AD and Philip K Dick, to classic crime noir and dystopian fiction like Orwell and Huxley, but all rendered in this exquisite visual style which is both classic and contemporary in equal measures.

This is our first time seeing Martin’s work and we cannot wait to see more. His artwork has the richness and depth of the best digitally painted artwork we’ve seen, mixed with an iconic sense of design and style. The city has this mix of classic dystopia with oppressed workforces and skyscrapers holding rich elites, but it is viewed through this yellow filter which gives everything a golden sheen that counter balances the dark shadows and gives it a lush richness.

Rasp, the titular Needle Man has a face which is wrinkled and worn and feels like your archetypal down at heel PI, but his look is finished off with an almost Spanish style flat brimmed hat, a bow tie and the hint of a goatee and moustache adorning his angular and pointed face. There are shades of the iconic Heisenberg drawing from Breaking Bad, but for us he is more like Hercules Poirot distorted through the eyes of Kevin O’Neill (as he has an almost Nemesis The Warlock like sharpness to him) but rendered by a contemporary digital artist like white NOIR’s Divezez or Punks Not Dead‘s Martin Simmonds.

And then you see the big reveal in the middle and you are left truly speechless.

We were excited about The Needle Man from the first moment we saw the character appear on the latest issue of Meanwhile and this collected edition has taken that expectation and delivered on it immeasurably. This is one of those indie books which reminds you of how exciting independent comics can be and Simpson has created one of the best books of the year by far. if this were released by Fantagraphics or SelfMadeHero it would be talked of in reverential tones and as an award winning dead-cert. So we hope it can gain some traction among the indie press as it certainly deserves to be a calling card for both creator and publisher.

This is a book which has so much depth and imagination and beauty on every single page that you will study and absorb it’s subtleties and complexities with every read and which raises the high water mark for indie comics to a new level. A truly astounding read.