With the first volume of Vault’s Shadow Service due to be collected this April, now’s the perfect time to looks back at the supernatural private eye thriller that asks the question “What happens when London’s criminal underworld literally goes to Hell?”
Vault have been on a bit of a winning streak of late with the likes of Giga and The Picture of Everything Else. The latest series from Cavan Scott (Star Wars: The High Republic, 2000AD: Regened) and Corin Howell (Kill Shakespeare, X-Files: Origins) tells the story of Gina Meyer, a private investigator whose cases seem to take her down supernatural paths, whether she likes it or not. This first arc of Shadow Service tells the story of how Gina, a reluctant potty-mouthed witch, crosses paths with the sinister Section 26, an organisation who specialise, as Gina puts it, in “spooky bullshit”.
Scott creates a world that that is both fresh and familiar. There are plenty of nods to cult TV and comics, with haunted paintings right out of Ghostbusters 2, a sinister encounter on Harkness Avenue and a secret headquarters that’s “bigger of the inside”. Even The Professionals gets a look in, with MI5 and Bodie and Doyle being replaced with M1666 and Aashi and Coyle. Scott does this with such élan and a great sense of fun that it’s hard not to be charmed by the book, especially it’s central protagonist Gina, a likeable mix of Rose Tyler and Buffy Summers.
There’s plenty going on beneath the surface too. The theft of a magical artefact has led Britain “spiralling into a maelstrom of bigotry and hatred”. “Brexit”, as Scott notes, “was only the beginning”. The story also tackles issues like abusive relationships and failures in the care system but the tone is never preachy. The dialogue is witty and often very funny (“Wake up and smell the brimstone”) and the plot is fast-paced and exciting.
Corin Howell’s art is beautiful throughout, at times reminiscent of Jim Baikie. She’s as comfortable with council houses and nightclubs as she is with hellscapes and inter-dimension portals. Her monsters leap from dramatic splash pages with more than a hint of Cronenberg to them. Triona Farell’s colour are incredibly important in the storytelling here, vivid purples when showcasing the horrors of Gina’s past, cold blues to highlight the alien interiors of the Section 26 headquarters.
Shadow Service is a fun ride and, as you might expect from the writer of Transformers/Back to the Future, more than meets the eye. With an epic clash between the forces good and evil building, strong characters and fantastic art, now is a great time to jump on board. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next!