Sometimes, especially around spooky season and going into the holiday season, I enjoy a good bit of supernatural camp. Maybe it was growing up on a steady dose of Tim Burton (especially A Nightmare Before Christmas) that made me realize Halloween doesn’t need to end as we head out of that season into the commercialized buying spree that is the typical North American holiday. Heading into this year’s Halloween I got my hands on the novel turned comic Rivers of London: Black Mould, Chapter One “Breaking the Mould”, a tale that feels like Supernatural meets Men in Black which got me hooked and wanting more at just the right time of year. As I downloaded this comic—written by Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel—I couldn’t help but wonder at the significance of the title “Breaking the Mould”, but the more I dwell on it, the more I realize it isn’t just a play on words for a plot involving mould; Rivers of London is doing its part to change conventional comic tropes.
The story follows Peter Grant, a special agent for London’s Metropolitan Police. This division is small, consisting only of Grant and Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, and they deal with things that are “outside the realm of scientific understanding”. Grant is sort of an expert in this kind of thing, as he’s the only trained wizard in the entire police force. He’s been having a rough time as of late, since his former partner turned crooked and aligned herself with his arch nemesis. In the meantime, he’s recruited a new partner named Sahra Guleed, a young Muslim woman who is more than capable with a nightstick. They’re sent to investigate a strange mould problem. This mould is self aware, and kind of dangerous. Thankfully, Grant has enough knowledge of the issue to go out and buy enough vinegar to take out this pest before calling in mould control. They later find out that there is more of this mould throughout the city, and they need to find it.
While this happens, Nightingale deals with a haunted ice cream truck, but that side story was so brief it’s forgettable. I kind of wish there was a little more to this story though. I understand Nightingale is not the main character, and his story is not the larger story at play, but there’s something about a haunted ice cream truck that screams “classic horror” and I really wanted to see more. Instead the demon is thwarted rather easily, and we move back to the main plot.
The whole story is centred on Grant and his partner, and this is where the chapter title “Breaking the Mould” comes into play. In the comic book world, and most nerd culture, protagonists tend to be straight white males. Lately, comics have been doing a better job at trying to change that line of thinking, but we’re still not quite there. What is refreshing about Rivers of London is that Grant is a black lead with a Muslim sidekick. What is even more refreshing about that dynamic is that these qualities have no effect on the plot, their capabilities, or even the way they speak. This is something that comics as a whole are having issues with when introducing “minorities” into stories—making them believable characters that happen to be of a different race or culture. So, kudos to Aaronovitch and Cartmel for handling a sensitive subject in the geek realm in such a progressive way. And in a post Brexit England, the fact that this takes place in London makes it even more important.
All of that would be for naught if the art by Lee Sulivan were not fantastically illustrated, making the world feel real. That realism makes the more absurd aspects of the comic pop that much more, whether it’s a haunted ice cream truck or a grotesque, mouldy hand coming out of a wall to grab one of the characters. There’s a balance with the supernatural and normal world that just fits believably. Some of that is also thanks to Louis Guerrero for his work colouring everything as well.
As someone who has never read Rivers of London or any of the previous comics, I was impressed with how well these stories blend spooky, scary elements into the real-world setting of the London streets. While this is the set up issue for a larger story, it is a great spot to start reading, especially if you’re looking for a comic that deals in the supernatural. Aside from that, the book’s commitment to actually “breaking the mould” in the industry is something we need more of in comics and geek culture. But most of all, it’s fun. That’s why Rivers of London: Black Mould “Breaking the Mould” is worth a read.