The first in a series of graphic novels, this first volume of Drowntown is an extremely promising start. With two of 2000AD‘s finest writing and illustrating the book, and it coming out of the Jonathan Cape stable, it’s almost not worth pondering over – you know you want it.
In a futuristic London, the water levels have risen to the extent that the city streets are underwater, creating a grimy, sewage-filled world where cars have been replaced by boats. Think of a dirtier, rougher, sprawling Venice.
Leo Noiret is an ex-cop turned bodyguard and private investigator, who’s rescued from a corrupt cop by a wealthy and very attractive patron: a rich young woman who has everything, except any memory of her life up to the age of 19. She wants Leo to dig (or, more accurately, splash) around in the city’s underworld to try and find out who she is and why her memory’s been wiped.
It’s not the first time noir has been merged with science fiction, but the execution is absolutely first class. Murray’s illustration is simply stunning, bringing a photorealistic touch but not shying away from comic exaggeration. His depiction of a submerged London is a marvel of shiny new future skyscrapers next to run-down, semi-submerged landmarks. Below the waterline he shows a filthy, grimy world of sunken rubbish and forgotten trash.
Likewise, his characters are amazing. Leo is an overweight fighter, built like a bull in a Hawaiian shirt. His patron is stunningly beautiful. And the city is populated with talking animals, in the style of Blacksad, who are the unfortunate result of genetic fiddling.
Morrison’s plot may not feel original but his script is razor-sharp. The dialogue is tight and focused, and the pacing is spot on, as the story flits around the past and present, revealing more about the mysterious patron’s past than Leo knows, keeping the reader well ahead of the game.
Together, Morrison and Murray have created a wonderful piece of cross-genre fiction, an homage to both noir and sci-fi, honing it down to a gritty but beautiful piece of work. Bring on Book 2.