First off I want to praise the Rebellion customer service. I recently moved house and when these comics didn’t appear even though I had updated my address, I contacted them. They got back to me quickly and very generously sent me new copies. I have bought many books through there website and the service they provide is equal to quality of the books they produce.
To the books themselves, first we have Thriller Picture Library – The John Steel Files which reprints two John Steel Case-books that appeared in the 1960s, both stories drawn by Luis Bermejo, the writer is unknown. This is the first special to not feature new stories, with such a back catalogue, I think as long as we are also getting specials with new content, having some of these reprint specials is probably more cost efficient than having all reprints collected in hardbacks/tpbs. This is bigger than what the normal picture library format would be and seems a thick book, but with mostly 2 panels per page it isn’t dense. The stories have also been coloured by Pippa Bowland, while I don’t have the original B&W to compare to, the colouring compliments the story, using more muted colours that doesn’t distract from the art. The cover is very stylish by VV Glass and quite different from the story they draw in Misty Special (discussed further on).
The two stories are Bullets in the Sun (reprinted from Thriller Picture Library #371) and Play it Cool (reprinted from Thriller Picture Library #379). This is another book that I can appreciate on objective level but didn’t engage me as much as other specials. In the first story John Steel, private detective, comes to aid of an old WWII comrade, Paul Wallace, when his son is kidnapped. Wallace is about to testify about an international conspiracy and it is up to Steel to find out who is behind the kidnapping and blackmail. In Play it Cool Steel again is looking for someones son, this time a university student who has gone missing in France. But how does the missing son, tie in with some random murders and blackmail? I liked this story better, perhaps because there was a bit more mystery to it.
The next special also features a private detective in The Return of Sexton Blake and this classic character intrigued me much more than John Steel did. This special is interesting as it focuses on the history of character as well as stories themselves. We get such articles as the publishing history of Sexton Blake, the people who drew the character, the redesign for the book collections and how Sexton Blake and Victor Drago are the same character. In 1979, Victor Drago appeared in Tornado and was written as a Sexton Blake story, but a last minute rights issue, meant a change in the character’s name. In this special, the first 7-part Drago story is reprinted now with the Blake name restored. The story Terror of Troll Island! (by Bill Henry and Mike Dorey) is a classic detective story akin to Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie, where Blake and his assistant Tinker investigate a series of murders at an eccentric writer’s isolated home.
A new story The Death & Life of Sexton Blake, (by George Mann and Jimmy Broxton) sees Blake pitted against one of his foes The Chessman, who seemingly defeats Blake. The final complete story we get is another reprint this time a text story Lady Molly’s First Case, (by E. Sempill) which sees Blake team up with Lady Molly to catch a jewel thief. In this story Lady Molly very much takes the lead, a very impressive story and despite it first been printed in 1908, it reads as if it could have been written today. There is one more text story The Case of the Seventh Key, (by W.W. Sayer) but this is more of a teaser as we only get the first two chapters and get the conclusion of the story, readers will have to get the Sexton Blake Library Book 3: Allies. It is an effective bit of marketing. I must say this is the special I was most pleasantly surprised with as I had little knowledge going in and no big expectations. With interesting stories and it’s historical context explained this special was engaging and for a character that has bee around since 1893 he still stands the test of time.
Finally we have the Misty Winter Special, in it two stories Infection and Home for Christmas. Like the Tammy & Jinty special limiting the stories has the benefit of really developing these spooky tales. Home for Christmas (Writer: Lizzie Boyle, Artist: David Roach) is the shorter story at 12 pages. Martha is babysitting 2 kids on Christmas Eve, when their parents can’t make it back due to fallen tree, she has to stay the night and then strange things began to happen. I felt the pacing could have been better in places of this story, and that some of the characters actions seemed odd. Like going outside in the rain at night with the kids you are babysitting, if this was meant to be ghosts already having influence its not clear, but seems to be more contrivance to get the plot to the next point. During their excursion outside to try and get a phone signal, the phone drops down a well, then later Martha gets photos sent to her from inside the well. Here’s where the story gets better as what follows is some very creepy stuff and Roach’s art is perfect throughout, particularly the faceless ghost children are haunting.
Infection (by V.V. Glass and Anna Savory) is the stronger of the 2 stories but also has the advantage of more pages and a slow build up. Charlotte is a new scholarship girl at a prestigious boarding school, she feels she doesn’t fit in and narrates her thoughts through her journal, that all students have to keep as a class assignment. At first the other girls make fun of her because she doesn’t know the rules of the school, but then the girls rules get more bizarre and Char thinks they are just trying to mess with her. But the girls are getting more agitated and Char realizes there’s more going on and she tries to figure out what is causing it. She puts forward many theories and all the time the fearful threat hangs over the school. There are many graphic descriptions of things we don’t see, leaving a lot to our own imagination but this is effectively done. It is very atmospheric and in true Misty style ends on an ominous note.
And here we are at the end of 2020, while a few in this year’s special bundles weren’t to my taste, it was money worth spent, as well as a solid return of favourites (Misty, Tammy &Jinty, Cor!Buster) I also found comics that I may not have bought individually but would have been missing out on (Smash! The Return of Sexton Blake). As always I continue to look forward to what Rebellion will bring next year.