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The Victorian - Act II: Self Immolation

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2002
By: Darren Schroeder

Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Jim Baikie, Claude St. Aubin (p), Andrew Pepoy (i) with assistance from Chris Atkinson, Dan Davis, Mark Heile, Stephanie Sanderson.
Publisher: Penny Farthing Press

A mysterious vigilante known as Big Hat has been fighting street crime in New Orleans. An ex-professor has taken a job carrying out research for mysterious man about the origin of an old forged bank note. He soon finds that this bill has something to do with a discovery he made several years ago about British secret society. The police are looking for a girl who is presumed dead, except she seems to be wondering around town alive and well. Some Treasury officers are concerned about alterations being made to current currency, and a bad tempered business man has stolen a nuclear submarine so he can us its computer...

There is an awful lot going on in this book, perhaps too much for its own good. Not having read the previous volume I might be a bit behind in trying to figure the plot out, but the mix of storylines means that everything is happening very very slowly in the six issues collected in this trade paperback. The different storylines are broken up into short passages, with a couple of pages at the most give to anyone storyline at a time. All the switching can make it hard to keep up with where we are. Occasionally the jumps between plot lines requires some awkward narration to keep the reader up to speed, such as London, England. A number of years ago, later that day. Ouch! I can't help thinking that collecting the London storyline into one complete passage might have avoided the need for such a clunky bit of text.

There is very little in the way of action for readers looking for adventure. Characters wander around chatting to each other or writing letters thus swapping information with each other and the reader. The Big Hat hits a couple of street punks here and there, but we don't get to see much of the action. Another plot line involves the recollection of a man from his youth in Victorian America, with his first love, school experiences and other such character building episodes. This must be the Victorian of the title, and perhaps Big Hat earlier in his life? Who knows! While the large number of characters and plots means there is much to keep the reader from getting bored, the pace is slow in this complicated mystery.

Production values for this trade rate highly, with a nice shiny paper stock and a handsome cover. The change in penciller in the latter third of the book from Jim Baikie to Claude St. Aubin changes the look of the book quite dramatically, as does the work of assistant inkers in the last few chapters. Baikie has quite a traditional approach to character drawing, while St. Aubin is more lively. He also pays more attention to the backgrounds, as well using more energetic layouts which I felt didn't work so well with the steady tone of the plot. The colorists earn their money with lots of shadings, mixed tones and any technique possible to avoid a boring flat area of one color.

Any individual chapter of this book would be almost meaningless and uneventful. It is only over the course of the six issues that any even slightly meaningful context can be built up, and it is only as part of the overall series that this trade can reach its full potential. As Act One in the proposed five act structure this is not much use on its own, leaving the reader adrift in the middle of a rather complex plot. It does however spark the readers curiosity and presents its goings on in a proficient manner, suggesting that starting with Act One could be an enjoyable experience. Just be prepared to wait a while for clarity.