22nd Jul2015

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Ring of Roses’

by Dean Fuller

Written by Das Petrou | Art by John Watkiss | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Hardback, 144pp

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Well this one has been around the block a bit before being dusted down and dressed up with shiny new colouring by the ever inventive lot at Titan Comics (the original books were black and white). They do have an eye for a rough diamond, I’ll give them that!

Ring of Roses originally started life as a 4 part mini-series published by Dark Horse Comics in 1992, then was re-packaged as a trade paperback by Image Comics in 2004. So the question is, is a story already published twice and dating from over twenty years ago originally, worthy of your 2015 hard-earned currency? For me, yes. There are plenty of themes running through the story that not only are still as relevant now as they were back in the early 90′s, but perhaps even more so. Don’t take my word for it, read Dave Gibbons excellent Introduction, he agrees with me. Or me with him.

Ring of Roses takes place in that beloved trope of sci-fi/ comic book fiction, the ‘alternate reality’. This United Kingdom followed a different path from the late Seventeenth century onwards, when King James II defeated the Protestant forces and ushered in centuries of dominance by the Catholic Church. The Church is so powerful it has been deliberately holding back technological advances, so that 1990′s London barely has the technology of World War 2 London (which isn’t a problem as ‘this’ world has seen no world wars).

Although there are a lot of smaller plot points and themes, the central arc follows the investigation of lawyer Samuel Waterhouse, tasked by the Church with finding out why some priests have mysteriously gone missing in London just before a visit by the Pope, sparking a huge security scare. Waterhouse soon realises he is being led into places he doesn’t necessarily wish to go, and gets help from the much more worldly career criminal William Barnett, a client, who has his own very useful skill set. Establishment conspiracies, political intrigue, imminent war, and the arrival of the Bubonic plague in the slums of 90′s London…something has to give.

Overall, it is very good, but with some small provisos. Although very well written and thought out, it sometimes starts to suffocate under its own importance, gets too tied up in its own knots. The author was clearly influenced by the structure and dark political themes of Watchmen, down to the London Argus newspaper front pages using text to move the story along. Some interpretation of events is also called for from the reader, as not everything is made clear, but that is no bad thing. If anything, it suffers from nothing worse than being a product of the late 80′s/ early 90′s angst driven serious comics movement.

The art from John Watkiss may not suit everybody, being quite loose  pencils but quite heavy inks, but suits the dark and moody story he is illustrating. It is a world of shadows, both physically and emotionally, and Watkiss has a nice feel for his subject matter, the environments, and the people who inhabit this corrupt, alternate world London. He brought the world to life for me sometimes better than the sometimes too-wordy scripting.

As I said earlier, this book is a true rough diamond. I enjoyed it a lot, a little dash of this, a smidge of that, a melting pot of religious and political conspiracies with a side helping of social issues. Yes it can at times be a slightly tough read, but concentrate and you will be rewarded. This book has been under the radar for far too long, and kudos to the team at Titan Comics for breathing new life into it. I’ve not seen a better storyboard for a potentially great film either.

Well worth your time and, most importantly, your money. If we, as fans, want the comics industry to retain relevancy we need to support books like this. Buy it!

**** 4/5

Ring of Roses is out now from Titan Comics.

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