COMIC REVIEW: The Devil’s Handshake (Archaia-ology #3)

Devil's HandshakeIt’s been a little while, but welcome back to Archaia-ology, our feature that looks at the high quality indie-press that was acquired by Boom! Studios earlier this year.  Although their new home offers its own range of great comic books that are well worth your attention, I want to stick with Archaia’s back catalogue for now – partly as a mark of respect for the benchmarks of quality they set for the indie market, partially because we only just got started on the damned column when the merger went through, and (if I’m brutally honest with myself) partly because the column title makes more sense now.  If you squint a bit you could even say I planned it that way.  Yeah, let’s say that.  Anyway, let’s get our trowels out and dig up the next treasure.  In fact, as The Devil’s Handshake shares a lot of tropes with Indiana Jones, you may want to grab a bullwhip too.  Why not use it to swing over the jump here?  I’ll see you on the other side…

There’s a timeless quality to the world Ryan Schifrin has created here, a patchwork of decades painted in pulp.  His heroes wouldn’t look out of place in Depression-era America, while the femme fatale seems designed to give Lara Croft a run for her money.  Toss in some high-tech handheld devices, natives straight out of Tarzan and a pan-dimensional-tentacle-beast, and you could be forgiven for thinking this is just some kid’s fever dreams on the rampage.  In a less forgiving mood I might bemoan the broad-strokes, but to hell with it – this is a fun ride.  The plot is unimportant, but here’s the general set-up:- Basil Fox is a soldier in the Queen’s Guard.  Alaric Moebius is his best friend, and a high-class thief.  Together, they are forced to work for a mysterious person known only as The Collector, retrieving powerful maguffins from around the world to further his sinister purposes.  They spend an inordinate amount of time dodging bullets, spears and the frighteningly determined Ghoul Brothers (grinning mummies in trench coats), but they keep their spirits up with zinging banter, friendly rivalry and a healthy disregard for authority.

The art is shared between Lizzy John and Adam Archer.  There’s no discernible shift in style, so I have to assume one does the pen-work whilst the other colours.  The blend of hard lines and sophisticated colouring was jarring to me at first – a weird blend of comic book and film sensibilities, with particular emphasis on lighting.  Incidentally, the evocation of flame and the brightness of the moon is spectacularly well wrought – a tougher trick to pull off than you may imagine.  Each artist brings a lot to admire: well defined characters boasting a huge variety of expressions; amazing texture through colour (particularly clothing folds, defining facial features and the paintwork on Moebius’ car); and a great range of layouts to keep the visuals interesting and the action belting along.  Whilst the gratuitous cleavage may be distasteful to some readers, the writers ensure that Sophie is not (merely) a prize to be fought over, but a worthy adversary too.  Time and again she proves herself capable of getting the upper hand, by hook or by crook.  There are a few panels where the choice of angle leave the pictures a little flat, but they are few and far between.  It’s full of kinetic imagery and, while there are few stand out panels, the overall effect leaves the reader breathless and grinning.

Basil and Moebius were born for the movies but, as with so many Hollywood projects, never quite got off the ground.  It’s a shame in a way, because their brand of mischief and wild adventure has been missing from the silver screen for far too long.  The last time I saw two rascals having so much fun getting into trouble was in the underrated Dreamworks animation, The Road To El Dorado (2000).  Anyhoo, Schifrin has brought his heroes to the comics medium, and the heightened reality seems to suit them perfectly.  The scripting is shared between Schifrin and Larry Hama (most noted for his work on GI Joe and Wolverine, as well as creating Bucky O’Hare.)  The exposition occasionally clunks in the hurry to set the scene, and the script could have done with a polish, in my view.  Although the banter is zippy, it also feels a little off in places.  I suspect it’s simply the old problem of American writers not quite capturing the English dialect.  Don’t let these criticisms put you off, though.  Style is more important than substance in this book and, for once, that really isn’t a problem.  It’s got a shovel-full.

Rating: 3.5/5

Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak

 

Discover more about The Adventures of Basil and Moebius at http://www.whoisthecollector.com/  including preview pages from the follow-up comic and a short film called No Rest For The Wicked starring Zachary Levi Ray Park and Malcolm McDowell

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