Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison Review

Jack, Sonny, Linton, Shauna, Charlotte and Mildred are six 11 year-old friends who’re about to discover that high school isn’t about lessons, homework and teachers; it’s about sleuthing, social justice, family curses, and big business football - this is Bad Machinery (a title I’ve yet to understand)! 

This first volume is quite a hefty paperback with slightly larger than A4-size paper set horizontally so the thing flops open like a car manual as you’re reading it. But at 129 pages, it’s not a long read though it took me a few sittings to get through. Part of that was the meandering nature of the story, which is mostly character-centric and wasn’t terribly interesting plot-wise, but after a cursory google I discovered Bad Machinery is a webcomic with each page as a self-contained episode. 

That explained the same sense of fatigue I got when I read Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts collections - these are dailies not really designed to be read 100+ pages at a pop. It also explains why it’s not heavy on the story because if you’re jumping in for the first time, you’re going to be totally lost. But a group of funny characters riffing at each other always works, so the book is full of that. 

I mentioned the characters’ ages because, while I don’t know any, I don’t think 11 year olds are this clever and witty. These characters are very switched on and banter in a way most grown-ups couldn’t manage. Then in the second half of the book they all start talking like Russell Brand which is very unpleasant. 

Unconvincing dialogue aside, none of the kids mess around with mobiles at any point which makes me wonder when this series took place. Then again there’s a ghost in this story so I’m probably leaning on the realism angle a bit too heavily.

Allison’s art is kinda manga-ish and reminded me a lot of Kate Beaton’s style who also has a similar jovial tone and silly characters which are both very much like her Hark! A Vagrant comics. And while the dialogue doesn’t quite fit the characters, it is highly enjoyable and even funny at times. 

Ultimately the format doesn’t transition well to a collected edition. The comic doesn’t flow very smoothly as a single narrative and the overall effect is like reading scores of short stories at once, which is quite wearying because of its stop/start nature. 

But Bad Machinery has some fine characters which you can actually distinguish from one another, all with a charming sense of humour and plenty of witty conversation to say. It’s also age-appropriate for 11 year-old readers to pick up and read about their fictional peers. 

I liked The Case of the Team Spirit in parts but the story never grabbed me - it was too easy to put down. This is an ok comic but I don’t really see myself picking up the next volume.

Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit

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