Review by Frank Plowright
A very individual approach characterises The Murder Mile, beginning with the background to the story being private investigator Dan Stone’s interest in which of several athletes will be the first to break the four minute barrier in running a mile. Among the contenders is American college star Todd Naylor, whose chances are reduced to zero when his corpse is found in the Arizona desert.
There’s an appealing naturalistic flow to Collicutt’s plot. Whereas in other stories the private investigator would be at odds with the police, here they welcome the assistance, and Stone is given a clear run at the case because although mysterious, there’s nothing to mark Naylor’s death as suspicious. Despite a lack of evidence, Stone does have his suspicions, and in true 1950s private eye fashion, the minute he starts digging the waters begin to muddy, and the thugs begin to appear. The case is made more complicated by Stone being an old war buddy of Naylor’s athletics coach, Carlton, a man who Stone knows likes a bet. And the hottest bet in athletics at the time is the money gambled on the first runner to break that four minute target.
An interesting background with plenty of informative captions explaining the science of running combines with wartime recollections and the plot for an absorbing procedural investigation, but one that never springs into life due to the limitations of Collicutt’s art. Any individual panel is a decent enough illustration, but unwinding the plot requires many pages of conversation, and Collicutt’s oversight is not injecting enough variety. Expressions and poses change a little, but the speakers are almost always seen facing the reader in head and shoulders shots, and the result is dull looking pages. There are also sections that could have been paced a little better with fewer words to some balloons, and more of the story carried by the art. By the time the revelations begin, there’s a distinct feeling of the culprits explaining to the audience rather than remaining in their story.
Contrivance characterises the final action scene, which comes across as tacked on to justify the title. It plays out predictably, but Collicutt’s enthusiasm for his subject matter results in a fantastic cameo page for a marathon runner, a tragic anecdote of administrative incompetence almost beyond belief.
A great pity of The Murder Mile is that some basic editorial advice during the creative process would have rectified many of the shortcomings and resulted in a possibly shorter, but far stronger graphic novel.