Review by Ian Keogh
Brit-Cit Noir is a slightly awkward fusion of two short run serials that never accrued the popularity to become regular features, which in itself acts as a kind of warning. As does a cover only visually promoting opening strip ‘Strange and Darke’, and ignoring ‘Storm Warning’.
‘Strange and Darke’ is named after its two lead characters, a mismatched pair, and opens arrestingly with the birth of a baby satyr in a Welsh church. Inspector Jericho Strange has a horse’s skull for a head, and so brings to mind one the Dark Judges who’ve plagued Dredd. He heads the Endangered Species Squad, which deals with the paranormal, while Bekky Darke has a second mouth on her neck that involuntarily gives voice to her hidden thoughts or those of others. The contrived names apart, John Smith has set his stall out well, supplying some intriguing characters embedded into a solid background, and it’s all very nicely illustrated by Colin MacNeil. He maintains the tone throughout in an atypical light cartoon modification of his usual style.
Unfortunately, however, after a tour of the bestiary maintained by the ESS everything distils down to an almost standard procedural investigation, but that lacks mystery as Smith has revealed some of his culprits up front. The pair wander the Welsh countryside encountering the rum and uncanny, with Smith attempting to the convey the mood of The Wicker Man, which is cited. He works toward a surprise ending, although one he’s foreshadowed, but while there’s potential this introduction isn’t strong enough to warrant further visits to the cast.
‘Storm Warning’ is another contrived title shoehorning in the lead character, Lilian Storm, a Psi-Judge who can speak with the dead. This is better overall than the opening strip, but Storm’s never given any real personality. She’s diligent, but brusque and morose, and while that’s a logical consequence of her gift or curse it doesn’t make for a particularly sympathetic lead character. The strip would have been stronger had John Reppion and Leah Moore provided anyone adequate for her to play off or contrast. They’re on stronger territory with the plot, which appears to have echoes of the Lovecraftian horror they’ve proved so fond of elsewhere, but becomes something else entirely. It’s a plot of two halves, transforming from investigation into action sequence, but in the end attempts to throw too much into the blender. Artist Tom Foster is very promising, with something of David Roach’s refinement about him and an instinctive sense for a dramatic layout. He’s not as accomplished when it comes to movement, but for someone only two years into a professional career this is top notch work. The rear of the book features some of his layouts and pencilled pages.
Brit-Cit still being surrounded by countryside rather than a Cursed Earth is a factor well exploited by both strips, but both are equally weakened by the British Judge system being a poor uncharismatic version of Dredd’s environment. Brit-Cit Noir passes the time, but if consulted a second time it’ll be for the art, not the stories.