It’s 1931 and prohibition applies across the United States, but it’s not drinkers Eliot Ness and his officers chase down, but sellers of magic called Lick, with the route up through the criminal ranks leading to Al Capone.

That Christian Ward has worked out the detail of his concept and then fine-tuned it is very apparent. He supplies a fully realised world expansively bought to life by Sami Kivelä, with the only unexplained element being the magic itself, which, tends to conform to the needs of the individual within the story. However, that doesn’t matter too much because the surroundings are convincing and it enables some great moments from Kivelä. Capone’s image manifesting over a window frame with broken glass is memorable.

Incredibly imaginative and constantly teasing, the main chapters of Machine Gun Wizards are separated by shorter pieces on another world combining SF and fantasy. While they’d not be included if not connected, the reason for that connection is only gradually revealed, and it’s strange and unsettling, but also smart.

Kivelä is very good on storytelling, character and action, but this isn’t as obvious as it ought to be as Machine Gun Wizards’ major weak spot is down to Ward also handling the colouring. While there are some elements that need to stand out, a couple of people especially, the colouring is bright and ordinary when it needs to be dark and subtle. It’s an object lesson on how important good colouring is, as it drags the entire story down, and the colours shown in the process pages before Ward’s tinkering are more suitable.

Once the two strands have merged, Machine Gun Wizards is revealed as an even more imaginative concoction than has been assumed. The historically known characters, primarily Capone and Ness along with versions of the latter’s crew via The Untouchables movie, remain true to their known characters. Ness is upstanding and idealistic while Capone is a venal opportunist, and when a unique and unknown material comes his way he exploits it. The showdown is creative and suitably spectacular.

Back cover quotes from Gerry Duggan, Kieron Gillen, Jeff Lemire and Ram V indicate their enthusiasm, and there’s much to admire overall. If only the colouring were better.