Review by Ian Keogh
Mort Hill and Jo Wynters are the classic mismatched partnership of detective fiction, joining forces in a distinctively realised steampunk society known as the Big City. Hill is a career policeman, crude, violent and effective, with an ethos about protecting the public, while Wynters is a high ranking member of the Alchemy Academy, a practitioner of magic in a society where science predominates. Despite this, the Academy retains importance and influence, but among their strictures is that the body is to be kept pure, meaning they frown on Hill’s mechanical prosthetic arm.
The Precinct is fantastically rendered by Crizam Zamora, who relishes designing the mechanical aspects and cityscapes. At one point the two lead characters are attacked by hundreds of small robots, and Zamora doesn’t just take one design and multiply it, he creates numerous different small robots. There’s a similar complexity to all his mechanical devices, and this passion for detail that carries The Precinct a long way. He convinces that this is a viable society despite the archaic uniforms and anomalous aspects, and The Precinct looks very good indeed.
Frank J. Barbiere’s concept sets up a workable clash between the status quo and advancing technology, and he strengthens that by establishing a political undercurrent, with organisations vying for power. Where he’s not as convincing is with the central sparring relationship carrying the story, with Hill switching from obliging to aggressive between panels, often for no good reason other than its more dramatic if he’s annoyed and bullish. Barbiere’s dialogue is sometimes transparently explanatory, and while the identity of the guilty party isn’t a fundamental element, it’s slightly too easy to deduce who it is, as not many choices are available.
For all that, any movie producer looking for an action-oriented property to transfer to cinema screens could do far worse than look at The Precinct. It’s a visually arresting merger of science and magic, and if a depth of characterisation isn’t perfectly presented, it just about gets the job done.