Review by Jack Kibble-White
In the late 1980s something was stirring in the British comic scene. There was reason to feel optimistic and boastful about the comic strip medium and the UK’s ability to contribute to the development of the form. This groundswell of belief coalesced into the strikingly designed fortnightly comic Crisis. Published by Fleetway (home of 2000AD), the title launched with two stories, Third World War and New Statesman, both of which spent much of their time convincing the readership of how important and serious they were.
It came as a relief then, when New Statesman wrapped up and in its place came something a little more human and fun. Not that Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Troubled Souls was a laugh riot, but this Northern Ireland set story about the “Troubles” centred around characters that we could at least recognise and empathise with.
The story opens with an archetypal Thatcherite scene, that of the main character, Tom, having just emerged from the Dole office. From here it weaves through the social life of a group of young adults trying to grow up in the middle of a city gripped by factions and conflict. Predictably, everyman Tom finds himself drawn into the Troubles by the morally inferior Damien and is forced into planting a bomb for the IRA.
The first published work of future superstar Garth Ennis, it’s a didactic and clumsy read, but not without its moments of humour and appeal. The plot is perhaps the weakest element and, tellingly, when Ennis returned to these characters for further sequels (For a Few Troubles More, Dicks), he lightened the tone dramatically by focusing in on the fun to be had within the interplay of Troubled Souls’ gallery of rogues.
It’s clear that Ennis is still learning his trade while writing Troubled Souls and so too is artist John McCrea. The early pages feature crude pen and ink hatching with colour laid over the top, but this quickly gives way to fully painted pages. McCrea is adept at capturing expressions, but unfortunately each character betrays the artist’s overuse of himself as reference model.
An unsure and hesitant comic book, Troubled Souls is not without its charms, yet reads now as an antiquated early work for creators just on the cusp of becoming ready to produce far better things.