by Sylvain Runberg & Eduardo Ocan
Reviewed by: Paul H. Birch (previously reviewed for downthetubes by Jeremy Briggs here)
The Book: Victorian England. In Yorkshire, several men and horses working on a railway line have been killed. The police suspect some kind of wild beast. The government calls on controversial naturalist Charles Darwin to help with the investigation. A reasonable move, it seems, but one that is dictated by the least-known part of his work: research on what other people would qualify as legendary creatures. It won’t be long before the scientist discovers that he may be right about them after all…
The Review: It is 1860 and Great Britain’s prime minister has a problem on the home front: work on new train lanes being laid up north has ground to a halt, due to a series of labourers being found dead, and ripped apart. To that end, he calls in Charles Darwin, whose writings and research have been causing offence and uproar, along with more rational debate, of late.
Darwin’s researches into natural history have been based on creatures that are known to exist in his present time; those beasts that will one day fall into the subject we have now come to term cryptozoology and their existence yet to proved or refuted undeniably (ranging from rare insects found regularly in a shrinking Amazon rain forest to a camera-shy Loch Ness monster that is more than likely to now be extinct if it ever existed).
He is asked to look into the likelihood of some wildman type creature roaming round England green (though there’s no mention of the folkloric Green Man in this particular story, I note); and it’s interesting to note how werewolves are thrown into the mix along with Bigfoot and yetis as a possible breed of creature as yet unknown to man.
Darwin, a presumably happy family man, leaves his home and heads to the scene of the crime, his involvement while not kept secret is not proclaimed to all and sundry lest there be objections. He is met by one Suzanne Dickson who is to assist him in his investigations; she is a pleasant but forthright and well-educated lady, keen on women’s rights, and Darwin keeps himself in check though you feel his own views on such a matter may not concur with hers. Regardless, she tends to prove invaluable, and in fact does not comment on Darwin’s own presumed failings as the story develops.
A mystery unravels slowly as Darwin plays the role of forensic scientist on the remains of those killed, while we – as readers – are privy to further similar murders. That they take place at night and we see the reaction of those who will suffer the consequences but not the actual monster doing the deeds has a tendency towards repetition that works better in horror films where the images accompanied by suitable music take seconds, but perusing the pages at our own leisure in silence, does make one want the story to move on quicker.
When indeed it does, it adds further confusion and a new dimension and we wonder if we’re edging towards some Jack the Ripper meets Jekyll & Hyde scenario. It’s atmospherically compelling enough to make you want to check out the next book in the series, Death of a Beast, for it aggravatingly does not conclude its saga within one volume.
About the authors: Sylvain Runberg, a Frenchman living in Sweden, has become a very prolific scriptwriter in just a few years, with work that included Les Co-locataires, Hammerfall, Mic Mac Adam and, of course, the critically acclaimed Orbital.
Eduardo Ocana is a Spanish artist who trained as an architect and taught graphic arts in Madrid but gradually moved on to animation and comics. In 2006 he started the series Messiah Complex with Alex de Campi; at about the same time, he met Sylvain Runberg when they worked together on Volume 7 of Kookabura Universe.
• This review first appeared on Comic Time and is re-published here on downthetubes with the full permission of Paul H. Birch
• There are more details of the French Darwin’s Diaries books, Les Carnets De Darwin, on the Le Lombard website (in French)