By Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-330-2 (HB)
A short story first written for the 1992 prose horror anthology Midnight Graffiti, Murder Mysteries was adapted into a radio play – or more accurately an audio drama – in 2000. You can also find it in Gaiman’s 2005 anthology collection Smoke and Mirrors. A reputedly excellent film script of the timeless tale remains – as of this writing – ready and waiting for a benefactor to make it happen…
In 2002 esteemed comics virtuoso P. Craig Russell in collaboration with the author adapted the story into a sublime graphic narrative and the result was an intriguing, introspective parable within a fable.
This classy hardback (or digital equivalent, should your preferences incline that way) is a luxurious second edition which also offers a fulsome deconstruction and critique of the finished comics work by Durwin S. Talon: the extended afterword ‘Mysteries Demystified’. Initially seen in The Art of P. Craig Russell, its analysis and copious visual extras – such as sketches, script excerpts and layouts – are augmented by an annotated Sketchbook section contributed by Russell, offering even more intimate glimpses into the creative process, and include original pencilled pages, ink and colour stages plus alternate and rejected images, as well as previous collection covers.
The meat of the book is a tale within a tale within yet another and begins after a nefarious interlude in Heaven with a British traveller stuck in Los Angeles over Christmas.
He’s reeling from culture shock, and momentarily succumbs to the allure of an old lover before extricating himself from a difficult situation. Aimlessly roaming the streets, he meets a bum who tells him a story in exchange for a shared cigarette.
As the oddly-compelling derelict speaks, the displace stranded listener is mesmerised by the eerie echoes of his own existence. The bum is actually an ex-angel and recounts a tale of the Silver City…
After God created the Angels, but before he made us or the world, the sexless winged paragons – each with their own divinely appointed role – were finishing up the details of Creation. The narrator was once Raguel: The Vengeance of the Lord, and it spent this period waiting.
Eventually Lucifer came to it. A novel thing had happened, something unique, something… wrong. An Angel’s existence had been ended. Deliberately…
Raguel was expected to find and punish the perpetrator, but the “who” and “how” of the mission soon gave way to a search for an undefinable “why”. Mired in an obfuscatory maze of resistance from other Angels, Raguel reached a conclusion: the abominable act was somehow connected to a new emotion the deceased had been constructing. It was called “Love”…
This engrossing murder-mystery, detective tale and supernatural fantasy has a languid lyrical quality devoid of tension or drama, but is nonetheless an engrossing diversion, technically perfect, gently compelling. The clean, lovely art – augmented by colours from Lovern Kindzierski and typography by Galen Showman – is some of the best Russell has ever created.
If you can appreciate beauty for its own sake and suspend your need for pulse-quickening drama and angst, this is a triumphant and fascinating example of the power of style over content.
Text © 2002, 2014 Neil Gaiman. Adaptation and illustrations © 2002, 2014 P. Craig Russell All Rights Reserved.