After establishing an intriguing world and premise in the first issue, what I really wanted from Hadrian’s Wall #2 was a chance to delve a little deeper into the characters. Who are the crew of this pokey little vessel? How are they coping with the loss of a fellow crew member? Fortunately, these are exactly the questions this issue seeks to address.
Hadrian’s Wall #2 kicks off with an extended prologue featuring fragments from Simon’s initial routine interviews with every crew member (save for one notable exception that he unsurprisingly saves till last). In many cases this is our first real introduction to them. Each character gets a page at most, yet with skillful writing and Rod Reis’ meticulous and expressive artwork you immediately come away with a strong impression of each of them.
That impression is only bolstered by the following double page spread which treats us to a glimpse of Simon’s corkboard, on which he has arranged their personnel files and his initial notes. This is the perfect opportunity for readers to start playing armchair detective, piecing together an idea of these people and what motivation they might have, if any, to bump off poor Edward. I, for one, relished the opportunity.
The interview with Simon’s ex-wife Annabelle is every bit as awkward as expected. They’re both clearly bloody-minded individuals and neither can resist the opportunity to needle the other. Whilst it’s clear Annabelle knows more than she is letting on, she is far too obvious a suspect to be the actual killer. I think. Maybe. A bit. OK, there’s probably a reason why I’m reviewing comic books instead of working for Scotland Yard, isn’t there?
I must take a moment to point out how crucial Reis’ artwork is to the success of this book. Throughout this issue he pays such careful attention to every character’s face and body language that it’s clear how they’re really feeling even when their dialogue directly contradicts this. Reis also breathes life into the environs of the ship itself. Hadrian’s Wall is a dark, cold-looking place, where utility has trumped aesthetics every time. As engrossing as the story is, it is Reis’ art that makes me care about these people and the world they inhabit.
As the investigation continues and the tension ramps up, a few new interesting tidbits come to light, including the results of the toxicology report and some confirmation of Marshall’s motivations for hiring an investigator with such close ties to the victim, which was something I was wondering about after the first issue. We also (kinda) get a clue regarding who is responsible for flushing Simon’s painkillers down the sink. I expect we’ll start to see the consequences of that gamble very soon…
The choice to reveal this information outside of Simon’s view is an interesting one. There are two ways to approach detective fiction – either you stay close to the detective’s investigation throughout or you offer the reader clues and context of which the detective is not immediately aware. Both approaches are valid, though I personally hope we won’t be given too much additional knowledge in future issues. Sometimes it’s nice to be kept guessing with these things, even if you don’t have a hope of figuring it out for yourself.
There is a page towards the end of this issue that sums up everything I love about this series so far. In it we see Simon entering the ship’s dining hall, and the frosty, wordless reactions of the crew to his presence. The tension in Reis’ art is almost unbearable at this point. A pall of worry, hostility and suspicion is engulfing Hadrian’s Wall. The spaceship has become a powder keg that could blow at any moment. The dialogue that follows makes the Cold War analogy explicit, but it’s almost unnecessary by this point. In addition to being an engrossing mystery and science fiction story, this is shaping up to be a surprisingly thought-provoking and depressingly timely book.
- Reis’ artwork conveys complex emotions effortlessly. Plus, it's gorgeous.
- Very effective introductions to the crew, with good reasons to find them all suspicious at this stage.
- Clever use of alternate history as a political backdrop for the story.