Shiny Shelf

Ruse #1

By Jim Smith on 19 April 2011

The first issue of the Marvel revival of Mark Waid’s much-missed Eisner winning detective series  features sharp dialogue, nice art and easily understandable characters. It also offers a nice spin on the ‘locked room mystery’ (not easy to do) and sketches in the character of the city it’s set in rather well.

Yet it’s the exact nature, as opposed to character, of that city that also contributes the issue’s only real problem and leads one to the conclusion that ‘Ruse’ #1 has been peculiarly compromised somehow. The CrossGen version was set on a sort of steampunk alien world (Arcadia) but the Marvel revival is  set “in the reign of Queen Victoria” and in a fictional English city called ”Partington”.

I think we’re to assume that this series is now set in Earth’s history, not in some imagined retro future. That seems reasonable. This is “Ruse 2.0″ with some of the sciffy trappings scraped off to avoid scaring the horses. (Perhaps someone has an eye on the film or TV rights?)

The thing is, in this opening story Partington has its own Royal Family, despite being specifically said to be in England. Which is baffling ahistorical nonsense. Mediaeval German Cities had their own Royalty, but not provincial English towns. Not in the 1880s anyway and not for a thousand years before that. (The terminology used, with an Archduke and a Viceroy is distinctly middle-European, suggesting some sort of Austro Hungarian setting. But there’s also a Police Commissioner. Which is anachronistic and transatlantic.)

Was this story written and drawn set on Arcadia, with Marvel later demanding the format be simplified and made more accesible? Or was it something else? After the very precise geography of Waid’s Barcelona-set Batman comic I don’t believe he’s afraid of research, while the simple fact that the Royal character’s function has could be easily filled with a fictional Duke or Lord or just Rich Person suggests something is amiss.  You could re-letter the issue so the Archduke was was called Sir Humphrey Clock and it would make exactly no difference to the story at all. Does anyone know?

As it is, this vast incongruity rather damages an excellent first issue. Unless it’s a plot point, of course, and something to be dealt with by the writer in due course. Will the skiffy trappings slowly push back in as the characters realise they’re not actually living in the nineteenth century at all but some sort of simulation of it ? I doubt it.

Puzzling for a Brit (or an American with a grasp of history) as this issue is, it’s certainly worth picking up.

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