Night Bus Issues 1-3
By Chris Jones and Gary Bainbridge
“Nightbus is Newcastle after dark, the stories that can’t bear to be seen on the cold light of day.”
Always fun and interesting to see something transform from its original idea, complexity take hold, the writer and artist realise that there’s something deeper here than what they initially had planned. Thus it is with Night Bus.
Originally it started off with a simple giveaway 2-pager idea, written by Chris Jones, drawn by Gary Bainbridge (you may know him from Sugar Glider). They took it round pubs, clubs, bars and anywhere that would have it, and gave it away for free, just a series of double-pager adventures of would be do-gooder vigilantes Conrad and César, volunteering for the Newcastle University night bus service, hearing about the wrongdoers, the bullies, the bad people out there and then deciding to do something about it, a pair of student superheroes with nothing but a little parkour skills to get by.
(2 sequences from Night Bus issue 1)
Except that was just issue 1, and by the time we get to issue 2 we’re off in another direction, with artist and writer more keen to follow a character, and we get a lesson in just how shit a life can turn out. And now, quite a while later, we get issue 3, which does something very interesting and goes back to the cast of that first issue, and takes us further into the darkness than anything thus far. This time we’re back to Conrad and César, now in trouble with the police who have a dim view of would be superheroes.
And that’s your lot. Three issues, 68-pages all-in, and all we’re going to get on Night Bus. Which is a shame, because it does that interesting transformation thing I was telling you about.
It starts punchy, simple, bang, bang, bang. Story, snapshot, story, snapshot. Things happen, we move on, the boys do their thing, they even get a reputation around town. Enough to get the attention of the police at least – after all, vigilantes in the comics are one thing, but real-life? Nah.
The story and art in those first couple issues are snappy, jumpy things, script and storytelling fast and interesting, designed to impress in a quick hit. Good, not necessarily great. But get to issue three and things do get much more interesting. Bainbridge had a lot more to do here, both scripting the story and delivering more pages of art, and it definitely shows in the storytelling, as this finale is something far more satisfying, something whole, something with a definitive ending.
(Pages from Night Bus issue 3)
It has that feel of something great, something reaching towards really nailing it, but never quite forms it well enough to get there.
Yeah, that may sound a little tough, but it’s a frustrating read because it genuinely feels that with a twist of the plot here, a better explanation there, more detail here, better pacing there, this could genuinely have been a complete gem, mixing lightweight throwaway ideas of the real-life superhero thing with more complex issues of social injustice, personal issues, political corruption. An ‘Our Friends in the North’ sort of thing in comic form if you’re old enough to get the reference. All it would have taken really would have been for all concerned to be a little further on with their writing and artistic development. Simply a case of nearly but not quite.
What it does show me is that both Jones and Bainbridge should be very proud of what they (nearly) had here, and we should be aware of whatever else they decide to take on in the future.