Reviews: Darwin’s Diaries , bloody, manic, and utterly bonkers….
By Runberg & Ocana
Okay, here we go, volume 3 of the three part series featuring THE Charles Darwin, albeit a little unrecognisable. Nevermind the loose women, the drink and the investigation into a possible “legendary creature” or therianthrope that may or may not be hindering the railway work in Yorkshire circa 1860, there’s far weirder stuff going on with this version of Darwin springing from the mind of writer Sylvain Runberg.
In the previous reviews of Darwin’s Diaries (Vol 1: Eye Of The Celts, Vol 2: Death Of A Beast) I’ve described it as “weird” and “bonkers” and each time, I’ve meant that in a very positive way, the sort of bonkers way that takes an idea so out there as having Charles Darwin playing Sherlock Holmes in the Hound Of The Baskervilles and still manages to ramp it up a notch.
It’s been ridiculously entertaining thus far, and although volume 3 is nowhere near as good as what has gone before, there’s enough here to coast to a satisfying finale, a denouement that keeps that bonkers-meter firmly in the red.
Now granted, I did mention in the review of volume 2 that the ending was just a little telegraphed, revealing just how deep in the shit Charles found himself, but I was initially torn on reviewing this third and final volume. How much should I give away? Or then again, maybe I shouldn’t worry so much … here’s the tagline Cinebook have for the book:
“The beast was believed to be dead, and yet… The body has been stolen, its escort massacred. A woman has been killed inside the town. And the neo-Druids have been slaughtered by what they believed to be their god. Even more disturbing, Charles Darwin is revealed to be one of the creatures! The naturalist can no longer deny his dual nature as he struggles with the terrifying question: Could he be the murderous beast that committed the latest murders?”
Yep, that’s right, Charles Darwin is one of those legendary creatures, and he’s struggling to keep his nastier, hairier side in check.
Which is probably why, when we rejoin the story, Darwin isn’t feeling particularly chipper, not exactly keen to investigate a murder where he may be the prime suspect.
Worse is to come of course, as the investigation progresses, and everything resolves itself, a mass of blood, guts, tooth and claw flashing across panel and page.
Thing is, no matter how he concluded it here, Runberg was always going to blow it just a little with the conclusion. Because lets face it, once he’s gone the route of Darwin the gin swilling and prostitute procuring degenreate, once he’s upped that by having Darwin turn into some huge hairy killing machine giant beast he’d already dialled it up to 12 and just left himself nowhere to go.
And so it is. Volume 3 really goes nowhere new, and rather throws away the invention and bonker-ness of what’s gone before, as Darwin the beast teams up with other beasts and has a big fight with yet more beasts. But like I said, I expected this, Runberg really has done all the work just getting me here, and the coasting to the finish doesn’t actually mean I enjoyed it any less. It’s a fine, if predictably ending to a wonderfully, stupidly crackpot setup.
Having said that, I do feel it would have perhaps fallen a little flat if it wasn’t for the bloody brilliant storytelling that Ocana pulls off throughout this volume, making a rather predictable yet enjoyable end volume a far more gripping experience than it had any right to be. He does everything right here, even though the smaller size of this Cinebook volume doesn’t serve his art well. This is something that deserved a big album sized page, all the better to appreciate the way Ocana makes the various therianthropes of the story flash around, all hyper kinetic lines of vaguely familiar animal forms, all tooth and claw, and blood.
Lots of blood.
Ocana does such a great job of not revealing too much, his art almost a photograph of the scene just gone, capturing a moment but missing the ridiculously fast movement that’s just gone from shot.
Here’s another example, later in the book….
Oh yes, that’s just breathless, and so much fun to read.
All in all, Darwin’s Diaries has been rather great, a ridiculous story that revels in its own ridiculousness, stares out the reader, bluffs, raises, raises again, and then, to keep the poker allusion going, calls here in volume 3, delivers a soft ending to a great start and middle, but the art and the storytelling carries it through.
It’s been such fun seeing Darwin going batshit crazy, fun seeing Runberg up the ante over and over, creating his bonkers alternate world, frantically writing his manic ideas onto the page. Yes, it might have petered out a little by volume 3, but there was enough in the insanity of the idea and the intensity of Runberg’s determination to just go with it that carried me through to the end.