Shadow Service is a book that's hard-wired to catch you off-guard. The first few pages seem unassuming enough — readers are introduced to British private investigator Gina Meyers while she's on the job looking for some poor soul's missing husband. She walks into a bar, springs into action when she sees a woman getting abused and takes a few lumps before chasing the perp down a back alley while a tiny glimpse into her backstory is also revealed.
My eyes began to glaze at this point, and the phrase "Jessica Jones, but British" popped into my head, but then she started talking to a rat. And then Gina's flashback sees her meld her abusive father to the kitchen wall. And then her target's skin melts as he rips off his one of his own feet.
It's enough to make you ask, "What the heck am I reading?"
It turns out this new creation from writer Cavan Scott and artist Corin M. Howell has quite a lot to offer. Gina is a witch, and that power comes in handy quite a bit in her line of work. She has a familiar that likes to deliver snappy comebacks, a shady boss who has no issue taking an ax to whatever mysterious creature she comes across, and is the target of a spy agency that, as far as we know, has access to horrific shapeshifters and magic of its own. There's a ton of potential in these pages.
And if the "What if witches were also spies?" elevator pitch doesn't sell you, then the artwork will. Howell puts boatloads of detailed work into the body horror splash panels, and she gives every instance of magic an otherworldly and sinister feel (even when Gina is using it) with mixtures and shadings of black, red, and white. It's a shockingly gory book for how mundane the modern setting is otherwise.
It's also worth appreciating how hard the comics sticks to a "show, don't tell" philosophy. Gina doesn't bother explaining what each of her spells does, she just casts them and the result is immediately evident. Nobody tries to explain why the shapeshifter is chowing down on some poor fat guy or why the rat (his name is Edwin, and that's adorable) is talking. The issue simply pushes forward and expects the reader to keep up—a technique you'll often see other books ignore, slowing their pacing almost to a halt. Heck, the only time the book does provide some narrative exposition is to poke fun at Harry Potter!
If you enjoy some of the darker books from the Big Two that dive into the world of magic, demons and witches (bring on the Hellblazer comparisons!) this is definitely worth a read. As for me, it follows the script of what I like from the first issue of a brand new series—introducing the characters, showcasing some bonkers imagery, and leaving me on a cliffhanger that screams "I dare you to come back and see where all this leads!"
And so I will.
Published by Vault Comics
On August 19, 2020
Written by Cavan Scott
Art by Corin M. Howell
Colors by Triona Farrell
Cover by Corin Howell