Page 45 Review by Stephen
"You might think she's a hero.
"That would be a mistake."
The back and interior covers screamed James Bond title sequence. We'll return to that in a minute. I thought it was terrific marketing but prefer the honesty of cover art like this which reflects what lies within.
From the writer of UMBRAL, WASTELAND, THE FUSE and its colourist on full art duties here, this a marked departure from Johnston's other espionage outings like THE COLDEST CITY. As Antony mentioned a few months ago THE COLDEST CITY's star "pulls a gun precisely three times, only shoots once, and doesn't hit a thing". Baboushka will be shooting, hitting, poisoning and blowing many, many things - and by 'things' I mean people.
"I promise you, these earrings are dynamite."
She'll be doing so swiftly, methodically and effectively without the art once losing its femininity. Chankhamma's faces put me in mind of Kate Brown (FISH + CHOCOLATE, TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc) and she luxuriates in the Contessa's scarlet high heels, tiered pearl necklace and flesh-coloured dress then throws everything she's got - just like the security guards - at Baboushka in the field.
What might take a moment to drop like the proverbial penny is that the first chapter's 80-mile-an-hour action sequence isn't part of the main event - it isn't the titular Conclave of Death which Contessa Annika Malikova is being blackmailed to infiltrate by the American government. That will come later on a luxury liner which the general public - innocent, pleasure-seeking holiday makers - are going to rue boarding. There the instructions issued by her man-handlers from EON (Extrajudicial Operations Network) are not to assassinate the retiring ex-CIA gun-runner called Felton, but persuade him to sell her his secrets.
"You'll have all my routes and contacts, across the whole world. Names and details of every politician I ever squeezed, every government I ever sold to or blackmailed."
All these are very much on the table for the highest bidder - including a sub-Saharan warlord, a European gang chief, a member of the Yazuka and a certain Scottish master thief whom the Contessa's bumped into before - but Felton would never sell to the Americans. He might, however, sell them to the notorious mafiya boss Baboushka if she came out of retirement. Guess which guise Contessa Annika Malikova used to go by back in Russia?
The prologue, then, is a signature move designed to attract Felton's attention, working precisely like those James Bond opening action-fests leading straight into the films' title sequences as Codename Baboushka comes out of retirement in spectacular fashion.
So far, so good. Unfortunately no one's prepared for piracy - and that's pretty prevalent right now. I hope the Contessa can keep Felton alive...
As a young-teen-orientated thriller akin to Antony's Alex Rider graphic novels with elements of a blazing Tomb Raider adventure, this works very well. It's emphatically not Brubaker & Epting's VELVET - there's far too much melodrama and explication in the dialogue for that - but it could very tempt some of the action-orientated manga merchants to look west.