Pullbox Reviews: Cognition – A tinman & a possessed mouse walk into a pub…

  • Cognition, volume 1
  • Comichaus
  • Written & Lettered by Ken Reynolds
  • Illustrated by Sam Bentley, with
    • Ben Peter Johnson
    • Ken “I Also Draw” Reynolds
    • Steven Horry
    • Adam Jakes
  • Edited by David Hailwood & Chris Sides
  • Now live on Kickstarter!

This tale recounts the exploits of a steam-powered automaton with a human soul and a demonically possessed mouse. They are spiritually linked, and cannot escape each other.

Using their shared demonic power they battle ghouls and monsters for The British Occult Secret Service (B.O.S.S.), under the eye of spymaster magician Silas Pope, at the height of the Golden age of the Victorian Era.

As members of the British Occult Secret Service, partners Cal and Sigma are fighting the good fight for Queen and country. Cal, a steam powered automaton housing a human soul, serves as the muscle while Sigma, an ancient and powerful demon trapped in the body of a mouse, holds the occult power. Joined by happenstance, tied together by powers unknown, they travel the Empire exposing fraudulent practitioners, investigating supernatural events and defending the Crown from any that would threaten it.

Sounds pretty crazy, am I right? To utilize the idiom of the story itself, it’s right bullocks.

It’s also pretty much awesome. Elements of steampunk and the supernatural have been woven together to form a story that embraces the madness on which it’s built, and the mind behind the insanity is Ken Reynolds. Who knows where a story like this is born? A three foot tall tinman traveling all across Britain, carrying around a demonically possessed mouse and wearing a bowler isn’t something that the average person might consider as a dynamic duo to stand against the forces of darkness. However off the wall it sounds, it’s Reynolds’s writing that manages to put it all together. In his world, Cal’s status (and stature) are more or less ignored… possibly because for those of a “stiff upper lip”, pointing it out would just be bad form… in much the same way that Hellboy gets a pass in the Mignolaverse. With that off the table, Reynolds is able to skip past repetitions of “Holy cow, a talking tinman!” and brings the focus to his erstwhile heroes at work. It’s a pretty good move on his part, because the running dialogue between Cal and Sigma is where these stories shine. Another smart move is that Reynolds doesn’t try to come out of the gate with his agents taking on the likes of C’thulu. He’s using shorter one-shot stories to build his world, slowly weaving them together into a larger narrative.

This world of supernatural forces dark and sinister is artfully rendered by as talented a group of illustrators as will be found anywhere. Handling the main issues of the series, Sam Bentley presents a stark black and white style, heavy on the use of shadows to set a foreboding atmosphere. At times, some of the details of his work may be lost in those negative spaces, as there are no shades of gray to be found in Bentley’s work. Still, there’s no denying that this is a remarkable artist, able to capture near photorealistic detail in the facial features of the characters. Also on hand for the short featurettes in between the main chapters of Cognition, the talents of Ben Peter Johnson, Ken Reynolds (yup, the writer pulling some double duty), Steven Horry, and Adam Jakes have added their own spin at the book’s illustrations. Their work on these vignettes serves to fill in detail and background for the reader, highlighting the various characters and giving a little more context to the larger world.

If you’re looking for sharply written stories that feature a bizarre cast of characters unlike any other, I think you should give this one a try. Cognition is an entertaining read, the perfect choice for fans of steampunk and stories of dark forces at play in Victorian England. It’s very different from other books out there, in a very good way, and it doesn’t shy away from that originality.

Final Score: 8

Who’s a good boy? (You’d better get the right answer…)
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