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This book is a collection of the first hundred strips of John Allison's web comic "Bad Machinery", which is itself a spinoff from his earlier online strip "Scary Go Round". The premise is that two groups of high schoolers, one group of three girls, and one group of three boys, compete with each other to solve mysteries that have a supernatural flavor. The action is set in a medium sized town somewhere in England. This book represents one complete mystery. There are a few more, yet to be collected and printed. (This is published by Oni Press, which is the same group that publishes the Scott Pilgrim books, so someone there has his finger on the right pulse.)

There are a lot of good reasons for "Bad Machinery's" popularity. While the book encompasses just one mystery, the collection really reflects three different lines. First, of course, is the mystery that arcs through the whole book. Next, though, the series is seasoned by "one off" jokes and bits that only take a strip or two or three to set up a laugh. Finally, there are issues, characters and relationships that are developed in this series but that will continue to appear and develop in later books as well. This adds a lot of depth and interest to the whole undertaking, and reminds me very strongly of "Doonesbury", which followed a very similar pattern.

Also in the style of "Doonesbury", Allison has a real command of "minimalist" or succinct humor. You only get a few panels per strip, and only so many words. You have to set up a situation, work it, and then deliver a payoff with just a few drawings and a few well chosen words. That is just brutally difficult to do, (think of how many bad imitators of artist/humorist Gary Larson's "Far Side" are out there), and Allison pulls it off brilliantly.

Plus, each of the six teens, and almost all of the secondary characters, are individually realized and engaging. The book starts with a panel or two dedicated to each teen's preparation for a new school year. Briefly and effectively Allison sets up each character, shows us what's important about that character, and gets us involved in that character. Within a few pages this is not a comicbook, but as compelling as any YA novel. Added to that is the fact that the dialogue is fast, sharp, witty, and yet generous. It is not snarky or mean spirited, and is ultimately good-natured, if a bit edgy. As a result you end up liking these people and sympathizing with their various predicaments and foibles. (Again, echoes of "Doonesbury".)

So, a light authorial touch, insight, humor, and engaging characters. Well worth a try.

Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to the author or the publisher of this book.
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on 18 October 2013
John Allison's post-Scary Go Round strip Bad Machinery features a team of would-be detectives keen to solve mysteries in their home town of Tackleford inbetween double maths and PE classes.

If there's one particular talent that Mr Allison excels at, it's the ability to craft interesting characters to inhabit his universe, thus we get Manga-haired but sensible Shauna, loud and silly Lottie, chocolate-obsessed but brilliant Mildred, quiet but good intentioned Jack, optimistic Sonny and angsty Linton.

The plot, which plunges the gang into the mysteries behind the local football club, will have the reader keen to turn every page for every revelation. The dialogue has a sharp, witty zing to it with plenty of smart one-liners that guarantee plenty of laughs.

The artwork has a simple, crisp style to it with a wonderful use of cartoon colour. Allison has also cleaned up much of the artwork here from the original web versions with additional panels to enhance the story.

If there's a minus point, it's that the Kindle edition has been rendered in a locked aspect format - the landscape-orientated original artwork has been locked into portrait mode which means each page loses its impact at a reduced size. A shame as the format seems perfect for tablets.
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Jack, Sonny, Linton, Shauna, Charlotte and Mildred are six 11 year-old friends who’re about to discover that high school isn’t about lessons, homework and teachers; it’s about sleuthing, social justice, family curses, and big business football - this is Bad Machinery (a title I’ve yet to understand)!

This first volume is quite a hefty paperback with slightly larger than A4-size paper set horizontally so the thing flops open like a car manual as you’re reading it. But at 129 pages, it’s not a long read though it took me a few sittings to get through. Part of that was the meandering nature of the story, which is mostly character-centric and wasn’t terribly interesting plot-wise, but after a cursory google I discovered Bad Machinery is a webcomic with each page as a self-contained episode.

That explained the same sense of fatigue I got when I read Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts collections - these are dailies not really designed to be read 100+ pages at a pop. It also explains why it’s not heavy on the story because if you’re jumping in for the first time, you’re going to be totally lost. But a group of funny characters riffing at each other always works, so the book is full of that.

I mentioned the characters’ ages because, while I don’t know any, I don’t think 11 year olds are this clever and witty. These characters are very switched on and banter in a way most grown-ups couldn’t manage. Then in the second half of the book they all start talking like Russell Brand which is very unpleasant.

Unconvincing dialogue aside, none of the kids mess around with mobiles at any point which makes me wonder when this series took place. Then again there’s a ghost in this story so I’m probably leaning on the realism angle a bit too heavily.

Allison’s art is kinda manga-ish and reminded me a lot of Kate Beaton’s style who also has a similar jovial tone and silly characters which are both very much like her Hark! A Vagrant comics. And while the dialogue doesn’t quite fit the characters, it is highly enjoyable and even funny at times.

Ultimately the format doesn’t transition well to a collected edition. The comic doesn’t flow very smoothly as a single narrative and the overall effect is like reading scores of short stories at once, which is quite wearying because of its stop/start nature.

But Bad Machinery has some fine characters which you can actually distinguish from one another, all with a charming sense of humour and plenty of witty conversation to say. It’s also age-appropriate for 11 year-old readers to pick up and read about their fictional peers.

I liked The Case of the Team Spirit in parts but the story never grabbed me - it was too easy to put down. This is an ok comic but I don’t really see myself picking up the next volume.
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on 7 January 2014
I've been a huge fan of John Allison's work for years, but never before bought any of his books. Bad Machinery, his latest comic endeavour, lends itself more neatly to the book format as it is clearly in self-contained 'cases'. This book is charming, whimsical and great fun, and it is a beautiful edition, with high quality printing and lovely image reproduction.
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on 30 May 2014
Reading the stories on john's website scarygoround.com doesn't mean that you don't need to buy them in print - you do! Great quality print, a great luxury size, good binding - and I still would have bought and read until it falls apart if it was printed on crumbled toilet paper. The storyline is twisting, turning and intricate, the character are touchable and the humour is ... Indescribable. I love Charlotte, Shauna, Mildred, Sonny, Linton and Jack! They are the kind of kids I wanted to be ( and probably was - just in a much duller universe) when I was their age. And still do!
The best part in this story is the wife... You'll have to read it to see why.
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on 7 May 2014
Allison's The Case of the Team Spirit collects the first full storyline of his ongoing webcomic Bad Machinery. Even though the drawings are wicked, what really makes this an outstanding comic book are the dialogues - witty and eloquent yet in a perfectly natural flow.
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on 3 June 2013
Everything about this screams quality!
The artwork! The story! The humour! The luxurious size! The quality of the printing.
Buy it. Everyone will love it.
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