Written by John Aggs, art by Patrice Aggs
When I was young I spent a wonderful summer around the age of 10 meeting up with my cousins and going exploring. Took our bikes, rode off, only going back for lunch (if we were hungry) and tea. We went miles that holiday, all over Dudley. But towards the end of the holiday we found a big old house, boards on the windows, fire damage all over, old clothes in some of the rooms, overgrown garden. And that was it, we spent ages there, imagining all sorts of stories about the people who lived there, and what had happened to them. Even better was the morning we found the remnants of a fire and some food in one of the rooms. Investigations kicked into overdrive, we were going to solve the mystery.
Around the same time, we were all also reading those wonderful Three Investigators books, where Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews would solve all manner of mysteries they found, all the time working out of their secret hideout buried in a junkyard, and God, we had a great time that summer playing investigators in that mystery house. Dangerous? Oh, yes, but incredible fun.
And I tell you all that because that’s what The Boss made me think of. It’s the last of the trio of new releases from the DFC Library – and the best of the bunch. It’s a bit Blyton Secret Seven, a bit Three Investigators, and it’s got the thrills of a Bourne film (albeit with a lot less violence). This is a brilliant, brilliant intelligent thriller of a comic.
The brilliance of it all comes from setting it completely at the level of the protagonists – a class of kids. They’re maybe 11/12, and they’re on a History trip to a castle. So far, so boring for them.
But Nas and Bella happen to overhear something suspicious going on at the service station, a couple of crooks planning a theft from the same castle they’re en route to, they know that there’s only one thing to do…. tell The Boss!
He’s the smartest kid in the school, and has been running an investigation service for quite a while (he’s got business cards and everything). Immediately the planning kicks in, and even though they know they’ll be under supervision from teachers, even though they know it might be tricky to follow the crooks around the castle, The Boss has the perfect plan, as always…..
Once inside the castle, it turns into a child’s version of those great plan movies, the sort where it’s not quite an action movie, not until the final half hour, the kind of thing that made War movies like The Great Escape, The Italian Job and Escape From Colditz so enthralling.
Everything is in the planning. But Aggs and Aggs take all that planning and do a perfect job of transposing it to a group of super-sleuthing schoolkids.
Set up the command centre on a picnic bench, map it all out using plans of the castle from the gift shop, plot the movements of the crooks and the schoolkid detective team with whatever comes to hand – bottle tops, sweets, pencil sharpeners, set up surveillance in one of the castle towers with a video camera, put the cleverest kid (apart from The Boss) on distraction detail (lots of standing round the teacher and asking questions about the castle), and put Bella and Nas on primary tail duty. And put everyone else all around the castle, armed with nothing but camera phones to capture evidence and keep the lines of communication open.
And then tell it all with some wonderful art, choreographing the surveillance as if it were ballet…..
For page after page we get to see the class do a perfect surveillance job, work out exactly how the crooks are going to steal the priceless Rackhamstone Psalter from one of the towers where it’s on display. Watching them work there way around the castle is incredible, you’re there with the characters, you’re included, you feel like you’re part of the gang.
When The Boss first appeared in The DFC I thought it was good, but the episodic nature of the weekly comic didn’t do it any favours. This really is a story that deserves to be read in one, thrilling sitting, with the pace and the tension slowly ramping up throughout, until the breakneck speed of the ending finishes it all off so wonderfully well.
And so much of that is down to mother and son team of Patrice and John Aggs. Patrice has a long history as a children’s illustrator, but if I had to pick a comic comparison you might all know, I’d go for Paul Grist. The figures, the body language, the complicated sets, the intricate movement – all perfectly choreographed.
So very, very good. It may be aimed to a young audience but don’t let that put you off, this is perfect comic work, all ages stuff that talks to us all, thrills us all, enchants us all. Essential.
And again, thanks to the kind folks at the DFC Library and Random House, we’ve got extra copies for the school library – I can’t wait to see what the children at school think of it. Hopefully, some reviews from them soon (Very soon!)
The Boss is released on November 3rd.