Publisher: Vault
Writer: Cavan Scott
Artist: Corin Howell
Colourist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Andworld Design

Due to a slight mix-up we didn’t review issue #13 of Shadow Service when it was released (I suspect supernatural shenanigans). On the plus side that means an exciting two-in-one review! It’s always fun to be be able to discuss the big developments over two issues and there have been some developments indeed. This whole arc has been one of shocks and surprises right from the start and that continues in these issues. There’s developments regarding the mystery of Gina’s past, developments in the case and some surprising revelations. Plus there’s dragons, what more can you want?

Issue #13 is the one where we take a deep and very dark dive into Gina’s past. Fair warning this has some of the darkest scenes in the entire series and given the death and gore that’s appeared previously that is saying something. Quill takes Gina to the place where she was born. The dark corridors are well realised in the art and give a very spooky and intimidating atmosphere. In those walls are memories of Gina’s birth and those are not happy memories.

The ghost of the woman that Gina knew as her mother turns out to have been an acolyte of the strange organisation known as the Union. Gina was not the first child her birth mother had to bring into the world but she was the first to survive. She was also number seven, a fact which is significant. I will say that baby murder is awful, but the art does a really good job of implying the trauma of what is happening without being overly gory. Some things we don’t need to see, the inference is enough.

The scenes that Gina experiences via ghostly flashback are clearly going to lead to more questions. Who was her birth mother? Why was she forced to have so many babes? What marked Gina out as important? Many questions but all of them sadly must wait as the main plot takes over with a vengeance at this stage. I like that we’re left hanging. Gina’s story is interesting and I look forward to more but the slow reveal of her past works better when revealed in chunks this way.

Last issue we discovered the white fox present at every scene was in fact a shapeshifter. Hui Shoi-Ming is an agent of unit 3791 the international wing of the Chinese Ministry of Esoteric defence. Quite the mouthful but I like how it expands out even more the world of these paranormal agents. Hex of course reasons that as she was at every scene she must be responsible. His interrogation of her gets rather bloody and gory. There’s ripping someone apart and then there’s literally doing it. The art is very evocative and the layers of flesh suitably gory.

Then of course everything changes with the real big bad and the appearance of an actual dragon bringing some really exciting action to the climax of issue #13. The art certainly does this demonic dragons justice. These are dragons but they fit into the general demon design that we’ve seen previously so they feel very much part of the world. The brightness of their fiery breath really makes an impact.

Of course issue #13 ends on a cliff-hanger with Hex missing. This is really impactful as Hex has seemed untouchable up to this point.

Issue #14 really expands things out. There’s a whole lot going on. The pacing is just excellent. It feels like a really meaty issue as there’s so much packed in and the plot advances in some really interesting ways, some of it circling back to earlier reveals. It’s a really satisfying read. We also still have dragon Coyle for some of this issue so that’s an added bonus.

The world expanded out with the introduction of unit 3791 last issue and that expansion continues here. We see Hui make it back to home base and her handler. She fills her in on the events we missed seeing at the end of the last issue. It’s neat Hex got taken by the flea Baoli a rather large magical blue glowing flea as we saw last issue, we also learn that particular creature is behind the summoning of the various creatures that have been killing agents left right and centre. This is gradually revealed through the issue as slowly the pieces come together. It turns out there’s betrayal going on in the Chinese world of supernatural conspiracy and that has impacted our own heroes.

We get to see some of the inner workings of unit 3791 as Hui debriefs her handler. I enjoyed seeing how another strong female character deals with the hierarchy of a secret society. Then of course, as this is Shadow Service there is a twist to this debriefing. I won’t give it away but I do love getting these nice little random shock moments. It keeps things feeling tense because you never know what is going to happen next.

The retrieval of Hui by Gina and Coyle was another sequence full of action and tension. The art really helps with this giving us some really fun action sequences. It’s just really engaging visually, from spells to mad van driving by Major Crookshanks. I’m also enjoying Coyle as the voice of reason even as he’s looking like a gargoyle dragon (as his dragon form slowly wears off) which is a nice bit of design.

There’s also humour laced through. Gina’s reaction to naked Hui and the latter’s subsequent shifting got more than one laugh out of me. Even though the odds are dire and our heroes are up against it there’s still little moments which lift the tone up. In a way having those lighter moments really helps make the darker ones impact all the more.

There’s more action as our heroes have to work together (yes Gina and Boyle have to team up with Hui) and it seems there’s a conspiracy that involves both countries and also nicely links backs to Gina’s past. I did like how we have a Halo jump into Chinese territory. Touches of James Bond there. It’s always fun when Shadow Service leans more into the spy thriller aspects of MI666. There’s yet more drama and tension before the end and I can’t wait for the next issue.

Both these issues delve into the world in new and exciting ways and I am really enjoying how Shadow Service is developing. Great stuff.

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