Ring of Roses, created by Das Petrou and Trevor Goring, was originally published in the early 1990s by Dark Horse comics and first re-published in 2005 (at which point it collected a foreword from none less than Dave Gibbons). Roll forward to 2015 and it’s once again available from Titan Comics.
Ring of Roses is set in London, 1991. This is not our London, but as the title might suggest a London still subject to attacks of Bubonic Plague. As Das Petrou explains in the fascinating notes at the back, history turned at the Battle of the Boyne. In Ring of Roses, the Catholics defeated William of Orange, leaving England heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.
In this version of London we have a walled city and the church has substantial influence. Technology has failed to develop; we have some cars but not flight; London is a walled city; and the threat of plague is ever present. The story starts with the murder of six priests on the Thames. A barrister, Samuel Waterhouse, investigates but has to turn to help in the form of criminal William Barnett, who ploughs his way through the city like an unstoppable force. As their investigations progress, they run the risk of alienating the powerful forces who run the city. Meanwhile, the plague continues to take its victims.
Ring of Roses works on many levels; it is a superb piece of world-crafting (do read the notes) and a solid plot with the two-pronged hero (Waterhouse and Barnett are an odd pairing, but effective) a good device for allowing us to see London from two angles. In fact, we bring a third angle as readers who recognise this London in places but at other times it is as alien a city as any from a work of fiction.
If Das Petrou needs credit, so does the art of John Watkiss. Watkiss has since worked for Disney and latterly Sony Pictures, but it is here we can enjoy on a more intimate level his first foray into graphic novels (he previously worked for agency Saatchi and Saatchi) and admire his skill.
A one-off, four-episode project from the 1990s with no follow-on, this is a work that any collector should consider owning a copy of. At just under 150 pages, it tells the story it has to tell then stops – something others might like to consider as they aim for increasingly complex and lengthy epics.
RING OF ROSES / WRITER: DAS PETROU / ARTIST: JOHN WATKISS / PUBLISHER: TITAN COMICS / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 25TH