You can purchase the Sexton Blake Special directly from Rebellion here.

When I decided that I was going to purchase and review all of the Specials that Rebellion published this year, that meant picking up a number of comics that I wouldn’t normally have checked out. It’s worked out well so far, with issues such as The Tammy and Jinty Special 2020 or The Roy of the Rovers Summer Special 2020 being among the strongest and most enjoyable of the overall lineup, despite being titles I would not otherwise have been interested in reading.

The same can be said of The Sexton Blake Special, which focuses on a character I’d not previously heard of and, like the aforementioned Roy of the Rovers, is of a certain style and genre that doesn’t usually interest me at all.

Sexton Blake, it turns out, is a detective character first introduced in a story paper called The Halfpenny Marvel, with his original appearance being way back in December 1893. He is known for being a keenly intuitive detective with several similarities to Sherlock Holmes, but with a much more direct and two fisted approach to sorting out the bad guys where necessary. Sexton Blake stories have appeared in a variety of media, including TV, radio and comic books, but there seems to have been a dearth of new material in recent years – though his popularity since his first appearance in the late 19th century means that more than 4,000 Sexton Blake stories are in existence, written by over 200 different authors.

The Special – which features numerous text pieces chronicling Blake’s history, as well as showcasing the artists who gave Blake his distinctive look and feel – covers the character’s publication history wonderfully. There’s a real richness of detail in the articles by Mark Hodder – a leading expert on Sexton Blake – and Karl Stock that gives a real depth to the character and his history. It’s fascinating stuff.

The centrepiece of the Special is the full reprint of a 1978 comic serial, which originally appeared in boys comic Tornado as a ‘Victor Drago’ strip due to a last minute rights issue (it was written as a Sexton Blake story and is undoubtedly meant to be the famous detective). The seven part story – Sexton Blake and the Terror of Troll Island – is a beautiful period piece with a great script and wonderfully detailed black and white art that truly captures the essence of the character as I now understand him, with its Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery plot and no nonsense action.

Joining this strip is an entirely new, albeit somewhat short, comic that gives the character a more modern lick of paint while still remaining true to the spirit of Blake and keeping to a period feel, rather than bringing the character into a more contemporary setting (which I’m more than happy with).

A feature on Rebellion’s reprint collections of classic Sexton Blake stories, accompanied by a few of those prose tales, rounds out the Special brilliantly.

Though I had no clue who Sexton Blake was prior to picking up the nicely hefty, characteristically well-produced Special, I’m now sufficiently au fait with the character and his history that I’m eager to read about more of his exploits. I’m certainly keen to pick up the Rebellion-published short story collections that have been released so far and will most likely be purchasing the volumes that are planned for release in 2021 too.

As a showcase for a character that has somehow fallen into obscurity – despite several decades of popularity in the 20th century – The Sexton Blake Special is fantastic at highlighting what makes the detective so appealing. It’s another lavish production from Rebellion with more of their trademark care and passion for the subject matter at hand; though essentially a product made to highlight the publisher’s line of Sexton Blake story collections, it typically goes above and beyond in providing so much more, being a wonderful tribute to the character that gets to the heart of his timeless appeal. There’s something to be said for the character’s old fashioned wit, charm and the gentlemanly action he gets involved in – it hearkens back to a simpler, less morally grey period in history, which is of immense appeal right now. It’s comforting, cosy even, but there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest, especially during such uncertain times.

Personally, I can’t wait to read more Sexton Blake material and can unequivocally recommend the Special. It’s a great history lesson with a selection of ripping yarns dotted throughout – yet another reason why I’ll likely be picking up all of Rebellion’s specials in 2021 too, regardless of whether or not they look to be of immediate appeal to my personal taste; that way, I can be certain that gems such as this don’t escape my notice. Wonderful stuff.

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