Fresh Meat: Bad Machinery: The Case Of The Team Spirit by John Allison

Bad Machinery by John AllisonBad Machinery: The Case of  the Team Spirit by John Allison is the first volume in the web comic about the middle grade sleuths of Griswald's Grammar School in Tackleford, England (available July 3, 2013).

This volume collects the first story arc of John Allison’s acclaimed web series, Bad Machinery. It follows the exploits of six boys and girls, all either eleven or twelve years old as the story begins, who attend Griswalds Grammar School in Tackleford, England. Divided into two de facto teams by gender, they vie against one another in a long-standing rivalry to solve the mysteries that bedevil their town.

On the girls’ team, you have Shauna, who is both clever and sensible. She grew up poor, in the tough end of Tackleford, and is desperately proud of having been admitted to Griswalds. Her best friend since the age of 3 has been tough-talking, impulsive but good-hearted Charlotte. Charlotte wants to admit Mildred into their circle, though Shauna is warier. Mildred has a reputation for making trouble, though she’s not really a bad person. The product of an extremely liberal upbringing, Mildred is incapable of either fear or prudence, as here, when she’s trying to rally Charlotte into besting some not-too-bright bullies:

Charlotte: My superior intelligence is tellin' me a lot of things right now.

Mildred: That's not intelligence. That's your cave-girl instincts telling you to escape. You have to fight them.

Charlotte: I no wanna!

Mildred: Fight them like you do when you see something in a bin that looks tasty.

Charlotte: Or when I want to skin a tiger and wear it as a cloak.

For the boys, we have Sonny, who is an eternal optimist and a great guy to have around in a pinch. Linton is the most focused of the bunch, with an inherent sense of justice he’s never willing to ignore. He’s a huge fan of soccer (or football, as its called in the book) and the local club, Tackleford City FC. Finally, there’s Jack, who is mostly quiet, but always pulls through for his friends. His undeniable appeal to the opposite sex is a mystery both to him and to his oft-mortified older sister, as well as to Sonny and Linton:

Linton: How come girls all like Jack? They're always ruffling him and touching him. How do we meet girls?

Sonny: I think his sister taught him the secret world of women.

Linton: Well, you've got a sister!

Sonny: She's three, Linton. She might be able to get us into the secret world of PONIES. If you're interested, it's basically carrots and sugar lumps.

The two groups find themselves on opposite sides of a growing controversy involving Tackleford City and the building of its new stadium. The girls take the part of Mrs Biscuits, an old  Russian emigree who refuses to vacate her house to allow the stadium to be built over her property.

The boys are on the side of Tackleford City’s owner, also Russian, a billionaire named Yuri Kropotkin. Linton is the first to realize that the “accidents” plaguing Tackleford FC and Kropotkin were probably set deliberately, which leads the boys to investigate who could possibly have it in for the local team. They take care to hide their efforts from Shauna and Charlotte, who’ve bested them in solving several other mysteries, but it isn’t long before the two groups separately discover that an actual spirit may be behind the spooky mishaps. Then it’s a race to the finish to see who comes out ahead… though will they have to join forces to stop the worst from happening?

I adored this book, but I am partial to a lot of the subject matter (including but not limited to soccer, British education and child sleuths.) It’s a modern, unabashedly British take on Scooby Doo, minus the dog but with better-rounded main characters. The friendships are realistically explored, as are the children’s interactions with the adults they’re forced to deal with. The dialog is fresh and sharp and, combined with the expressive art, makes for a thoroughly entertaining romp suitable for all ages. There’s also a helpful guide to the British slang used here at the end of the book, as well as a made-up but hilarious history of Tackleford City, which any soccer fan will appreciate.

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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.

Read all posts by Doreen Sheridan for Criminal Element.


  1. Erin Hartshorn

    I love Bad Machinery; it’s one of the webcomics I read on a regular basis. I’m thrilled to see it’s available in print format as well.

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