Way back in 2013, John Allison’s stories of a fun, delightful, hilarious, and lovable band of mystery solving Tackleford, England teens were introduced to readers in the first book of his collected web-comics; Bad Machinery: The Case of the Team Spirit. From there, we got to read about dogs coming to life (and becoming quite a lover of actual tea), a boy who eats onions (for fun), mods vs. rockers (and a haunted Vespa), and much more. Readers have seen these lovable characters grow up and turn more from detectives to the solving the nuances of teenage life—romance, friendship, family, and what it means to grow up and move on. In the ninth and latest installment of the series, The Case of the Missing Piece, we see that while the hilarious nature of the series is still very much intact, the characters are starting to really explore their lives and what it means to be moving into more serious territory.

A lot has changed since my review of The Case of the Good Boy, and Allison has shown not only his expert ability to move and change with the times, but also to not rely on the formulas of past books, to expand the story and the characters’ development as they grow older and wiser. With the next book, The Case of the Severed Alliance being the tenth and final book in the Bad Machinery series, my sadness at the realization that I will no longer be privy to the lives of these fun and extraordinary teenagers has been replaced by the joyous melancholy at the existence of a comic book series that has stood the test of time and allowed its characters to grow into older teens who reflect the trials that other teens are experiencing in their own lives. Of course, Lottie still needs her mysteries and Jack is still looking for his love, but readers can rest easy that these characters will continue on in their lives… and Lottie will continue on in her own series as an amateur detective in the upcoming series Wicked Things, so we don’t have to leave them totally behind. Now… on to my review!

The Case of the Missing Piece is a gem in the series in that it bridges the gap between traditional teenage hijinks and fun and the idea that your family and your life aren’t exactly what they seem or what you want. Shauna has always been a high achiever and she knows exactly what she wants for her future. University, friends, love, and a family. A lot of that has already come true. Her mom’s boyfriend has proposed to her mom and is going to adopt Shauna. She’s not as excited about the wonky tattoo he got of Shauna on his arm, but there are always thorns on a rose, bumps in the road, and other colloquialisms of that nature. But when her brother comes home after being in jail for many years, Shauna is conflicted. She no longer knows what her future will hold, and the terrible secret she’s been holding in all these years suddenly comes spilling out to a new friend—one that she might not be able to trust. All the while, Lottie and Mildred are trying to find Shauna’s real dad in the hopes that it will provide some guidance or definition to her life, but Shauna isn’t so sure. Meanwhile, our three guys, Jack, Linton, and Sonny are trying to find love while their three lady mystery accomplices are predisposed with other business.

I love when Allison illustrates his own works, and this volume is no exception. He uses traditional paneling throughout the rectangular pocket sized book with precise and clear lettering throughout. His color palette is bright and vibrant with expert illustrations of all the characters being peppered throughout. He also includes sound effects in word forms throughout that lend a quality to the book that leaves the reader feeling fully immersed in the story, the page, and the panel. After spending so many years with these characters, Allison’s illustrations show a depth of knowledge of their mannerisms, surroundings, and lives that only he can accomplish.

Bad Machinery books are always fun, uplifting, and inviting and that’s not only because of John’s excellent storytelling ways, but also the way he illustrates their world. Even though this story is a bit heavier than past volumes, readers will just feel happy reading this book knowing that Shauna’s got a lot of support from her friends and from those of us on the outside looking in. A great comic read for those well-versed in the Bad Machinery universe, but also for those new to their world.

Bad Machinery, Volume 9: The Case of the Missing Piece
By John Allison
ISBN: 9781620106686
Oni Press, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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