A cozy murder mystery set in a parody of an extremely popular British baking show is such a good idea that I’m surprised no one did it before writer John Allison and artist Max Sarin, but I’m glad it’s them. The team behind the college-set all-time classic Giant Days have come to Dark Horse Comics with a fun and fresh story where a dropped cake could be the least of your problems. Hijinks and high drama ensue in The Great British Bump-Off #1.
The opening of the first issue immediately throws us into the start of a brand new season of “UK Bakery Tent” and the twelve (for now) bakers who will be going for the prize. Sarin’s art is immediately recognizable and so helpful in giving us a crash course in what the vibes of these bakers are. The Choir Master is shy, the Yoga Instructor is fun, the Dental Technician is incredibly serious. And then there’s Shauna, a student who still can’t believe that she has made it to the big stage. Shauna featured prominently in one of John Allison’s other comics, Bad Machinery, and while it is not necessary at all to have read anything else before this, knowing her proclivity for mystery solving will add to the fun when a new case falls face first into the cake batter.
When she discovers a contestant has been poisoned, Shauna offers up her crime-solving skills to keep the competition going. She must put her detective mind to the test while keeping an eye on her baking so that she doesn’t get eliminated herself, one way or the other. John Allison is a master at clever quips, usually deriving a laugh from a flow of dialogue more reminiscent of television than of comics. He’s created quite a playground for himself here. From the bakers to the producers to the judges to the over-the-top host and her surprising co-host, there’s always a fun moment to jump to. And Sarin sticks with him every step of the way, having ghosts, hearts, flowers, and skulls come out of characters’ heads to really sell the feelings being displayed. With emotions running all over the place, the stakes of the baking competition feel just as urgent as finding out who is trying to bump the others off. This is a breeze of an issue to get through, which will just make you want to read it again and pick up on the things you missed.
The characters are what really make a mystery story like this effective. Tracking motives for the perpetrator and feeling sympathy for the targeted can only come from being invested in who these people are. That is something this creative team has excelled at before, and are already off to a great start in doing so again. They have created a world that you would actually want to spend time in, even if there is some danger involved. The parody can reach outlandish heights, but the connections already have great depths. I’m honestly more looking forward to learning about these characters than the whodunit of it all, but if The Great British Bump-Off can give me an intriguing mystery as well, then that’s just icing on the cake.