Showing posts with label comics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comics. Show all posts

Sunday, 25 November 2012

'The Batman/Judge Dredd Collection' - Various (DC/Rebellion)

There’s nothing quite like reading comic books over a rainy weekend. Well, except when I’m being hassled by the toddler but there you go. The point still stands :o)

My weekend reading, this time round, was the ‘Batman/Judge Dredd’ collection and (a few minor criticisms not withstanding) I had a great time working my way through the stories here. How could I not? How could you not? We’re looking at two iconic comic book heroes, both dedicated to upholding the law but both going about it in entirely different ways. One is dead set on arresting the other, for ‘vigilante activity’, and neither will go down without several preceding pages of all out slugfest (and supporting villains from Mega City One and Gotham). You can’t ask for a lot more than that, can you? Well, maybe…

This collection starts and ends with its best stories and no, I’m not counting the Lobo story right at the end. That seems to be there more as a favour to collectors rather than anything to do with the two main protagonists.

‘Judgement in Gotham’ is as ‘off its head manic’ as I remember, from all those years ago, with Dredd and Batman having to settle their differences in order to take down Scarecrow and Judge Death. Batman finds himself in Mega City One and watching his reactions to his new surroundings (as well as how he deals with a Justice Department interrogation) is a pleasure. The real pleasure though is watching Judge Death having to get used to life in Gotham, especially his new uniform and having to confront his worst nightmares courtesy of the Scarecrow. It’s as chilling as it is laugh out loud funny, all more than ably illustrated by what looks like pretty much everyone judging by the credits. Take it from me, it’s all good.

It’s a shame that the same can’t really be said about ‘Vendetta in Gotham’; several pages of Batman and Dredd beating the (you know) out of each other with a time travel subplot bolted onto the end. Watching Scarface deal with his temporary new owner makes for some funny moments but everything screams ‘filler’, presumably while the following two stories were in development (although Cam Kennedy’s art made for a nice break from the full on madness of ‘Judgement in Gotham’)
‘The Ultimate Riddle’ is more of the same; there’s some lovely artwork here (courtesy of Critchlow and Power) but the actual plot relies a little too much on the fight sequences to cover up a conclusion that you can see coming. Nice dialogue between Dredd and the perp though.

Don’t worry, the best is saved until last with the entrance of the Gotham villain that everyone has been waiting for. ‘Die Laughing’ benefits from a wide range of artists combining (once again) to really show off the weirdness that is Mega City One. If you can think of something outlandish, the odds are that these guys have crammed it into a panel somewhere. Especially with the focus on hedonism…
The plot is a little straightforward but the quality of the villains more than makes up for this with Gotham’s most insane criminal teaming up with extra-dimensional creatures who have decided that all life is a crime. Even though you know where this one is going, the dialogue and dynamic between the villains is compelling; even more so once the Dark Judges realise just what they have accepted into their ranks.
Dredd and Batman are almost relegated to mere spectators but prove that there is still enough about them to justify what they are able to do. ‘Die Laughing’ is a great read, that’s all there is to it.

‘Batman/Judge Dredd’ is a mixed bag then but with just enough verve and energy to get you through the bumps and onto the good stuff. Well worth picking up whether you’re filling in the holes in your collection or are completely new to the stories.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

P.S. I understand that is likely that we won’t see ‘Judge Dredd vs Predator’ collected because of legal stuff. Please sort it out guys… For me?

Sunday, 18 November 2012

‘Ragemoor’ – Jan Strnad, Richard Corben (Dark Horse)

A living castle, born of blood and eager to work its will on the people that it ensnares. A castle with plans that must come to fruition, no matter what the cost in human lives… Hang on, haven’t we heard this all before? Aren’t we just looking at yet another haunted house story and isn’t that all just a little bit old now…? Everything derives from something; I’m going to stick my head out and say that nothing is really original, there’s only stuff that you haven’t read yet. What really matters is how the writer treats his material, it’s the story that counts. ‘Ragemoor’ riffs on some long established themes but the resulting story is nothing short of superb. It’s an unsettling read that I personally had to finish off in one sitting (okay, ‘standing’, I was on the tube…)If you’re a fan of haunted houses, insect men and Lovecraft then I’d be very surprised if you haven’t given it a go already.

A large part of the impact that ‘Ragemoor’ has comes in the form of Richard Corben’s striking artwork. I am a big fan of Corbens contribution to the ‘Cimmeria’ storyline and he proves more than able to step up and deliver over the course of an entire book. Corben displays a real ability to capture love, loss and outright screaming fear in the faces of the cast; it becomes all too easy to feel that fear yourself once you see it in them and that does half the job of the plot all by itself. Corben also captures the hellish environs of Ragemoor beautifully. It’s bleak and desolate but with an air of danger that hits you hard when it comes to the fore. If that’s not enough, Corben also delivers in terms of the weird horror that lurks at Ragemoor’s heart. Worm men and insect men are only half of it… All of this is delivered in black and white, there is nothing to distract the reader from the horror and that’s as it should be.

This book isn’t all about Corben though. Jan Strnad gives us a plot that clearly wants to be free of the ‘four issue mini-series’ restriction but has a lot to say for itself in the meantime. It’s all credit to Strnad that he can have Herbert and his manservant, Bodrick, fight against Ragemoor and then for it in such a short space. It’s a transition that is tightly plotted and all too plausible. Sometimes the devil you know really is better than the horrors that lurk beneath… My only real criticism is that you can see how it will ultimately end as Strnad doesn’t really give himself room to do a lot more than tell what is ultimately a haunted house story with accompanying family curse. It’s the journey that really counts here though. Strnad really lays on the weird here and this means hints of a universe even more dark and horrifying than the castle itself. And the castle itself is pretty terrifying, just ask poor Anoria…Now there is a sub-plot worth following with the course of true love and human greed meaning nothing to a castle fighting an eternal battle of its own.

Everything devolves into madness, come the end, and this lends proceedings a real frantic air and a burst of energy just at the right time. To close the book with the same line that opened it was a masterful stroke as well; an unsettling way of demonstrating the grim implacability of Ragemoor.

I wouldn’t have minded seeing ‘Ragemoor’ developed a little further (ten issues maybe?) although you could just as easily say that it’s hearkening back to its pulp roots. I can’t really complain though given this intense dose of weird horror that doesn’t leave you after the book is closed and put down. I think I’m going to be a regular visitor to Ragemoor, I’m just glad that I don’t have to live there…

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 9 November 2012

‘Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat’ (DC Comics)

Being realistic, I knew (months ago) that there was no way I’d be getting to see the latest Batman film when it came out. Other commitments, and some prohibitive London cinema ticket prices, mean that I am very much a ‘wait until the DVD’ kind of guy. I’ll get round to it eventually and it’s not as if I didn’t read the novelisation in the meantime.
I had another plan though. While such a big deal was being made of the film, why not go back to the comic book where it all began. I read the ‘Knightfall’ series way back in the mid-nineties, enjoyed the hell out of it if I recall correctly, so it was definitely time for a re-read.
With this in mind, I bought the first volume and… promptly forgot about it. That’s the way I roll these days :o) That and the fact that Hope has started pinching my comic books so she can read them herself. I’m cool with that although I am really glad that I sold my ‘Walking Dead’ collection…
Anyway, the book. Did it hold up as well as I’d hoped it would (it had been a long time…)? Well, yes and no. Mostly yes actually.

A rocket attack on Arkham Asylum heralds the darkest days that Batman has ever known. All of his deadliest enemies are in the horde of madmen streaming into the night… And they are all coming for him, all at once. Batman must face the likes of the Joker, the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Amygdala and Zsasz if he is to protect the innocent folk of Gotham City and he wasn’t in top shape to begin with. If Batman is still standing at the end of it all there is an even greater mystery to be solved. Who ordered the rocket attack on Arkham Asylum? Who wants Batman brought to ruin so badly? Who is… Bane?

When I first read ‘Knightfall’, all those years ago, it was my first experience of seeing a hitherto ‘invincible’ superhero brought low. That, and the ‘Death of Superman’ storyline, left a real impression on me. Fast forward a few years though and the whole concept feels a little, well… passé. We all know that superheroes don’t die and there’s nothing so big that they ultimately can’t come back from. How did ‘Knightfall’ hold up in the face of my jaded attitude? Surprisingly well actually.

What you have here is a plot that is relentless in terms of what it throws in the way of a Batman who was struggling to get back to full health as it was. The pressure doesn’t stop for a second; if anything it just grows. As soon as one villain is dealt with, Batman must immediately go onto the next one; no time to rest, not even time to catch his breath. A plot like this should feel like a video game with Batman beating his way through the henchmen to get to the ‘end of level boss’. It really should but it doesn’t. For every bad guy (and lady) that Batman takes down you are left in no doubt as to the cost that he pays for it. Some of the artwork looks dated now (at least it does to me, it was the only thing that jarred here) but it does an amazing job of showing you just how drained Batman is after each encounter. You can’t help but feel for him, especially as you know what is looming on the horizon. And talking of which, who is that bloody huge bad guy lurking in the shadows? Why has he got such a big grudge for Batman? This revelation is a little bit of an anti-climax but it’s the resulting fight that we came for and that doesn’t disappoint.

A little extra knowledge of events leading up to ‘Knightfall’ will help you get more out of the story (‘why was the Riddler pumped full of Venom?’ and ‘what was Batman recovering from?’) but the book is surprisingly self contained and doesn’t need an awful lot of background knowledge to dive in and get going. I wish more comic books could be like this (yep, I’m looking at you Marvel). ‘Knightfall’ is a very dark read and nothing short of compelling. As soon as I can, I’ll be picking up the next two volumes to see if that standard is maintained.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Saturday, 27 October 2012

'The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha: The Project' - John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra (Rebellion)

It's a fact of comic books (a law even in the case of some of the larger publishers) that no-one really dies, not if bringing them back will mean a good story and a few more comics sold. Ok, there are probably a few exceptions out there ('Walking Dead' anyone?) but these are exceptions that invariably prove the rule. Superhero A didn't actually die, their body was kept in stasis by a hitherto unknown alien species. Superhero B did die but it turns out that he was from a parallel universe so that's ok; we still get to keep the one that we're used to. What 'great' ways to tug at the heartstrings but not have to develop new characters, not ones that matter to the reader anyway...

You've probably guessed that I'm not a big fan of this plot device in comics. Put it this way, if Eric Powell ever brings Goon's Aunt Kizzie back to life then I will quit readinf there and then. I thought that the characters on 2000AD would be safe from this wanton resurrection. After all, here is a comic that kills its characters in such ways that they are never coming back (apart from Judge Death I guess)... Doesn't it? Turns out I was wrong. One of 2000ADs most iconic characters is back in the land of the living and I hadn't realised that he was dead in the first place...

If you're a mutant, in 22nd century Britain, then your best chance of escaping the ghettos is to sign up with the Search/Destroy Agency and become a bounty hunter ('Strontium Dog'). Johnny Alpha was the deadliest Strontium Dog on the books and a keen fighter for mutant rights until his death (saving his kind from genocide).
Years have passed and word on the streets is that Alpha didn't actually die at all. Friends race to find his body but there are those who are equally determined to make sure that the job of killing Alpha is done properly this time. Plans are underway to finish off the mutant population for good and Johnny Alpha is the only person who might be able to stop them...

This probably goes without saying but I'm going to say it anyway. While 'The Project' works very well on its own (especially the latter parts) you really need to have read around the circumstances of Alpha's 'death' before getting stuck in here. It's not that 'The Project' doesn't fill in the gaps for new readers; it does this very well indeed, giving you enough to be going on with but not getting in the way of the story itself. If you're anything like me, you will need to have seen Alpha's sacrifice in order to fully get why it is such a big deal to the friends he left behind. I'd never read about Alpha's death so 'The Project' felt a little hollow on that score...

The story itself is fairly straightforward although Wagner does supply his readers with enough little hints to keep things interesting, certainly enough for me to want to pick up the next volume. Talk about a cliffhanger to leave things on...
Part of what Wagner does so well here lies in his treatment of Alpha's return. Again, it's all done very simply but Alpha's resurrection isn't a superhero one. No, Alpha literally has to start all over again and who can't sympathize with that? Not only that but Alpha has brought something back from beyond the grave; something that sits in his head hurling abuse at him and is clearly designed to catch our interest. It worked for me, I really want to know what is going on here...

The rest of the plot is nothing new (returning from the grave and ethnic cleansing in sci-fi, nothing we haven't seen in other books) but is examined with a real refreshing honesty that you can't help but be drawn in by. Couple this with artfully placed intrigue and gunfire and you can't really lose.
Talking of art, this is a difficult area to talk about as I can only say (once again) that Carlos Ezquerra's art is superb and it's all too easy to just sit there and stare at it. Ezquerra is 2000AD, make no mistake about it.

'The Project' is perhaps a little too familiar, in terms of subject matter, to make for a truly essential read. How Wagner treats that subject matter though... That made for an engrossing read and a story that I am eager to see conclude.

Monday, 8 October 2012

‘Morning Glories: Volume Three’ - Spencer, Eisma, Esquejo (Image Comics)

Yep, I decided that I really ought to review ‘Morning Glories: Volume Three’ before I take on the ‘Hobbit’ graphic novel. After all, this poor book has been sat on the shelf for a few months now; it’s waited for long enough…

The big question though is why I’ve held out on reviewing this title for so long. Especially when I enjoyed the first two books so much (reviews Here and over Here).
The bottom line is that I really should have re-read those first two volumes before tackling this one.
In its comic book format, I’m guessing that the ‘Morning Glories’ plot must be fairly easy to keep up with if you’re only waiting a few weeks at a time for the next issue. If you’re like me, and waiting for the trades, though… Well, that’s a few months wait, at least, between each book. I was lucky enough to be able to read the first two books really quickly but the wait for the third book (and all the other books that I read in the meantime) meant that I really didn’t have much of a clue what was going on when I picked up Volume Three. That’s my advice to you guys then; if you’ve got your hands on Volume Three then you should really take some time out to read the preceding books before you get going.

I persevered though because, well… ‘Morning Glories’ has proved to be a really intriguing read, posing questions that I really want to see answered. I wasn’t going to let something like ‘a few months between books’ stop me working this one out :o) It took me a while to get my head round this one but here I am, ready to go.

So, we’ve already established that your experience of Volume Three will depend on how recently you’ve read the last two books. Once you get past that you will find that this book is, structurally, very similar to Volume Two. The further you get into the book, the more you find out about the mysterious ‘Morning Glory Academy’, certain of its students and the sinister faculty staff that runs it. The more you find out though, the more questions Spencer poses for you; there is a lot more to both the plot and the Academy… or is there? I’m not sure. Answering a question with another question is a great hook (hey, it got me) but it does raise questions over the shelf life of the series. After all, there’s only so long that you can string out this kind of approach before you run out of meaningful questions to ask.
Funnily enough, I’m more than ok with ‘Morning Glories’ being a story that will eventually end instead of being spun out. I’d much prefer to see a plot that remains true to itself rather than being diluted by the urge to make a few more dollars. We’ll see which way it goes but I’m happy to stick around in the meantime.

I digressed a little bit there, sorry. The latter half of the book really begins to let you know what (or least ‘part of what’) this setting is all about. When you see what is hidden in the grounds of the school, and where it sends Casey, not only will things start to become clear (in terms of certain ‘flashbacks’) but you will find yourself with yet another hook that will have you back for more if you’re anything like me. If you’re still not sure then the cliff-hanger, right at the end, will definitely ensure your return.

There is a lot to get your head around then but there’s no question that it’s all worth the effort. The main cast all get a little more depth and I challenge you not to feel for them as they struggle to survive against the backdrop of a school where strange laboratories are hidden in the woods and ‘sacrifice’ is discussed in dark corridors (all beautifully rendered by Joe Eisma). I’m still in for the long haul, I’ll just make sure that I read the first three volumes before tackling Volume Four.

Nine out of Ten

Friday, 14 September 2012

‘Ghost: Resurrection Mary’ – Kelly Sue Deconnick & Phil Noto (Dark Horse Comics)

I’m always a little wary of reboots; on the one hand you have a chance to jump in right at the beginning but I can never quite get away from the feeling that the original story (I’d really got into) has been cast aside and doesn’t really mean anything anymore. I was never going to be able to stay away from the new ‘Ghost’ storyline (read my reviews Here, Here and Here to see why) but I still couldn’t help but feel a little, well… unsure about the whole thing.

I picked up the three issues of ‘Dark Horse Presents’ though (#13, #14 and #15 in case you were wondering); there was no way that I wouldn’t. You know, big fan of the original and all that. With the promise of more stories to come in the future, I wanted to be in right at the start and see what ‘Resurrection Mary’ had to offer. Quite a bit as it happens…

Vaughn is one half of a spook hunting team trying to make it big by investigating the legend of ‘Resurrection Mary’; thereby proving that ghosts exist. A ghost does appear in the graveyard but now she’s in Vaughn’s house and has just killed a man by pulling his heart out of his chest. Who is this ghostly lady and what are Vaughn and Tommy going to do with the dead body…?

This new incarnation of ‘Ghost’ is nothing like the original yet really similar at the same time, seriously. What you have then is the perfect blend of the familiar and the new, enough to attract old readers and new alike. I will definitely be checking out any more ‘Ghost’ comics that turn up on the shelves.

The same mystery is there, who is the ghost and why is she here? What is it that she’s meant to be doing? You don’t get the answer and considering the nature of this three-parter (setting the scene) you shouldn’t really expect one either. What ‘Resurrection Mary’ is all about is someone who has found herself back in the world of the living; struggling to deal with half remembered feelings of pain. This is covered superbly in #14 where Vaughn has to get to know a ghost who cannot (will not?) talk and reacts violently to being touched. Check out Noto’s work on the facial expressions at these moments, nothing short of brilliant. The ghost’s face doesn’t change but the eyes do and there’s a whole world of expression here that hints at what’s going on underneath the surface. The quality of Noto’s work drops off when it moves away from the ghost, and Vaughn, and onto the other things going on in the background. I’m trying to work out if this is a deliberate move designed to keep the focus where it should be…

The big difference for me wasn’t so much the change in setting; the switch from Arcadia to Chicago is an obvious one but both story lines appear to place more importance on plot rather than setting. No, the difference for me lies in the switch of perspective; it’s the ghost’s story but Vaughn is telling it. This is a clever move that not only highlights the ghost’s sense of being lost (how can she tell a story that she doesn’t know?) but gives us a little insight into Vaughn at the same time, a washed up man who suddenly has a chance to redeem himself.

There isn’t a lot of plot to write about (being more about questions than anything else) but the questions that ‘Resurrection Mary’ raises have more than piqued my interest. I’m looking forward to finding out the answers in future volumes, especially if Noto stays on board for art duty. I might be wrong but I think 'Resurrection Mary' might be reprinted when 'Ghost' goes monthly, check it out then if you've missed it here.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

'Shakara: The Destroyer' - Robbie Morrison, Henry Flint (Rebellion)

Sometimes you might want to read a science fiction book that will really make you think about how the universe all fits together. If that's too heavy going then what you're after is a little space opera; something fun that still has a little structure to it (a universe that makes some kind of sense). Sometimes though, what you actually want is a science fiction tale that hearkens back to the games you used to play, in the garden, as a kid. No rhyme, no reason, just heavily armed space dinosaurs shooting the you know what out of the enemy. I thought that Malachai Nicolle's 'Axe Cop' had the monopoly on this type of story but it appears that I was mistaken. Enter Robbie Morrison's 'Shakara', a story devoid of anything but the barest plot but a story that makes up for this with at least four explosions and a dinosaur on every page. Ok, I might be lying about the dinosaur but there are enough aliens for this not to matter too much...

You want blurb? Here's some blurb...

The Shakaran warrior known as Cinnibar Brennekka has activated a terrifying weapon called the God Machine, and once it destroys everything he will be the ultimate master of a new universe created in his image. Only one thing can stop Brennekka from succeeding... a vengeance-fuelled being called Shakara - the living embodiment of a murdered species - is out to kill the last of his kind, and there isn't another creature in the whole of existence that will get in its way!

'Shakara: The Destroyer' is a really tough one to review as, well... there isn't really a plot at all. There's a bad guy building a massive weapon that will destroy the universe; there's a good guy who has to stop him. That's the 'plot' in one easy sentence, kind of like a stripped down version of Star Wars. There's not a lot to engage with, plot wise, then but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, 'The Destroyer' is an incredibly easy book to just pick up and get going with. You don't need to have read the preceding volume at all.

But maybe you should anyway. Having finished 'The Destroyer' I can't help but wish that I'd read the first volume as well. I don't think I'd have had much more of a clue as to what was going on but I reckon I'd have had just as much fun as I did here.

That's what 'The Destroyer' is all about, despite the ominous sounding name and the fact that the book has a body count rivalling most disaster movies. There is a darker element to this story (murderous avatar of a dead race anyone?), and a nod towards the notions of honour and vengeance, but mostly it’s about reveling in explosions, deep space chases and dinosaurs being destroyed by ‘Black Hole Bombs’. And alien scientists being ejected into space. And a ‘Death Planet’ that really hates visitors. And… You can tell I enjoyed this book can’t you… ;o) ‘The Destroyer’ does this very well, especially when the stakes are raised with Shakara racing to stop the God Machine before he is overcome by the Red Death. The countdown, on both sides, ups the tension at an incredible rate. Not only that but the outcome raises questions that leave the possibility of a sequel wide open; I have a feeling there won’t be a sequel so (in which case) it’s refreshing to see something left so open ended.

When you’re looking at a plot that’s so minimal all you can really do is concentrate on the artwork instead. I liked Henry Flint’s artwork in ‘Incubus’ but I loved it here as Flint was obviously free to escape the restrictions of Mega City One and really go to town in a universe where everything is alien (I’ve heard that our world is destroyed in the first ‘Shakara’ book). Flint just goes for it, that’s all you can say really. You can tell the guy is very good at what he does but it’s the way that he throws down the gauntlet to his imagination that really impressed me. Flint’s imagination rose to the occasion and he gets it all down on the page in fine style. I also loved the way it’s all done in black and white barring Shakara and his mortal enemy, a move that really brings the main characters to the fore (just where they need to be).

‘Shakara:  The Destroyer’ has no real plot at all but I defy you to really care about that once you’ve read it for yourself. You really should, it’s one hell of a lot of fun.


Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 31 August 2012

X Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude - Various (Marvel)

Out of all the comic books I've ever read (not as many as some but still a fair old few) why is it the 'Age of Apocalypse' series is the one that has always managed to occupy pride of place in my head? I mean, there are definitely better series out there

'I don't know' is still the honest answer. It's probably a cross between my picking the books up at a time when college life suddenly got a lot better (it had been pretty bad at one point) and the series being a whole world away from the X Men cartoon I'd made a habit of watching. All of a sudden anything could happen and I wanted some of that action!

I didn't stick with the X Men books for that long, just long enough to see what happened with the Onslaught storyline, but I've always had a little soft spot for the 'turn everything on its head' madness of the 'Age of Apocalypse' books. The collected editions are very much on my 'to buy list', once I can pick up copies without crippling my wallet... I can wait :o) I had never really given much thought to what led up to the main event, too busy being blown away by the good stuff, but something had to kick it all off... I finally got my chance to find out when I came across a copy of 'Prelude' in a local library. There was no way that I wouldn't be reading it!

The premise is simple. Professor Xavier's mad son, Legion, has woken from a coma and promptly jumped back twenty years into the past. His plan is to make the world a happier place by killing its greatest villain before he turns to a path of darkness. Can the X Men of the present save the Magneto of the past? A lot more than one man's life rides on the outcome... And what if the wrong man were to die? That death could turn the present into a far differemt world entirely...

In many respects 'Prelude' is the book that I have been waiting years to read. I already knew what the Age of Apocalypse was all about but I never really knew what caused this event to take place (well, not in any great detail). Now I do and it's a story that may be a little too straightforward for some (like me) but also a story that resonates with a lot of power and emotion. This can lend a 'soap opera' air to proceedings (part of the reason why I stopped reading these books) but not as much as I thought there would be.

I did wonder how much of what happened was necessary to the plot though (Iceman's issues and Gambit's run in with Sabertooth for example) and this was where things got a little too much for me. 'Prelude' is as self contained as it can be but there's no escaping the fact that it's part of a much larger narrative with lots of smaller sub-plots that clearly need to be rounded off before a new scenario can begin. This is ok for those readers who are familiar with the story already but if you're not (like me) then things can feel a little disjointed with what feels like several plots all working against each other. There are also loads of little references to events happening in other comics entirely (a 'Rogue' mini-series and 'Wolverine' for starters). This is a pet hate of mine anyway, it just feels like a money making gimmick, but it also has the unfortunate affect of making you feel like there's even more story that you're missing.

Once you get past this though, 'Prelude' still has a lot to offer and I'm glad I got to give it a go. I'm always up for a bit of super powered confrontation and there is plenty of that on offer here, particularly in the end stages where the X Men take on Legion in a suitably pyrokinetic fashion. The artwork is of a good standard anyway but was glorious in these sequences.

I also got a lot out of the focus on the relationship between Xavier and Erik; not only in how it gave the plot added impetus (and added an air of tragedy to the climax) but also in that I'd never seen this relationship before. It made for a real nice change to see things actually play out rather than be referred to yet another back issue.
'Prelude' suffers from problems that I think are endemic in Marvel comics as a whole but there is still a lot there to recommend the read. Definitely worth sticking with and it's got me all fired up to finally track down the big 'Age of Apocalypse' collections. I'm glad I read it.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

‘Savage: The Guv’nor’ – Pat Mills, Patrick Goddard (Rebellion)

I should have reviewed this days ago… I probably would have done as well if ‘The Guv’nor’ hadn’t left me with so many things that I wanted to think about first. More on that in a bit.
Everything gets reviewed here eventually though (some books just have to wait a little longer for their turn…) and ‘The Guv’nor’ was no different. I had a great time reading this book and, now I’ve finally got my thoughts together, I can tell you just what I thought. First though, here’s some blurb…

In 1999, Britain was successfully invaded by the Volgs. When London lorry driver Bill Savage learnt that his family had been killed by the Volgs, he became a one-man war machine - a persistant thorn in the side of the occupying army. Having adopted the identity of his dead brother, Savage operates out of a bombed-out london, leading the resistance against his hated enemy. Now, business brain Howard Quartz - the CEO of Ro-Busters - has launched an attack on the Volgan forces with his Mark-One War Droids, but the Volgs have some technological tricks of their own, including a functional teleportation device and a powerful beast with a taste for human flesh....

It’s a rare comic book that I don’t just tear through quickly, on the first read, and then go back for another go. Even favourites of mine, like ‘The Goon’ or ‘Conan’, don’t have that much time spent on them for that first read. I’m just so eager to get going that I’ve finished reading before I even realise that I’ve started. This wasn’t the case with ‘The Guv’nor’ though, a book that I really got into and found that I was really taking my time over the read; I didn’t actually want it to finish at all.

This was a little odd as ‘The Guv’nor’ has a very episodic feel to it with a new danger, or mission, routinely being dealt with by Savage and his gang; if it’s bit dealt with in one story then it’s pretty much guaranteed to be resolved in the next one. You can understand this approach, given that the whole book has been collected from individual issues of 2000AD, but I’ve never been a fan of it personally. What works in a comic doesn’t really work when you essentially repeat the same story over and over again in a larger book. Hints at a larger arc save the day this time round but the flow of the plot was still a little too repetitive for my tastes.

There is a lot to recommend ‘The Guv’nor’ though, not least how unrelentingly grim and nasty this book is. If there wasn’t such a clear line drawn between the invaders and the resistance you would be hard pressed to see who the heroes were. It’s a grim life in ‘Volgan Britain’ and Savage’s crew is prepared to do whatever it takes to restore freedom. This is the cue for some nasty stuff to take place and you can’t help but wonder if Savage oversteps the mark more often than not. Is he a freedom fighter or a terrorist? ‘The Guv’nor’ is quite a thoughtful piece in that regard as well as being a series of explosions and armed pursuit.

The book is also a lot of fun to read with just enough sci-fi elements to freshen up the bleak backdrop, we’re talking teleportation and robot soldiers here. The latter in particular were also interesting to follow not only for the real life parallels drawn but how they tighten lines of continuity across 2000AD as a whole. It may be a reboot (I think) but I love detail like that.

‘The Guv’nor’ benefits from having the same artist running the show throughout, Goddard’s clean style complements the story and I didn’t have to worry about the introduction of a new artist disrupting things halfway through. I didn’t realise that Charlie Adlard was the artist, for ‘Savage’ prior to Goddard; I wouldn’t have minded seeing how his work matched up to the plot (I reckon he would have been a good fit)…

While ‘The Guv’nor’ does fall foul of repetitive plotting (which I think was unavoidable to be fair) it makes up for this in a number of other ways. I’m glad I picked it up and can see myself reading more, no doubt about it.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

‘Aliens vs Predator: Three World War’ – Stradley, Leonardi, Pennington (Dark Horse Books)

Am I the only person who didn’t think that ‘Alien vs Predator’ was that bad (I haven’t seen ‘Requiem’ so can’t comment there)? If you look at it in terms of the overall continuity then there is a marked decrease in quality but why do that in the first place? Why not just let the film stand on its own as a relatively harmless piece of fun where two iconic aliens pound the crap out of each other in an underground pyramid? To be fair, beer does help as well… I should probably stop there :o)

I’m always up for some Predators and Aliens killing each other, with hapless humans caught in the middle, so when I saw ‘Three World War’ (the clumsiest sounding title ever?) in the library I was immediately bugging Sue to see if she had any room left on her library card, I’ve lost mine again…
The Raymond Swanland cover was a pretty big draw as well; it’s becoming more and more clear to me that I will read pretty much anything if Swanland has been involved in the cover art.
‘Three World War’ is basically ‘Aliens’ with some added Predators to spice things up a bit. It’s fun while you’re reading it but when you’ve finished you realise that there actually wasn’t an awful lot to it after all…

And here’s the blurb,

A centuries-old interstellar conflict threatens humanity's very existence as a long-lost Predator clan stakes its claim for galactic dominance, intent on exterminating its rival clan, the selfsame trophy hunters who have plagued Earth's history and every world they have touched. And if the advanced technology and military precision of this new threat weren't enough, they have an even more terrifying weapon at their disposal -- Aliens, weaponized and under their malefic control. This puts earthmen in the dangerous position of parlaying with the same alien warriors who have relentlessly hunted them, and who better to carry out the negotiations than Machiko Noguchi, the only human known to have spent time alongside the Hunters.

‘Three World War’ collects the original six issue mini-series and I found, very quickly, that I couldn’t put it down. There is an awful lot going on here, at least I thought so at the time…
It’s very easy to get all caught up in the action, there’s plenty on display, as two factions become wary allies and join forces to take down the third faction. Predators fight Predators, the Aliens fight Predators and Humans while the Humans just seem to shoot at whatever is trying to kill them at any one time. It doesn’t let up for a second with smooth transitions from planetary confrontations to warfare in space; there’s something for everyone and Leonardi and Pennington illustrate it all to great effect. These guys clearly know what an ‘Alien/Predator scrap’ should involve and they deliver, no question about it.

Going through the book though, I couldn’t help but wonder if Stradley had really missed an opportunity to really flesh things out and give us a plot that’s a little more three dimensional. After all, as entertaining as it was there is only so much that you can do with a series of big ol’ fights. There doesn’t seem to be much underpinning these, just the need for some conflict resolution (the final solution to the conflict was a little too simple for me as well). This is quite annoying, in a way, as you can see moments where things could have been expanded to give the reader something far more engaging. I mean, we have a human character that lived with a Predator clan; what an opportunity to explore precisely what that means. We don’t get that though, just a few comments designed almost to throw us off the scent entirely. The Predators are far too alien to understand properly, unless they really lay it on the line, so why bother? That’s a real cop out as far as I’m concerned.

A lot of fun then but ‘Three World War’ ends up feeling strangely hollow, at least it did for me. I wouldn’t mind seeing it on the big screen though, could be even more fun…

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

'Road Rage' - Various (IDW)

I was in Forbidden Planet for something else entirely, the other day (and I got it as well), but was still taken in by the comic 'grab bag' shelves. You know the ones I mean, you buy a bag of comics for a pound and take your chances on what is inside; there'll be at least one decent comic even if the other four are questionable.
In a completely unforeseen turn of events, all four comics were from the same mini-series and they were all great (give or take a little bit of greatness…)

We've all suffered from a bit of road rage haven't we? Even when you’re just the passenger it’s almost impossible not to hurl a few choice expletives in the direction of some idiot driver. Especially at the roundabout by Lewisham Station but that’s another story…

The most iconic road rage story has to be ‘Duel’ with its tale of a travelling salesman being menaced by an unseen lorry driver for reasons that he still doesn’t understand by the end. I saw the film years ago and still have my old VHS copy (possibly the only reason why I still have a video player in the house). It’s awesome viewing every time I see it.
I hadn’t been able to find a short story collection with ‘Duel’ in it (to be fair I probably wasn’t looking that hard) so was doubly pleased to open the bag and find it reproduced in comic book format.

It’s a lovely read (if you can call a horror story that but you know what I mean…) although I do have my reservations. These are mostly round the art; Rafa Garres does a good job of capturing the mood but sometimes the art felt a little rushed to me and I found myself looking for detail that wasn’t there. It looks great on the surface but certain panels don’t stand up to a closer inspection, really annoying when you find yourself drawn in and looking for that detail.

The story itself though, that’s the depth of a tyre tread away from being superb. There’s only so much you can fit into a comic book and I’d say that Ryall does a good job of sticking to the main points in his adapation. It’s not Ryall’s fault at all that my favourite bit (where the truck goes to trash the telephone box with our hero inside it) got cut from the proceedings. I’d been looking forward to it as well…
It’s a gripping adaptation though, no doubt about it. Matheson’s sparse prose could almost be made for this format. Every word counts and I couldn’t stop reading, even though I knew how it would end.

Joe and Stephen King teamed up for the novella ‘Throttle’ which has found itself reproduced here. I’m assuming it has anyway, not sure where else it appears but that’s the impression I got reading the comic. ‘Throttle’ actually kicks this mini-series off but I deliberately read it out of order, I just had to read ‘Duel’ first :o)

I was in two minds about the story to be honest. As a homage it’s a little too obvious for me, especially with the truck. I mean, I get it but it was just a little too full on for me. Where ‘Throttle’ redeemed itself though was in the back story, you get to find out a little more about the lorry drivers motives here and it could have gone either way in terms of the result. Being part of a series and doing that is a risky manoeuvre if you’re sharing space with ‘Duel’.It works though, it really does, especially how it all ties in at the end. I also liked the father/son dynamic that’s going on throughout the story; it added a human element that opened things up in a way that ‘Duel’ perhaps couldn’t.
The artwork is glorious here, a real mix of cool bikers and what happens to them when they meet the road unexpectedly. Kudos to Nelson Daniel for artwork that just glowed on the page…

So… One amazing story that was slightly let down by its art and gorgeous artwork that overshadowed a ‘slightly off’ tale. The overall result balances itself out with a compelling read. If ‘Road Rage’ comes out in trade do yourself a big favour and grab it. I’m so glad that I happened to pick this one up.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

'Walking Dead' #100, Time for me to bail out...

Well... I say 'bail out' but I'll more than likely keep up with the storyline in one form or another (via the 'Walking Dead Wiki' I think). I just can't see myself making that mad dash for the latest trade collection like I have done in the past. It's a shame as I've been following the series for years now, ever since I moved to London, but everything comes to an end eventually (just a little bit sooner than it was meant to for me).

I'll do my utmost to avoid spoilers (as always) but read on with a little caution if you haven't picked up #100 just yet...

What always attracted me to this series was that it was a story first and foremost, a really in-depth and no holds barred look at how real people would deal with a zombie apocalypse. This approach has seen some really brutal moments but that's what this kind of situation is all about, people trying to survive no matter the cost.

Issue 100 though... That was all about a series milestone being reached. Fair enough but when you take that approach then you've got to do something noteworthy to mark it. [SPOILER ALERT!] This time round, a fairly major character is bludgeoned to death by a guy wielding a baseball bat covered in barbed wire. One of the most vicious and gut wrenching scenes I've seen in this series.[YOU CAN LOOK NOW]

It wasn't done for the story though, it was a moment that marked a hundred issues of an incredibly successful series of comic books and that was what killed it for me. Kirkman has always shown real respect for his cast, putting them through hell but a hell that meant something in terms of plot. That respect wasn't there this time round and a character's death lost significance because of that (they meant something but their death didn't, not to me)

We all know that I can't stay away from zombies, not for long, and I do want to know how it will all end. Like I said though, you won't see me running out for the trades anymore and that's a real shame.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

‘Batman vs The Undead’ – Kevin VanHook and Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)

Every so often I have to stop and ask myself whether the whole zombie thing has just got a little too much now, at least for me anyway. I actually asked myself this question, just the other day, when I saw a book called ‘White Trash Zombie’ on the shelves in Forbidden Planet. The title looked pretty cool, it was the blurb that killed it for me there. Let’s just say that the rapacious need of Urban Fantasy to assimilate everything knows no bounds…
The bottom line is that if you have too much of the good stuff then it just gets boring after a while. It’s not even a question of something not being new anymore, more like it being the same as everything else. That’s not a good thing for me, not when I feel like I’ve already read the really cool stuff.

It’s a good job then that zombie fiction shares some of the same traits that can be found in zombies themselves. I’m talking about that sheer bloody minded ‘never give up and keep on going’ attitude that the walking dead possess in abundance. There may be some dross out there but there are still some gems to be found in the relentless tide of zombie fiction headed your way. Gems like ‘Batman vs The Undead’…
I missed this book when it first came out, not really following the DC line at all, but it eventually reached me via a trip to the library to pick up some books for Hope. I’m glad Sue keeps an eye open for books that I might like, this one was a bit of a treat.

Professor Herbert Coombs has been wrongly released from Arkham Asylum and is free to continue with his great work, reanimating the dead so that they might serve him. His quest takes him to New Orleans and a museum of the dead, talk about a great place to pick up raw materials…
Batman lies in wait for Coombs but will he be enough to overcome the ravening hordes of the dead? He may have allies but, as the dead grow stronger, they might not prove to be enough either.

‘Batman vs The Undead’ looks like a very quick read on the surface (no page numbers but it is definitely a slim volume) but there is a lot to grip you once you get going. Not least of this is Tom Mandrake’s artwork. This can sometimes feel a little rushed (although this happens when there’s action, an intentional move maybe?) but is dripping with atmosphere and tension for the rest of the time. Mandrake draws a mean zombie and that’s all you really need from a book like this, especially when the denizens of the museum come to ‘life’. It’s not just zombies either, Mandrake also has a fine line in vampires and werewolves. This book is full of panels that I could just sit and stare at, they are so well drawn.

With such a fine backdrop to work against, I more or less assumed that VanHook’s tale would be its equal. It was but only in parts. Things kick off a little too simplistically, Batman fights zombies and… that’s it. To be fair, zombies can’t do a lot else but even so, I felt like the story wanted to get going but couldn’t. As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait but it felt like it.
When things finally get going, there were plenty of twists and turns to hold my attention but the ending (when we got to it) felt a little bit too… easy. The vampire ‘just happens to know’ where a powerful white witch can be found, just when they need her. A ‘super oracle’ (Doctor Fate) turns up, very conveniently, to warn the heroes off a particular path… The vitality of the plot does suffer from being guided a little too obviously.

There is a lot of vitality left though and that is what ultimately makes ‘Batman vs The Undead’ such an absorbing read (that and the artwork). The pace doesn’t let up for a minute and really gears things up for an explosive finale. You also get to see Batman's faith in science pushed to the limit by a foe that is entirely supernatural (and just keeps coming). Maybe zombie fiction is losing its freshness (pun definitely intended) but ‘Batman vs The Undead’ will keep me ticking over for a while yet.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 16 July 2012

'Avengers: Hawkeye' - Gruenwald, Grant, Lee, Byrne, Heck (Marvel)

I never got round to seeing the 'Avengers' movie (that's another one I'll be waiting for on DVD...) but I couldn't help but see all the posters, I'll bet you couldn't either, and found myself wondering who the grumpy looking guy was. You know, the one with the bow and arrow...

Turns out that the grumpy looking guy is Hawkeye; one of the only Avengers (as far as I know) who doesn't have a superpower, he's just very fit and good with a bow and arrow. Is that enough to be a member of the world's mightiest group of heroes though? That's what got me intrigued and when I saw the 'Hawkeye' collection on offer in 'The Works' (it's always worth checking out 'The Works' if there's one in your area)I couldn't help picking it up.

As with the 'Earth's Mightiest' collection, that I read recently, there wasn't really anything here that made me immediately want to rush out and get caught up with Hawkeye's adventureds. It was a fun and somewhat absorbing read though (with artwork that may be dated but is easy to get into) so I can't really complain :o)

From what I could tell here, Hawkeye has never really featured in his own comic so there was only a few mini-series that were eligible to be collected here. With there only being so much you can pack into a mini-series, what you get then is essentially Hawkeye facing off against the foe du jour and, eventually, coming out on top (unless he's fighting an Avenger then it defaults to a draw). It doesn't look like much of a plot, on the surface, and it isn't really. Luckily for the reader though, the writers do attempt to flesh things out as much as they can with a few insights, here and there, into what actually makes Hawkeye tick.

There may not be much room to show us but what we do see hints at a very interesting character who I think deserves a little more screen time than he actually gets. Hawkeye doesn't have any superpowers and knows that he has a lot to live up if he's going to be an Avenger; he's a guy who pushes himself to his limits and sets himself really high standards to follow. When he fails (through no fault of his own) Hawkeye can sink into a real depression although he never gives up trying to do the right thing. You've got to admire a guy who is never going to quite cut it, in the illustrious company that he keeps, but never lets that beat him. That's what kept me reading anyway.

Another approach that the writers take here is to flesh things out a little further with tales of Mockingbird, the SHIELD spy who falls for Hawkeye. The reader gets a little extra background on another character (and a more covert part of the Marvel universe that I was never really aware of) and this helps Hawkeye's character develop a little further. Everyone wins here I think (although having said that, the Mockingbird/Huntress tales do shift the attention from the guy who is meant to be the whole point of the book...)

Mockingbird's tales are a little deeper in nature because of the subject matter, espionage and loads of double crossing intrigue. As a result then, the book as a whole offers a good balance between 'beat em' up' and spy tales. Things don't have a chance to get stuck in a rut here as we're constantly switching between different types of stories.

'Avengers: Hawkeye' looks fairly straightforward on the the surface then but there is plenty going on once you get more into it. Ultimately it didn't prove enough to be really inspiring but it was plenty enough to make for a fun weekend read (especially given the hangover I was nursing at one point but that's another story)

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Cover Art : 'The Goon #40' (Shameless Fan-Boy Edition)

In the absence of anything else to post today (it's been a slow day like that...) have a little cover art action courtesy of Eric Powell and 'The Goon'...

Back in his teenage days when Prohibition was going on, Goon used to hot-rod moonshine past the law for fun and profit. That is, until he ran into a gang of gearhead rockabilly ghouls out for blood!

Issue 40 is up for pre-ordering apparently :o)

It's no secret that I love 'The Goon' and I reckon that if you give it a go then you'll love 'The Goon' too. Cover art like this is one of the reasons why. I haven't read this issue yet (obviously) but I'll tell you now that the art inside will be just as good as what's on the cover. I like being able to pick up a  comic with that in mind :o)

So give 'The Goon' a go then, if you're into gorgeously drawn pulp stylings then you really can't go wrong with this title...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

'Elric: The Balance Lost Volume 2' - Roberson, Biagini (Boom! Studios)

The Eternal Champion is cursed to forever wander the moonbeam roads of the multiverse (in many incarnations), fighting for both Law and Chaos but always bound to serve the needs of the Cosmic Balance. He will never know a moments peace and will die when an unfeeling multiverse no longer has any use for him. I, on the other hand, get to read all these stories and have a fine time doing so (not having to worry about my own cosmic allegiances and whether I will perish at the hands of my own traitorous sword...) I definitely get the better end of the deal here :o)

The standard of the tales is consistently good, to the extent that I'm now happy to venture outside Moorcock's original books and check out works in the same setting by different authors. Enter one Chris Roberson, an author whose work I have never been able to get into (let alone finish) until he started work on the 'Balance Lost' series. I would have picked these books up anyway, no matter who the writer was, but I thought that Roberson did a very good job with the first volume. Check out my review HERE and you'll see what I mean.

When I saw Volume 2 on the shelves then... Well, I didn't need much of an excuse to pick it up ('Bad day in the office blahblahblah... Oh look, comic book!') and take it to the counter straight away, fighting not to open it and start reading before I'd paid. Volume 2 is a lot of fun again and it looks like some of the issues I had with the previous book aren't issues anymore.

Eric Beck was a computer game designer plagued by dreams that have turned out to be so much more... Beck's dreams are in fact the reality of the multiverse and his many guises as the Eternal Champion. Now Eric Beck faces a fight that he is unprepared for but must succeed in; nothing less than the fate of the multiverse itself is at stake as the Cosmic Balance has been lost leaving Law and Chaos free to drag whole worlds into oblivion. Beck, Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon must travel into realms hitherto unknown, if they are to put things right, and they are up against enemies (of both Law and Chaos) who will take some beating.

The real danger lies out of sight though. Who is pulling the strings that have finally enabled the gods to go to war...?

While Volume One was all about setting the scene (a little bit too much if you ask me...), Roberson lets the story have its head a little here and the result is a pulp caper in all the best traditions of Moorcock. The stakes are high (they can't get much higher in fact) and the action is furious as a result. It doesn't let up for one moment and I found it incredibly easy to keep turning the pages bceause of this. We're talking a lot of fun here, plain and simple.

With the scene having been set, Volume Two has a little more time to get into Eric Beck's head so we can see what he is all about. It's a little disappointing then that we don't get to see an awful lot. It's all about the plot here and that's fair enough up to a point, it would have been nice to get some more characterisation though. I think the assumption here is that readers will know about the Eternal Champion mythos already and probably know the three heroes from several of the books. All well and good if you do by what if you don't? I'd say that these comics aren't a bad place to jump on board but a little more background is always useful. And as far as Eric Beck goes, I wonder if perhaps a little too much time was spent showing us how he displays the traits of the Champion (and not enough time showing us what else there is to his character)...

It's the power of the story that got me through these rocky patches and has me eager to see how it all pans out in the next volume (roll on October!) Biagini's art contributes, in no small way, to the overall affect; you really get to see his imagination run wild in the scenes outside besieged Tanelorn. What I did notice though was that scenes of quick moving action inevitably resulted in artwork that felt more than a little rushed. This was probably the affect that was aimed for but a little bit more polish here would have made all the difference.

Minor quibbles though when you're faced with a comic book that is this much fun. I would have been around for Volume Three anyway but the cliffhanger ending sealed the deal...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

'The Goon: The Deformed of Body and the Devious of Mind' - Eric Powell (Dark Horse Books)

Now this is more like it... :o) I've just spent the last week doing work that is slowly but surely killing my very soul. At home, I'm dealing with a neighbour who wants to sue us (long story, not to be told here) and some nasty food poisoning that did some very nasty things to me last night... It's all ok though! It's that one time of year where I get to escape real life horribleness and hang in Lonely Street with two of my favourite comic book characters. It's time for the Goon once again :o)

I've been following the Goon almost as long as the blog has been running (quite a while then) and a couple of years ago I reached the point where I'd caught up on all the story and I was left to wait for new stuff to appear. It always feels like an interminable wait but it's worth it every single time. This time was no different.

After a short break, following the conclusion of the 'Labrazio' storyline, Powell has returned with a series of 'one off' issues that don't seem to contribute to a larger arc (although a few familiar faces return, hinting at possibilities for the future) but make for good reading all by themselves.

I've already reviewed issue 34 here so am going to cheat a little bit here and give you a link to the Review. The rest of the book though...

Long term readers of 'The Goon', and this blog, will already know that the Goon hates vampires almost as much as he hates zombies. Given how much we all hate the 'Twilight' vampires it's great fun then to watch him throw down some serious hurt on some sparkly looking types out for a game of baseball in Lonely Street. These scenes give us my second favourite quote in the book, "Sparkly vampires? You've got be ****ing ****ing me!"

What I really love about Powell though is how he can go from childish humour to dark horror and tragedy, all in a couple of pages. The horror comes out on the next page, swiftly followed by the pathos of issue 34 (see that link) and then straight back into the burlesque stylings of the 'Roxi Dlite' episode. The humour here is unashamedly burlesque, that's all I'm saying (other than that I laughed lots and couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Franky afterwards).

The highlight of the book for me was the 'Union' episode where Powell leaves out the humour entirely and gives us a dark tale of real tragedy and revenge. Ghosts coming back from the grave, union busters and a demonic gorilla all combined to make for a real riveting read; the fire in the factory bought a real tear to my eye as I saw the people trying to get out.

Running the 'Union' story a close second was 'The Goon's on Vacation', a tale of vacation interupted by a wiener stealing hobo and Fishy Pete's amorous mother; the kind of thing that could only happen to the Goon and the kind of thing that you just can't help but follow (just to see if the ending is as weird as the rest of it). I had a lot of fun reading this, not least because 'The Goon's on Vacation' gives us my favourite quote from the book... "Why does every BBQ I have end with a dead hippie being molested?" Why indeed.

There's a little more to come as Powell signs the volume off with 'An Irish Wake', the tale of a fastidious goblin and a promise made long ago. It's a short tale (maybe a little too short) but well worth it just for the panel where the corpse flies off the table and out of the window :o) A real slapstick laugh out loud funny moment!

I found myself missing the absence of a plot arc (which really did things for the preceding ten volumes) but what's on offer in 'The Deformed of Body and the Devious of Mind' more than made up for that in the meantime. 'The Goon' is as wild and dark as ever (all beautifully drawn by Powell as well) and I'm looking forward to more already.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

'Ultimatum: Requiem' - Various (Marvel)

Just a quick review really as 'Requiem' only collects a few issues of the 'Requiem' issues. Or maybe it collects all of them, I don't know, I am a complete newcomer to Marvel's 'Ultimate' setting as I generally stay away from anything even vaguely hinting at at alternate universe (apart from the original 'Age of Apocalypse' plot which was excellent). The concept just seems like a bit of a cop out to me, a handy way of getting the writer out of tricky situations or (even worse) a cynical way of getting you to part with your cash.

Thinking about it though, maybe alternate universes aren't such a bad thing after all; not if they are a way of re-examining how characters might turn out if things were even slightly different. That's what prompted me to pick up 'Requiem', well... that and the fact that it was on offer (can you see a pattern emerging with the Marvel collections being reviewed here?) It turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag but there were some real moments of magic on the way.

I pretty much know nothing about the 'Ultimate' universe but a couple of pages into 'Requiem' it becomes clear that, at some point, Magneto unleashed an immense tidal wave on Manhattan and various superheroes have been left to pick up the pieces. It's a time for regrouping and it's also a time for re-evaluation of how others have been portrayed...

'Requiem' looks at how the X-Men and the Fantastic Four cope in the aftermath of the Ultimatum wave as well as other recent events (for the X-Men). Spiderman's character is also re-examined while his fate remains unknown.

It's the story of Spiderman that is the most powerful as his fiercest critic is forced to not only confront Spiderman's heroism but write a piece where he faces up to his own hostile attitude. It's really sobering stuff, especially when set against the wreckage of a Manhattan that Spiderman fought to save, and the flashbacks make for good insight into Spiderman's character (in the Ultimate universe). The ending killed it a little bit for me, I wonder if Brian Bendis would have done better staying away from a predictable ending and going with what was proving to be an incredibly powerful plot. The journey getting there nade it all worthwhile though. Best story in the book.

I wish I could say the same about the 'Fantastic Four' story. The fracture of the group dynamic draws you in but the moments with Reed Richards were just dull to be honest. I know the guy is meant to be singleminded here but his obsession just looked pointless in the face of the wider picture. Maybe this was the intent but, for me, the story came across as two halves fighting against each other instead of moving forward together. I wasn't impressed at all by the end result.

The 'X-Men' piece went some way towards redressing the balance with moments of introspection and grief that the 'X-Men' books seem to do so well. It just felt so slow though, like it was deliberately slowing things down in preparation for a crescendo that never happened (not in this book anyway). A halfhearted confrontation with their enemies sparked a little bit of interest but not a lot.

'Requiem' hints at good things from the preceding story and maybe I'll pick up more of these books. Maybe.
Despite some very good moments though, the rest of it didn't quite grab my attention in the way I was hoping for. The Spiderman story was great but I suspect that the rest of it won't stick around in my head for too long...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 24 June 2012

'The Walking Dead Vol. 16 - A Larger World' Kirkman, Adlard (Image)

I've been reading the ‘Walking Dead’ books for at least a couple of years longer than I've been running the blog and I've been running the blog... Well... Ages now :-) It's along time then to stay with any series so you couldn't blame me for feeling a little let down when Volume 15 never really went anywhere. Not only did I have ages to wait until this volume bit vol 15 hinted at a direction, for the overall series, that didn't look promising from where I was sitting. You can read the review Here if you like, a review that I summed up by saying...

'Right now, things just felt a little lacklustre (including the artwork), like the story was just marking time instead of actually doing something. That doesn’t bode well for the future but, like I said, I’m willing to be proved wrong.'

Like I was ever going to stop reading though... You put years of reading in and there's no question about whether you'll see it through to the end. It didn't really take too much for me to give Kirkman the benefit of the doubt either. The 'Walking Dead' series has had far more ups than downs so all I had to do was hope that vol 16 took things back on an upward path rather than the other direction.
It's a slow path upwards but 'A Larger World' does start to move things in the right direction again.

Supplies are growing dangerously low in the settlement and the surrounding area has been picked clean of anything useful. Trips further afield are in order and one such trip reveals that Rick's community isn't the only one trying to survive. New encounters envariably mean new problems to solve though and Rick and his friends must face up to some tough decisions if their community is going to make it through the winter...

'A Larger World' has similar problems to the previous volume in terms of just how safe the characters all are. There's a big walled settlement for shelter and even the weakest character has killed enough zombies for that not to be an issue either. A little bit of the tension is missing then but Kirkman sidesteps this rather neatly by throwing the wider setting into sharper focus. There's a whole new world out there and Kirkman shows us the potential here for new tales yet to come.

If there's a problem here it's very much that all these tales are 'yet to come'. 'A Larger World' is all about setting things up for future volumes so be prepared for not a lot to happen at times. Balancing this out though is the air of menace that Kirkman builds up over the course of the book; 'A Larger World' isn't just filler, things are being laid in place that promise something explosive in the very near future. This is what I'm after and I don't mind waiting a little bit longer if I know it's coming.

There are also more developments, on the personal front, for our band of survivors and it's all credit to Kirkman that he keeps things becoming too much like a soap opera. These are people learning to feel again, after some traumatic events, and I think Kirkman captures that perfectly.

Like I said then, it's a slow road but 'A Larger World' sets the plot back on an upward trajectory. I’m all excited again about seeing where the series takes us next.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

'The Mighty Avengers: Earth's Mightiest' - Slott, Pham, Sandoval & Segovia (Marvel)

As a rule, I generally stay well clear of the Marvel universe for the simple reason that it's pretty much impossible to get by readng just one of the series. Everything is tied together so cleverly that even with the best of intentions you will find yourself buying more and more comics in order to get the whole story. Is this approach about telling an integrated story, across several platforms, or is it an underhand attempt to get comic fans to part with even more cash? Being ever so slightly cynical I know which one I'd choose... I got my fingers burned collecting 'X-Men' comics and swore off Marvel after that. Until now.

The recent release of the 'Avengers' movie (which I still need to see at some point, probably at Christmas when the DVD comes out...) got me all interested though and I thought I read some 'Avengers' if I got the chance. Just to see what I was missing really. Where to start though? I mean, how long has 'The Avengers' comic book been running for? That's an awful lot of continuity to get caught up on... As it turned out, the best place to start was with 'Earth's Mightiest' which I saw on special offer in The Works. The story looked relatively self contained and I wouldn't be too out of pocket if it didn't work for me.

Did it work for me? I can't see myself going out and buying more 'Avengers' books off the back of 'Earth's Mightiest' but it made for a pretty entertaining read in the meantime.

The initial premise is simple, perhaps a little too simple for me. A new team of Avengers are assembled to take on a variety of threats; they meet the threat head on, deal with it and are moved on to the next threat. That's the main bulk of the plot really and you could argue that doesn't make for much of a plot at all. I'd have to agree with you there. Pham, Sandoval and Segovia all take turns at showing us what's happening and it all looks really dynamic on the page. It verges on the edge of being repetitive/monotonous though and it's only the fact that the book is so short (as well as setting the Avengers up against the Fantastic Four) that saves the day. There's enough action here to get things buzzing but I'd say that Slott does well to keep it on that side of the line.

It was the little hints at a wider picture that proved to be more intriguing for me, both in terms of plot and character. Everyone has their issues here but Hank Pym's struggles to be a leader, and pay some kind of meaningful tribute to his dead ex-wife at the same time, proved to be really engaging. The guy is totally off his head (I think) and I couldn't help but root for him a little because of this.

I also found myself noting little asides as well that hinted at the state of the wider Marvel universe. I don't want to give too much away but I'm sure that a particular Norse God was a guy the last time I saw anything of him. And what's going on with Norman Osborne? Shouldn't he be... Oh I don't know. These little snippets of information are all very interesting and clearly designed to have you picking up the next comic as well as all the back issues you can lay your hands on. I don't have the money, or the space, for that and I think a visit to Wikipedia is probably in order to answer those questions.

'Earth's Mightiest' is a very well drawn comic and I'd love to see more work from Pham, Sandoval and Segovia in the future. It's very lightweight though in terms of plot, a lot of fun to read but feels strangely hollow at the same time. Hollow enough in fact I'll probably only pick up future 'Avengers' books if they're on offer as well. There isn't quite enough here to make me want to dig deeper to get the whole picture...

Seven and a Half out of Ten