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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Discord Volume 1. Simon Watts (Writer), Michael Wojciechowski (Art) (

Very engaging and enjoyable science fiction comic that sets up the context and cast very well and then delivers a substantial event. Discord is a library that lies between the thirteen dimensions of the multiverse, providing knowledge to those who need it. Flora, a young girl who has just moved to Washington DC with her father finds Discord and borrows a book. This turns out to be a bit more complicated than it would appear and Flora becomes an employee of Discord. Discord becomes involved in a major problem on a planet in one of the dimensions, the planet is under attack by the Dread Shark and things do not go well for anyone.
 Simon Watts has solved the problems of starting a story with confidence and nice attention to detail. Discord and the staff are introduced in a natural and effective way that gives each member of the staff a chance to establish themselves. From the good looking adventurous staff, the pedantic robotic staff and the crusty librarian there are no surprises, they all quickly establish themselves ap personalities in their own right and the internal politics of Discord give them depth. When the action starts,  Simon Watts shits the gears of the story seamlessly, mixing a planetary event with up close and personal action by the cast that never looses the balance of the story or slows the momentum. One very welcome aspect to the story is the hard won optimism that emerges.
Michael Wojciechowski's friendly art is a pleasure to read. The lines are soft and inviting, the cast feel organic and are strongly expressive. The aliens are a nice mix of shapes and sizes, all move through the story with force and intent. The art captures the subtle toughness and strength of the writing, there are sharp dark corners in the story that are brought to life with equal force to the quiet moments, the weight of the story is strongly carried forward by the art. The colouring is lovely, it brings out the details of the story and the cast and gives consistent emotional tone to the story. The lettering is quiet and natural except when it delivers the vital sound effect  to make a scene jump off the page.
Discord is a great story and a very inviting comic, it manages to be playful when needed and bitter when required without ever loosing the essential  thread that runs through the story, Discord is a resource to help others and it does so.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Derelict. Book 1: Deluge. Ben Fleuter

A very engaging and enjoyable dystopian science fiction comic. The earth had become hostile to human life, the survivors have been driven off the land onto floating cities. On land strange creatures, misamics rule, creatures of the dangerous fog. Dang Thu Mai is a human scavenger, sailing alone along the coasts and retrieving what she can. She encounters severe trouble and later finds a deserted ship that contains a lot of unexpected information.
Ben Fleuter has created a credible world full of unexpected dangers with wonderful confidence. The silent pages reflects the isolation of Dang Thu Mai she sails her ship on her salvage. The hard work and the megre rewards matched with great risks are displayed with care and detail. The reader is drawn deeply into the world and the struggle for living before the action starts to kick off. When it does it is sharp and fast, the lonely life of a scavenger makes Dang Thu Mai a target for others who see her as an opportunity to scavenge themselves.  Dang Thu Mai responds to the problems in a way that clearly establishes her determination and willingness to defend what she owns.  Another encounter shows just how many creatures now inhabit the earth, before the story shifts a gear with the discovery of the human exploration ship and the assault on a major misamic location.
The art is lovely, the destabilised world littered with the remains of technology and the bones of the hums who used it are provided without ever crowding out the cast or the action. The details show the world and free the cast from the need to tell, the action reveals the story in a very natural way. The cast are very expressive, they are individual and full of personality. The leads and the walk on parts are all given an opportunity to register with the reader and narrative never falters.
The colouring is superb, it catches the mood of the story and gives depth and clarity to the cast and the context. The lettering is clear and easy to read.
Dystopian science fiction has a difficult balance to achieve, the problem has to be big enough to threaten everyone, the survivors have to adapt and still want to reclaim what was lost and the will to struggle. If there is no hope there is no story, if there is no serious struggle there is no drama, Ben Fleuter has managed the balance very well. The problems and difficulties are immense and the personal cost is significant, the will to live shines strongly and that drives the story and hooks the reader in a most enjoyable way.

The Kill Call. Stephen Booth. Harper (2010)

An enjoyable police procedural set in the Derbyshire moors. Hounds from a local hunt find the body of a man with severe head injuries, an anonymous call had place a victim some distance away. Detective Sergent Diane Fry and Detective Constable Matt Cooper have a problematic start to the investigation. The presence of the hunt with the attendant friction between hunters and objectors is a complicating factor. The threads of the investigation pick up with the identification of the victim and his links with the meat industry. The investigation  unfolds carefully as the range of activities the victim was involved in start to increase the number of potential suspects. A split narrative regarding a little know piece of military activity related to Cold War fears comes to a satisfyingly bitter conclusion.
The plot mechanics are the better part of this story, the cast are a little too subdued to actively engage the reader. Diane Fry is a spiky conflicted character who finds that her past is catching up with her in a way that considerably increases the pressure on her in her current position. She is a fish out of water in the rural setting, seeking to escape and finding herself somewhat unmoored rather than free. Her anger and frustration are vividly realised, they just are not applied effectively in the story. The investigation does not move her anywhere further, the circumstances she finds herself in are left open so she is effectively dancing on the spot.
Ben Cooper is from the local area and has deep roots in the community and again he is vividly realised but the interaction between the character and the plot is not very profound. The lead characters have come to critical points in their lives and they wrestle credibly with them, the plot and the investigation runs along side them on a parallel line. This is disappointing as the writing is excellent and it feels like a missed opportunity to give the investigation a greater force and impact. The second plot thread avoids all these issues as it captures with brutal precision the way the past can grip someone and blind them to the present leading to a terrible result. This is so well done it rather highlights the failure of the main story to achieve the same impact.This is a very good crime story. well worth any readers time, the fact that it misses being a great crime story is as much a tribute to the expectations it creates as it is a criticism.

The Shadow Volume Three: The Light of the World. Chris Robertson (Writer), Giovanni Timpano (Art), Fabrico Guerra (Colours), Rob Steen (Letters) Dynamite (2014)

A very enjoyable Shadow story that is really for existing fans. A series of very brutal murders attracts the attention of the Shadow, there is no apparent link between the victims other than the way they are killed and reports of a ghostly figure seen near the crime scenes. As the Shadow investigates the link becomes clear and the Shadow finds a thread that could lead to the killer. The story is very well staged, the action is tremendous and the climax is satisfying. The story uses all the beats of a Shadow story with care and skill, everything a existing fan would require is present and that is the problem. It is a very good Shadow story for a fan, it does require a degree of prior knowledge to appreciate the details of the story. It does not quite catch fire and become a deeply engaging Shadow story nor does it offer an invite to a casual reader to discover the joy of The Shadow.
Chris Robertson has written a smartly constructed and credible Shadow story, the crimes are bold enough to attract attention, the period details are used with effect, never calling attention to themselves they just confidently support the context. The cast are all given the room to be themselves and have a part to play other than being a roll call. The Shadow is given the force and drive that is needed to push the story, his encounters with the killer have weight, the killer is a formidable opponent and this means the Shadow has to work hard to achieve his goal.
 Giovanni Timpano's art captures the physical context with telling detail and the cast move naturally through the context. The Shadow has a brooding, powerful presence that gives him the menace that requires. The action is great, there is a force and weight to the movements and the cast engage directly with each other. The quieter moments are done with care and skill, they bring the reader into the story. The lines are a little too soft for my taste, the cast need a bit more definition in their faces to emerge with a real individuality, they do not quite look like they have lived the lives they have.
Fabrico Guerra's colours are great, they give definition and depth to the cast, they bring out the tones of the story with subtle care. They time shifts are clearly signaled without overwhelming the narrative drive of the story .
Rob Steen's letters are natural and easy to read, they never draw attention to themselves, the sound effects are excellent, they never get in the way of a story where the colouring is used to as a special effect. Any Shadow fan will enjoy this comic, I do not think it would create any new ones.

Rip Haywire and The Curse of Tangaroa!. Dan Thompson (Writer and Artist). IDW Publishing (2011)

A hugely enjoyable and engaging adventure comic that is also laugh out loud funny. Rip Haywire was born to adventure, working with is mother on top secret missions during his school holidays. When Rip has the chance to meet up again with the extremely dangerous Cobra Carson and find the ghost compass he naturally leaps straight in. The following adventure is jet powered two-fisted adventure as Rip discovers that the past is more dangerous than any pit of alligators. The story moves at break neck speed, the action scenes are fantastic, the jokes are superb and the climax unexpected and moving.
Dan Thompson has created something special with Rip Haywire, a thoroughgoing adventure that takes itself seriously enough for the jokes to deliver, they never undercut the story, they enhance it. Rip Haywire is the perfect updating of the adventures from the heroes of previous generations of newspaper strips. He lives for adventure, travels a world full of hidden tombs, elaborate traps in steamy jungles and never met a villain he was not happy to punch.
Cobra Carson is equally iconic, an hourglass figure, and as dangerous as her namesake, she is the femme fatale who doubles as the damsel in distress when needed who finds her soulmate with Rip.
Two walking cliches that should just be stale and faded burst into glorious life due to the stunning combination of Dan Thompson's writing and wonderful art.
The art is deceptively simple, the context is never very detailed, it does not need to be, enough to set the scene for the wonderfully expressive cast. All of the cast, including the walk on parts are given the spark of life that engages the reader so that the action always has depth and consequences. Slathered with humour it is never ridiculous, Dan Thompson clearly established the terms of the story and delivers wholesale. The heroes are larger than life, the villains are completely villainous, the clash is epic. Threaded throughout this is the relationship between Rip and his mother and Cobra and Rip, it is never shortchanged nor is it pushed at the expense of the action. It brings the required depth and humanity to Rip, Cobra and Rip's mother and gives the story the weight it needs to drive the climax.
As well as being a great fun read this is a great comic, it uses the possibilities of mixing art and story with tremendous skill, confidence and talent. Dan Thompson has made a very difficult task look easy and natural, an unlimited pleasure.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

House of Fear: The Grumpledowns Gang and the Case of the Mail-Order Shoggoths. Brandon Barrows (Writer), Rafael Loureiro, James Hislope (Art), Jodh Jensen (Colours), Matt Krotzer (Letters). TEN31 Publishing (Summer 2017)

A great fun all ages horror comic that makes a very difficult task look easy. Any all ages comic has to solve a difficult problem, if it leans too heavily to one section of the audience it will loose the others, House of Fear is a great example of how to cater to the widest possible audience with confident delivery and a smart story. Ben Grumpledowns, a young boy gets a surprise when he gets a delivery after sending off to a ad in an old comic. Naturally this is not a good thing. A neatly set up situation releases the problem and within the context of the school Halloween Carnival the problems arise in a very engaging way.
Brandon Barrows' idea of a delivery from a long defunct company listed in the back of an old comic is just catnip to any comic collector who has read these extraordinary adverts with joy and amazement, it gives the perfect lead in with the young cast. The choice of monster is equally wonderful, Shoggoths have the shadow from H.P. Lovecraft on them and are scaled in the story to be threatening without being repulsive.The cast are engaging and energetic, the are not too cute or sawn-off adults, they emerge as children bound on enjoying their lives as much as they can and they give the reader the same chance to enjoy it too.
 Rafael Loureiro' interior art is friendly and full of details that create a believable and solid context. The cast are clearly individual and each is strongly expressive without every being cartoony. The action is fast and exciting. James Hislope delivers the bookends that capture the spirit of the earlier horror comics without breaking the tone or intent of the main story.
Jodh Jensen  colours are great, they bring out the detail of the art and create the emotional tone of the story, when the trouble is revealed it is dark and never overwhelming, the colouring brings the excitement without the possible fear and terror.
Matt Krotzer lettering is quiet and natural, the special effects are as loud and dramatic as required, they give the action a nice extra list that it needs to push the story. Hugely enjoyable.

Watson and Holmes. A Study in Black. Karl Bollers (Writer), Rick Leonardi, Larry Stroman (Art), Paul Mendoza & GuruEFX, Archie Van Buren, Jay David Ramos (Colours), Taylor Esposito, Dave Lanphear, Nicole McDonnell, Wilson Ramos Jr. (Letters) New Paradigm Studios (2013)

A hugely enjoyable and engaging alternative Sherlock Holmes story that confidently moves the cast to different time and context. John Watson is a medical intern in the Convent Emergency Center , Harlem , New York  where he meets Sherlock Holmes who arrives inquiring about a patient who has just been brought in. Holmes makes a suggestion regarding the patient that Watson follows up and this pushes him to visit Holmes at  Hudson's Bookshop, 221b Baker Street Harlem. The case and Watsons's involvement develops very nicely as an extensive and very dangerous conspiracy becomes clear and arrives at a very satisfactory conclusion.
The cast are superb. The headline is that both Watson and Holmes are New York African Americans and the story has a powerful New York context.  What matters is the joyous confidence with which Karl Bollers has written Watson and Holmes, the way that they interact with each other, respond to changing circumstances and in particular the way that John Watson is developed and presented is a huge pleasure. They are utterly true to themselves and their context, the essential details of a Sherlock Holmes story are presented with tremendous understated skill, none are blatantly highlighted and shoved at the reader, they are stitched firmly into the story. Best of all is the key relationship between Watson and Holmes, it is natural and unforced, the motivations for both that underlie their friendship is neatly set up.
The art by Rick Leonardi in the main story is a pleasure to read, it is full of details that firmly anchor the cast in a physical location, the cast are expressive, the body language is eloquent. The cast, including the walk on parts, are all individual, there are no generic characters. They all demand the readers attention without crowding out the action. The quiet moments are as interesting as the action, the cast are interested in what they are saying and that brings the reader into the moment.
In the Epilogue, Larry Stroman's art is distinctively different and equally effective, he captures the tension that runs through a sharp and bitter story that packs a considerable punch in a short space.
The colouring captures the emotional tones of the story and highlights the relevant details with subtle care and craft. This is a noir version of Holmes, the story is dark and even in the light of day there are deep shadows. The colouring shifts tones that track the tone of the story without shouting it, they frame the action and engage the reader.
This is a superb Holmes story, confidently taking the ideas and using them in a engaging and enjoyable way, a pleasure.