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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Red Christmas. Kim Roberts (Writer & Colours), Frederico Guillen (Art), Chris Allen (Letters & Colours). Swampline Comics (December 2017)

A bloody and satisfying Christmas story that uses a classic horror story idea with care and strong impact. When a department store Santa is fired and has a car crash his troubles increase greatly when he encounters a group of students on a booze run for their party. Events turn bloody.
Red Christmas does not rely on novelty, it has abundance of smart storytelling instead, the idea is not new the execution shows why it is still so strong. If you are going to do something very dangerous then it pays to make sure that you have done it properly.
Frederico Guillen's art is a pleasure to read, it creates a strong context for the action with the set up from both elements of the story. The action when it comes is never overwhelming which adds to the force, the calm context is never disturbed it is all concentrated on the cast in word and deed. There is nothing generic about the cast, they are all individual and very expressive, the body language is powerful and conveys the character of the cast as much as their words.
Chris Allen's colours are are muted and give weight and detail to the art, the calm intensity of the action is captured perfectly by the colouring, dreadful action can be low key as much as shouted.
Red Christmas does what it sets out really, really well. Classic horror thrills and delights delivered by  talented creators is the perfect way to launch Christmas with a pleasurable shiver.

The Man in The Queue. Josephine Tey. Arrow Books (2011, first published 1929)

A very enjoyable and engaging murder mystery. A man is found dead in he queue for a hugely popular musical show in London. The queue was tightly packed and the murder was not discovered until the press of the queue eased enough. Detective Inspector Allen has a considerable problem in his investigation, there are a multitude of potential witnesses and suspects in the queue, however the dead man has no identifying information on his person other than a revolver in his pocket and the unusual knife used to kill him. A suspect is identified and painstaking tracked down and the happily unexpected and wholly satisfactory conclusion reached.
The plot mechanics are superb, the murder is utterly public and credibly invisible, the size and nature of the queue manages to hide the victim and the murder effectively and create a engaging problem for the investigation from the outset. The difficulty in identifying the victim is also a handicap, the dogged and thoughtful investigation slowly pulls together the information. One difficulty is seamlessly replaced with another as the investigation progresses, none are overdone they flow naturally from one to the next and arise from the actions of the vividly realised cast.
Detective Inspector Allen is calm, professional, competent and thankfully works well with an equally competent superior. They tackle the problems of the investigation with energy and professional experience. The leads that are followed are plausible and the process of eliminating them is thoughtful and considered. The rest of the cast are given the opportunity to make an impression on the reader and thankfully the cast from the location in Scotland are allowed to be themselves rather than Highland caricatures.
There are two cameo roles that are star turns in their own right, both are females who happen to also be related to each other. Both have a support role for the suspect which should have boxed them into a particular space, they both effortless transcend the positions and emerge as powerful and striking characters in their own right. It is intriguing that both of these women fill very traditional female roles in the plot and the story, both are given a depth of character and a strength of mind that means they are also distinct persons in their own right. Detective Inspector Allen is interesting, the two women are intriguing.
Josephine Tey has sidestepped a lot of the social attitudes that can interfere with reading popular stories from that time period, there is one glaring exception to this, it is understandable in the context of the time it still is very jarring to a current reader. None of the cast are treated with the outright or amused contempt that could infuse the writing at the time and this adds greatly to the pleasure of the story, it reads a enjoyable historical fiction rather than a historical artifact.
This a a smart sharply told crime story.

Evil Witch Allie and the Black Whole. Kristin Tipping (Writer & Art). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 2017)

A hugely engaging and enjoyable comic that slowly and very effectively darkens and draws the reader into an perfectly judged story. Jake is a young man who lives near a bog and has a crush on his neighbor. The bog is full of ghosts and when Jake finds a little girl, who claims to be a witch wandering into the bog he rescues her. Jake and Allie are invited into house where Cal, (Jake's crush) lives and they both find that the house may be much more treacherous than the bog. The story unfurls carefully, the reveals are cleverly staged and the conclusion is dark and bitter.
The colouring is wonderfully dominant and extraordinarily versatile and expressive. The colouring is used as part of the lettering and sometimes used for the art without any line work. The colouring is used in a traditional way to emphasise and capture the details of the line work and create emotional key for the action. The generous use of the colours is very disciplined, it is always very carefully used in service of the story and the cast, it never overwhelms the comic. It loudly draws attention to itself and in doing so draws the reader deeper into the story and the slowing rising unease that becomes sharper  as the story unfolds.
The cast are engaging, Jake is uncertain and deeply doubtful of himself, he is also quick to help others who are in trouble and brave when it really matters and is very difficult to be so. Allie is a cute witch who reveals herself to be considerably more serious than anticipated.
The clever and utterly confident storytelling from Kristin Tipping is superbly paced, it plays with reader expectations and delivers in unexpected and utterly satisfying ways. The reveals lead the reader steadily down to a bleak secret and a great conclusion.
Kristin Tipping has exploited the possibilities of comics in a strongly creative and engaging way, her use of panels to control the flow and pace of the story are a joy to read. The cast are expressive and credible within the story framework. Kristin Tipping has a powerful creative vision and the skill and talent to deliver it. This comic is an undiluted pleasure.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Dracustein. Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Pacher (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Swampline Comics (November 2017)

A great fun mash up that packs a considerable ammount of story into the first issue. Dracustein is lonely and has a plan to build himself a life partner. Withe the assistance of the Wolf Man, the Mummy and a winged demon he has assembled most of the body parts he wants, the final mission is to find the head. A trip to the local village and the victim is found and the mission accomplished. Things rapidly go down hill from there, starting from the expected point of the reanimated female being horrified and repulsed and fleeing to the nicely unexpected events that follow. There are a number of interested and not so interested parties in the village and they make the situation for Dracustein much more complicated.
Kim Roberts has managed to lovingly parody some classic film monsters and and create new story at the same time that allows her cast become independent characters in their own right. The light touch and wonderful confidence this is accomplished with is clear at every stage. The cast are introduced quickly and effectively and the initial set up is completed nicely. It is what follows that give the story and cast the lift they need to be more than a straightforward parody, the reveals are smartly staged and the plot lines are neatly twisted. The monsters are given a comic element that works well, the intended partner for Dracustein is given a human heartbeat, horrified and scared at her transformation. This gives the story a darker edge and it sharpens the whole episode.
Denis Pacher's friendly art is a pleasure to read, the cast are given a life and energy, they are clearly monsters and equally comic monsters. Dracustein is expressive as he needs to be, this is a heartfelt project for him and when it goes wrong he is clearly devastated. The rest of the cast are given the delicate balance between their origins and the needs of the story. The horror elements are never toned down, they are presented with just the right degree of exaggeration to make them work.
Chris Allen's colours bring out the details of the art with great force and subtly, Dracustein's suit is two colours side to side not top and bottom, a classic split. The colours are bright and expressive capturing the emotional tones of the story, the leters are quiet and natural to read, the sound effects give a boost to the action when required.
This is a very enjoyable issue that gets the story off to a flying start and leaves the reader happily anticipating more.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Thin Man. Dashiel Hammett. First Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (1992) (First published 1934)

A deeply engaging and enjoyable crime story. Nick Charles , a former private investigator now married to Nora and engaged in managing their business affairs, is reluctantly pulled into a murder investigation. The victim, Julia Wolf, was the secretary to an inventor, Charles Wynant who had been a client of Nick Charles some years before. Reluctantly drawn into the investigation by Wynant's ex-wife and children and Wynant' s lawyer, Nick Charles fins that he has to pursue the investigation in spite of his objections. The reveals are masterfully staged and the investigation circles around the cast and steadily the dark secrets are revealed leading to a wholly satisfying conclusion.
The plot is a light as a feather, Nick Charles, in New York for Christmas and New Year 1932, finds that he is being pulled into an investigation which is seriously interfering with his plans to drink and socalise. Surrounded by people who assume that he is involved and then act on that assumption. Nick finally has to engage fully to solve the problem. Nick is not a lone wolf, he is a competent professional who works with the police who are happy to take his cooperation. Nick is calm and considered, dealing with trouble with a razor sharp wise cracks and a unflappable calm in the face of temptation, murder and being shot in his own bed. Nick is not a superman, he is just really annoyed at being involved and willing to follow here the trail leads when he finds he has to. He has the experience to not be surprised by what people do  or say and the composure to manage the the action as it unfurls.
The Jorgenson family, Charles Wynant, ex-wife Mimi married to Christian Jorgenson, with her daughter Dorothy and son Gilbert are the dark heart that the story revolves around. Mimi wants to find Charles Wynant to get more money from him, Dorothy want to find her father  because she is unhappy, Gilbert is rather odd and  inquisitive about unexpected topics. They all respond to Nick Charles and his wife Nora in unexpected and sharply revealing ways. Nick's calm managing of their attempts to include him in their drama make them ever more concerned to include him.
The context, New York in the last days of Prohibition is  carefully drawn, the action moves from sumptuous hotel suites and expensive apartments to speakeasies filled with reformed and not so reformed gangsters and criminals. In each location the supporting cast are given the time and space to economically and effectively make their presence felt. The walk on parts are all given sufficient weight to make an impact and add greatly to the pleasure of the story.
Dashiel Hammett has written an extraordinary story, Nick and Nora Charles are a married couple who like each other and clearly are deeply in love and comfortable with each other, they give the story a powerful romantic edge. Dashiel Hammett  is unfailingly clear eyed about the domestic drama of the Jorgenson,does treat them with anger or contempt, they are allowed to be themselves with overt judgement. The neatly constructed murder story is unfolded with quiet flair and no shortcuts. All of these elements co exist very easily with each other, all of them are vital to the success of the story. Powerful writing that hides behind a lighthearted tone means this wonderful book is a deep pleasure to read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Red Christmas-Kickstarter. Kim Roberts (Writer & Colours), Frederico Guillen (Art), Chris Allen (Letters & Colours)

Swampline comics have established an enviable reputation for having smart ideas backed by sharp execution. Emerging from under their Tomb of Horror ( a great and wonderfully inclusive horror anthology) banner is a one shot, Red Christmas.
True to form there is a cracking idea, a group of friends knock down Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, deciding to try and hide the evidence proves to be a very serious miscalculation.
The sample pages up on Kickstarter showcases everything very nicely, a brisk and effective set up is established, the art is friendly and engaging with a clear indication that things are going to take an unpleasant turn very quickly. The cast are individual and expressive, already they are more than just bags of blood waiting to be burst open their actions will be consequential for them and the reader.
The colours are quiet and natural, they give depth and solidity to the context, they have a nicely wintery rather than a Chrismassy feel, dark nights will get darker.
I am backing this Kickstarter because I really want to see how the talented creators manage the story possibilities that they have set up.
 I think you should go to the link below and support the project because there are never enough good comics  and encouraging talented people to make them is a great way to get more.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sherlock Holmes. The Spirit Box. George Mann. Titan Books (2014)

A very enjoyable and engaging Sherlock Holmes story. In the summer of 1915 while German Zeppelins carried out bombing raids on London John Watson is mourning the death of his nephew in France. Sherlock Holmes has been summoned to London by his brother, Mycroft, to investigate a trio of suicides and Watson is is reunited with the detective as and they undertake the investigation. One of the suicicides becomes a focus and the investigation leads to a man who is trying to photograph the souls of the living. The investigation is nicely set up and unfurls in a very satisfactory way. Holmes is as smart and observant as ever and Watson is a great companion. The reveals are cleverly staged and the conclusion is sharp and satisfactory.
The cast are as they should be, both Sherlock Holmes and Watson are suffering the dislocations of age and being in a city at war. The investigation reminds them of times gone and is very nicely placed in the war time context. The essential dynamic between the two is revealed and restored through action exactly as it should be. Holmes is pulled away from his bee keeping and Watson is pulled out of his depression at the death of his nephew and they are reminded on the depth of the bond between them.
George Mann does with a nicely set up plot that  creates sufficient room for Holmes to be smart and dangerous and Watson to be competent and capable. The mechanics are cleverly set up with the mystery of the spirit box slowly coming in to view in a very satisfying way. The set pieces are very well set up and give the supporting cast lots of opportunity to engage the reader in their own right. The cast are one of the great pleasures of the book, as well as a sufficiently capable and enterprising villain who presents a genuine problem for Holmes to tackle, the rest of the cast are far more than window dressing.
Sherlock Holmes does not dominate the book, he is a moving force and his willingness to take action is vital, there is a nice wider story about loss that quietly goes on and it provides a great contrast to the investigation.
Smart stirytelling and a generous view of Holmes and Watson make this a very enjoyable addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories. A pleasure.