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Monday, February 13, 2017

Crystal's Odyssey. Jordan King (Writer), Patrick Buermeyer (Art), Liam O'Connor (Colours),Chris Allen (Letters). WP Comics (2017)

Superbly engaging and entertaining horror comic that that solves the problems of a first issue with astonishing confidence and pitch black humour. Crystal is an assistant to a coroner and she is drowning in grief for her dead husband. When a body is delivered, to the joy of the coroner and the consternation of Crystal events start to move in very strange directions. Crystal makes a decision and starts on an odyssey with two very strange companions. Naturally things take a nasty turn and Crystal finds shelter at place that is plainly both more and less than it seems. The narrative switches and May, a very and justifiably sad  young girl, who has just made a new friend is about to demonstrate the depth of her rage. The story moves somewhere very bleak and unexpected as May finds herself somewhere very strange and horrifying.
Jordan King has packed an astonishing quantity of story into the comic without the story ever feeling rushed or compressed. This is a high speed and extremely violent set up that never sacrifices character or emotional framework for shock or gore. The cast are ferociously alive, the walk on parts are give a chance to be someone, Crystal and May are horrifying alive, vulnerable and packed with huge energy. Jordan King creates a very welcome ambiguity with Crystal and May that invites the reader into the story and creates a precious sympathy for both. This is critical given the level of violence in the story, the forces that are propelling Crystal and May have been set up with care and detail, they do not get lost in the explosive action that follows.
Patrick Buermeyer's art is every bit a match for the story, it captures and amplifies every nuance and emotion of the cast. The body language is expressive, the cast move through their off kilter context naturally and with physical presence and weight. Crystal's friend Jessika is everything that shattered, delicate Crystal is not, she has the steely rage that pushes against Crystal's devouring grief. The physical contrast is huge without ever being overbearing. May in her little girl blue dress and green eyes is just terrifying, with her compressed rage and terrifying apologies. Patrick Buermeyer delivers conversation and disemboweling with equal confidence and care.
Liam O'Connor's colours are so natural that they are a character in themselves, they give the art depth and definition, they create a emotional context that just drives the story and the art wonderful energy. The sound effects by Chris Allen give a horrible physical depth to the action, in particular the sounds over an all black page ensure that the reader does not have to see anything to get the full impact, the following panels still are brutally unexpected and push the story to very dark places.
With a set up as confident as this and as willing to take ideas as far as they have already, the story possibilities are (happily for readers) both enticing and horrifying.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of Crystal's Odyssey 1and enjoy the sticky, bloody embrace of tremendous talent making it all look easy, it is available from  http://www.wpcomicsltd.com/comics

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Mysterium. Paul Doherty. Headline Publishing Group (2010)

A very entertaining and engaging medieval murder mystery that makes the most of the historical context, engaging cast and superb plot mechanics. In February 1304 in London the Chief Justice, Walter Evesham has been removed from office and has been allowed to retire to a cell in the Abbey of Syon on Thames. When Evesham's chief clerk is found murdered with the mark of an assassin that Evesham had captured years earlier and Evesham himself is found murdered and marked, Sir Hugh Corbett is ordered by Edward I to investigate. The investigation twists and coils as Sir Hugh Corbett investigates the original case and the present murders. The reveals are cunningly staged and the satisfying sour conclusion is very well staged.
Paul Doherty uses the historical context with impressive skill, evoking the crowded space of London with its extraordinary collections of nobles, merchants, workers and criminals all jostling each other in narrow streets and all the hidden connections that link and divide them. The King and the wealthy merchants of London, The Great Ones, were in constant tension as they struggled to establish the boundaries to each others power and influence. The Great Ones routinely uses gangs of criminals to carry out their wishes and the Mysterium exploited this situation to the full before he was captured by Evesham, only to escape from a tightly guarded church. This locked room mystery is superbly set up and managed by Paul Doherty. The mystery and its resolution are central to the story and are firmly tied to the rest of the plot mechanics.
The unfolding of the plot is masterful, from the ferocious opening action of a murder and a dreadful siege of a church, the action returns to central questions from different angles as the reveals start to point to am increasingly tangled and dark story that slowly pulls the cast into grip. The black heart at the centre of the story is clever and malicious, Sir Hugh Corbett has to work very hard to grasp the full depths of the trouble that has been created. Paul Dohery has done a great favour to the reader, he has given his lead character a genuinely difficult problem to solve. The work that Sir Hugh Corbett has to do to is what brings the reader into the story and the conclusion is entirely appropriate for the story that went ahead of it.
The story captures the way the present is a hostage to the past and reappear with shattering results. The investigation is carefully managed, Sir Hugh Corbett is clever resourceful and persistent. He follows the possibilities with energy and is fully aware of the web on interests that he is attempting to unravel. The cast are very well developed and engaging, they all push themselves forward to engage the reader and they are given true, individual voices, including the walk on parts.
Paul Doherty is so confident in his context and the cast that the context is allowed to seep into the story, it is simply present and influential, the social and religious structures taken so firmly for granted are revealed in the action of the story without being explain to the reader. Great story, superb crime fiction.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Chronicles of Terror 5. Kim Roberts (Editor) WP Comics (2017)

Another engaging and very enjoyable horror anthology that showcases diverse and highly talented creators. The stories in the anthology have no particular unifying theme other than very high quality. Some of the stories hiding behind the wonderful cover by Bryan Buagh include the following selection from among the excellent collection.
Fate Worse than Death? Marta Tanrikulu (Writer), Pramit Santra (Art), Joshua Jensen (Colours), Micah Myers (Letters), is a clever short that neatly sets up a superb pay off. Marta Tanrikulu has managed the very difficult task of pacing the short story with great care and precision. Pramit Santra's art captures the story with grear skill and detail, the art brings the story forward and then sells the pay off with force and energy. Loshus Jensen's colours are a joy, they add weight and depth to the detail of the art and make the pay off crackle. Micah Myers' letters are natural and subtly unobtrusive, they wear their craft lightly.
How Will You Die Tonight?  Julio Pas Y Vadala' (Writer), Ruyma'n  & Aoyze Nieves (Art, Inks Colours, Letters) is a very clever story that plays with readers expectations with great skill. A seance goes very badly for those attending. Julio Pas Y Vadala' has created a clever set of horrible events that are set up and executed with nasty effectiveness. Ruyma'n  & Aoyze Nieves have a hard task, they have to deliver a lot of  brutal action in a short space and not overwhelm the reader, they do so with great confidence and strong delivery. The very smart idea gets the whole hearted execution it deserves.
I Survive. Nicky Zabierek (Writer), M.C. Carper (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters), after solar flares create devastation, a new plague comes to feat on the survivors. A survivor helps some others in trouble and leads them to sanctuary, it does not go well. A sharp take on a horror genre classic, Nicky Zabierek's story packs a big punch and has a strong heart. M.C.Carpers art is stupendous, the drenched yellow of the art captures the scorched context left by the solar flares, the colour frames the action with a merciless light that amplifies the story. Nikki Sherman's letters are confident, they deliver a lot of information without ever intruding or slowing down the pace of the story.
Liveliness. Adam Swiecki (Writer & Art), is a joy, a strong story delivered with fantastic black and withe art. A young man determines to leave his family, they strongly oppose his plan and there is clearly something very strange going, happily there really is. The dominant art make the absolute most of the story, the panel layouts control the pacing and reveals with confidence and force. Wonderful.
Road to Ruin. Frank Martin (Writer), Chris Winter (Art), a man has a car breakdown on a lonely road, finds no signal on his phone and then a car approaches. This is a horror story, it is not going to be a good thing, the pleasure of just how bad it can get is captured with great care and wit by Frank Martin. This story has the best soundtrack I have heard in a comic in a very long time. Jet black humour heightens the  tension and lifts the story perfectly. Chris Winter's gorgeous black and white art has so many tones and shades that it is virtually in colour. The details are a joy, they give the story weight and force that it really needs to crackle the way it does.
Mandy the Witch, Victor Carungi (Writer), Keith Chan (Art), Chris Allen (Colours), Brant W. Fowler (Letters), is a cautionary tale in the style of EC comics and others with a introduction by a skeleton host who provides the voice over for the story. Mandy is a witch who is being bullied at school, when she comes into her powers trouble follows. Victor Carungi delivers a light hearted tone and up to date savage pay back. Keith Chan's art is a pleasure to read, the details of the context ground the action, the cast are very expressive, the body language is always eloquent. Chris Allen's colours are bright and vivid, matching and catching the various layers and tones in the story. Brant W. Fowler letters quiet, effective letters flow naturally with the art and story.
Diner Food. A Wulf and Batsy Story. Bryan Baugh (Writer & Art) is a very darkly comic story that uses humour skillfully to amplify the very bloody action. When the staff at a diner take a customer and plan to murder and chop her up they imagine it as a regular night's business, however when two new customers arrive, the trouble really starts. Bryan Baugh has a classic art style which works really well with the dark,bloody comedy of the story. The staff at the diner are a beauty and the beast pairing, the intended victim is happily focusing on all the wrong aspects of the situation, Batsy and Wulf are ravenous and thoughtful. A delicate mix to get right, Bryan Baugh has the confident skill and depth of talent needed to make it all work flawlessly.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of Chronicles of Terror 5 and if having life enhancing experiences and relishing the pleasures of creativity are for you then you should purchase a copy, it is available from  http://www.wpcomicsltd.com/comics

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Murder Wall. Mari Hannah. Pan Books (2012)

An enjoyable police procedural. Detective Inspector Kate Daniels is assigned as the sole Senior Investigation Officer in a murder case in Newcastle, a clear declaration of confidence in her by her management. When she visits the scene she realises that she has a connection to the case and chooses to hide it, at the same time she is deeply concerned about an unsolved double murder eleven months previously. DCI Daniels finds that boss is taking a more active than anticipated or welcomed interest in the investigation and the problem of her concealed connection to the victim become increasingly problematic. Other murders are committed by a very determined killer, the connections slowly emerge and the conclusion is very well set up.
The plot mechanics and the structure of the story are very well done, the narrative is split across the cast including the killer and the reveals are very well set up. The killer has a very well laid out plan, matured over time and they are meticulous about executing it. The reasons that the investigation lags behind the killer is entirely convincing, when it gains a focus they respond with force and thoroughness.
The weakness in the story is the failure, principally by the lead character, to engage the sympathy of the reader.  I enjoyed the story, I was never involved in it at any personal level as I did not feel invited into by the cast. They are all very well drawn, they interacted with each other credibly and their motivations were clear and understandable. I simply did not care enough about them, the plot carried me along, I really did want to see how it would be resolved. I did not feel the emotional context for the story.
Sometimes I just do not catch a book, I can admire it without liking it. I am sure that other readers will catch it and I hope that they do.

A Vein of Deceit. Susanna Gregory. Sphere (2009)


A very enjoyable and engaging medieval mystery that comes with a serious warning to readers, before you start the book go to the back and cut of the pages of the Epilogue without reading them. Then destroy them to remove any temptation that you may feel later to read them, doing so will drastically reduce id not actually remove the pleasure you gained in reading this book.  
Cambridge in the autumn of 1357 has arrived with problems for Michaelhouse College and physician Matthew Bartholomew, the College is unexpectedly short of funds, the Master is assaulted, a pair of precious chalices are stolen and a woman dies in premature labour. The death is a concern as Matthew Bartholomew finds that a potion with a known impact of inducing miscarriage is missing from his store. The presence of a very troublesome brother and sister in Cambridge is adding to the tension. With the death of a college staff in very public circumstances Matthew and Brother Michael have to investigate. 
The story is carefully structured, the investigation travels in all sorts of engaging and enjoyable directions, the reveals are cunningly staged and the nicely tangled coils of the plot unfurl in happily unexpected and satisfying ways.The cast are a pleasure to spend time with, it is very impressive that as the lead characters in a long running series both Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael remain engaging and excellent company. They are neither dysfunctional nor fantastically clever, they are competent, thoughtful and deeply concerned, they engage in investigation for solidly grounded reasons and respond to the threats they encounter with plausible reactions.
 The supporting cast is varied and lively, in very short spaces they are introduced and proceed to demand attention from the reader due to their varied and multiple plans, schemes and desires. Susanna Gregory has an exceptional gift for creating a large cast that never become a crowd, they interact with each other without blurring. The walk on parts are as vivid as the leads and this creates a wonderful atmosphere of activity and life in the context.For any historical fiction creating a convincing context is critical, it does not have to be historically accurate, it must fit with the cast and provide information that supports the motivations and actions of the cast. In this book the context is smartly drawn, the very small size of Cambridge, the intensity of theological debate and the fact that differences between social ranks tend to be a bit more fluid in a small and crowded space.
This story mixes superb plot mechanics with a lively cast in a great context and a very welcome spiky humour. Bearing in mind the warning above this is a great fun read, a pleasure.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Puppet.Kim Roberts (Writer). Braden Hallett (Art & Letters). WP Comics (2017)

A sharp and satisfying nasty little story that uses compression to great effect. Jack runs a comedy club and his wife is planning on killing him top get the insurance money. Jack is a ventriloquist and has a puppet called Alice which he inherited from his sister. The plan does not go as expected.
The stunning cover by Braden Hallett sets the tone for the story with precise care and detail.
Kim Roberts has superbly used the compressed space, there is a lot of story, it never feels rushed or squashed, the relevant details are all present with enough room to allow them breathe. This is very impressive writing, the story is set up very effectively, the context provided and the action is launched without ever feeling rushed.
Braden Hallett's art is a pleasure to read, the panels are used to control the pace of the story with care and a lot of information is delivered without clutter or distraction. The cast are powerfully expressive, the faces and body language are clear and subtle. Each member of the cast stands out as an individual, when trouble arrives it has a real impact.
The colours are used to amplify the emotional tones of the panels and the shifting story beats, when they have to be loud they are shouting, giving the action a strong focus and context. The lettering is clear and natural, easy to ready and unobtrusive. The sound effects are every bit as obtrusive as they should be.
A short comic that embraces the form to deliver a smart story with outsize impact.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of Puppet, which you should to see how talent and craft can put a big story into a small space without loosing anything, you can purchase it here, http://www.wpcomicsltd.com/comics

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Murder Road. Stephen Booth. Sphere (2015)

A very engaging and enjoyable police procedural that is also a soft reboot for the series. A lorry gets stuck under a bridge blocking the only road access to the hamlet of Shawhead. The driver has vanished but blood stains in the cab suggest foul play. Detective Inspector Ben Cooper leads the investigation, which, when the driver's body is found, becomes a fully fledged murder inquiry. The investigation uncover secrets and lies among the inhabitants of Shawhead, it is with a death in a different location that puts the investigation on the path to understanding what really happened and why. The reveals are very well stages, the threads of the story are carefully set up and come together convincingly for the satisfyingly sour conclusion.
Ben Cooper is a great lead character, he is smart, confident and capable, a little unsure in his new position, he is likable and engaging. Ben Cooper has a nice array of professional, managerial and personal issues, none are overwhelming or threatening, all are demanding and require thoughtful attention to resolve.
This is a soft reboot of a long running series, major characters are moved out gently but firmly and Ben Cooper is given the full lead and a new supporting cast are introduced. They are all given the chance to make an impression with the reader and they do so. None are outrageous, in line with the general tenor of the series, all have enough distinct personality to be able to hold their own over time. The cast members who are being moved off stage have it done with grace and care, no one is trashed for effect.
The plot mechanics are very thoughtful, two distinct narrative threads are set up with a third lurking in the background. The way that they intertwine is very smart, there separate investigations are unfurled with care and attention to detail. The knot that ties them together is nicely unexpected and carefully set up to reveal itself for maximum impact.
This is a quiet story, it does not drive forward at speed, it generates a tremendous hold on the reader without advertising it, the cast engage and the plot mechanics bite firmly and the total impact is very strong. The location, the Peak District is one of the major characters in the story, the landscape is always surrounding, hiding and revealing cast members and plot points. It is never cosy, the Peak District is a harsh location and the story has a vein of bitterness and savagery that settles in very naturally into the stunning context. Stephen Booth has the confidence and skill to deliver a great crime story, manage continuity and carry readers with him while making it all look effortless
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