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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Bionics No. 1. Kim Roberts (Writer), Chris Royal (Pencils), Martinho Abreu (Inks), Chunlin Zhao (Colours), Ken Reynolds (Letters). Markosia (2018)

The first installment of a highly enjoyable and engaging science fiction comic that sets up the cast and story with great energy and force. Beth is convinced by her jailed husband, Ben, to meet someone, Zeke, to recover something from the firm he had worked at. Beth discoverers that the firm and her husband had secrets and also finds out that others want those secrets too. Vivian, who now runs Bionics visits visits Ben and the plot kick off into high gear.
Kim Roberts sets up a mystery story that opens nicely out into a  full throttle science fiction adventure, bristling with ideas and details that are a pleasure to encounter. The cast are engaging, Beth is trying to understand how her life could have been upended so dramatically and is willing to take a chance if it will help her husband. Zeke is a cool, mysterious stranger who knows more than he is revealing up front, Veronica is a classic villain. The two who pursue Beth and Zeke are not as human as they appear.
Chris Royal's and Martinho Abreu's art is a pleasure to read, it is distinctive and expressive, the action is powerfully done, the conversations are natural. The panels are used to great effect to control the pace and focus of the story, they bring the reader deep into the story.
Chunlin Zhao's colours are very effective, they bring out the details of the art, adding expressiveness to to the cast and depth to the context. I really like the way the colours are used to give shape and definition to the clothes the cast wear, they are a strong part of how the cast express who they are.
The letters by Ken Reynolds are unobtrusive, easy to ready and placed naturally in the panels.
Bionics does everything a first issue should do with confidence and flair, establish the cast and engage the gears of the story. I am looking forward to seeing where it moves to from here.

Bad Machinery. The Case of The Team Spirit. John Allison (Writer & Artist). Oni Press (2013)

A wonderfully funny and confident updating of the school student detective team who solve strange mysteries in their town.  In Tackleford, Shauna, Sonny, Mildred, Charlotte, Linton and Jack all starting their first year at Griswalds Grammer School, Shuna, Charlotte and Mildred want to help an old woman keep her home, Sonny, Linton and Jack are investigating if the Russian owner of the local football team is under a curse. The threads develop and twist together in the most glorious fashion and finally are resolved in a highly satisfactory way.
John Allison has managed to update the genre requirements for mystery solving school children without winking at the audience about how obviously absurd the whole set up is and that he and the reader are both in on the joke. The cast is serious and the story is extremely funny and the mix is perfectly judged. Enough time and detail are given for the school time, home lives and the story threads for all of them to contribute to the overall impact of the book. The adults and the children interact with each other in highly credible and funny ways that never feel forced or deliberately set up.
The mystery team are individual, smart, uncertain and funny, they spark off each other and try to navigate their lives with tremendous energy and force. The perils of school life are just as terrifying as the dangers of the football mystery.
The art is a pleasure to read, it is friendly and open, the cast are sketched with great expressiveness, body language is as eloquent as dialogue. The bright colours catch the mood and tone of the story perfectly and the lettering is natural and unobtrusive.
John Allison has the confidence and talent to pull of a very difficult task, he has written a story that has a joke in every strip that never feels overloaded or rushed. The story moves in all sorts of directions and consistently remains true to the cast, it never makes the children to be short, smart mouthed adults, they are smart engaging children.
Bad Machinery is a web comic and the transition to a physical book is seamless, the oversized horizontal format gives enough space for two strips per page , each at a lovely big size that gives the art the room to make an impact.
Comedy is hard work, lighthearted, charming comedy is fantastically hard work, John Allison makes it look easy and natural, what a treat for readers.

To Pixar and Beyond. My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs To Make Entertainment History. Lawrence Levy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (2016)

A very engaging and enjoyable story about the way that Pixar overcame three very serious problems to launch Toy Story and the company on to huge , deserved, success. Success can look pre-ordained after it has been achieved, this story shows the deep uncertainty that existed before Toy Story was released and Pixar became the brand it is today.
 The three problems that had to be solved were, having the money to make Toy Story, a lopsided contract with Disney that posed a problem for money in the future to make more films and Steve Jobs.
Lawrence Levy was asked by Steve Jobs to join Pixar to help develop the company, actually get the company fit and ready for an IPO so that Steve Jobs could realise the value of his investment as the owner of Pixar. Lawrence Levy took the job for the challenge, without realising the actual scale of the challenge, became deeply enamored with the potent creativity contained in Pixar and set about resolving the problems.
Lawrence Levy has a talent for explaining business in a way that is clear, direct and engaging. He always places the people in the context and the context  in terms of the business. Pixar was a problem for Steve Jobs, his plan for the company had not developed the way he had intended and he was looking for a way to get what he wanted. The staff at Pixar were committed and creative and felt deeply that they had been severely shortchanged by Steve Jobs.
The contract with Disney was an industry standard, Steve Jobs signed it without realising how restrictive it would be for a company that was making hugely time consuming and expensive animated films, the contract would only provide sufficient money to Pixar to continue to make films under very limited circumstances.
The story of how these problems were resolved is engaging because Lawrence Levy  shows how much any business is reliant on the people involved, their decisions, attitudes and engagement. The hard slog of identifying the problem, scoping a solution, getting agreement and implementing it is described with care and detail, enough explanation for those unfamiliar with the processes, not so much to drown everyone in details. The subtle creativity of top flight business managers is demonstrated with delicate care, there is no chest thumping, no macho declarations of dominance, there is patient and thoughtful considerations of how to solve a problem.
One of the most striking aspects to the story is the way that Lawrence Levy consistently highlights the work of others and lets his own work rest in the background. It pulls the reader into the story as they get to feel the tension and  understand the stakes, although the outcome is established the process is fascinating.
This is not a business book, it is a story about a particular business at a particular time, superbly told and pleasure to read.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Wolf Country No. 8. Hanging Tree. Jim Alexander (Writer), Will Pickering (Art), Jim Campbell (Letters). Planet Jimbot (January 2018)

Hugely engaging and enjoyable continuation of the story of the bitter war between two nations which can only be won by the complete extermination of the enemy. In the previous issue, Halfpenny the vampire leader of the Settlement in Wolf Country had been maneuvered by forces in the Kingdom, the story moves back to the settlement. The soldiers and some of the settlers, lead by Sergent Urquhart head into wolf country to find the vampire Luke who has defected to to werewolves. The fracture lines between the soldiers and the settlers, Luke and the werewolves, Urquhart and those who sent him to the settlement are displayed as the  point of no return is reached and choices have to be made. A classic confrontation is developed with tension and dramatic detail.
Jim Alexander draws brilliantly on the tradition of Westerns where a small party make a foray into hostile territory, the internal tensions of the party ratcheted up by the felt but not seen observation of their enemy. Romance gives way to violence and the demand for commitment. Continuity is a strength , used with care and precision as the bigger story is glimpsed in the actions of the cast.
Will Pickering's art is a deep pleasure to read, confident and expressive, stripped down to focus on the details, they given the necessary weight and depth to create the context and give the cast a powerful physical presence. In conversation or in action the cast individual and engaging. There is a single panel of a horse which is a minor masterpiece, it captures the moment of the story and the deeper implications of the story with a vivid energy.
Jim Campbell's letters are natural and quiet, the sound effects add crunch and depth to the action.
Wolf Country 8 is packed with action, a reminder of the driving force that is pushing the story, proof that this wonderful story has the strength, depth and momentum to carry a reader quite a distance yet.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Jim Alexander. To purchase a copy of Wolf Country 8 , which you should do to give yourself the health benefits that the deep pleasure of great comics deliver, they are available here:

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Legacy of Spies. John Le Carre. Viking (2017)

A masterful and gripping story about spies, the bureaucracy of spying and the long term consequences of clandestine decisions. Peter Guillam is recalled to London from his farm in France to explain his part in a log ago covert operation. A legal case is proceeding that is causing a considerable problem for the British Secret Service, sometimes called the Circus. If the issue cannot be smothered by a Parliamentary inquiry then it is probable that Peter Guillam may find himself left holding the can. The story unfolds the background to the operation and the present day maneuverings of the Circus to escape liability. The reveals are superbly staged and the story unfolds with tremendous confidence and control as the past comes to a reckoning in the present.
This superb story works as a straight stand alone story about the business of spying and the human cost for the non professionals that get involved by choice or accident in it. An opportunity presents itself to the Circus and they exploit it with thorough professional competence until it starts to unravel. The final consequences of that are felt in the present and the damage that was done is given its due with care and deep sympathy. The resolution is a treat, unexpected and utterly logical and fitting.
For any reader who is familiar with John Le Carre's other Circus novels this is a masterclass in how to use continuity to create a new story and enhance other related stories. All the way through the story the past from other books is visible to those who can see it. No prior knowledge is required for the story to work, it is all in the reader.
Peter Guillam is a engaging lead, he is not surprised at the reckoning however much he may have hoped to escape it. He smartly demonstrates that it is not a matter of luck he is a living retired spy, he understands the currents in the secret world and moves carefully within it. The staff of the Circus that Peter Guillam encounters should be caricatures, the chief legal office is a loud, almost chummy operator who is verging on an upper class professional cliche, the ruthlessness that is not at all disguised gives him a a weight and credibility. He is a shark in a suit and he will be straight with you only as long as it serves his purposes and undermines yours. The History chief is not quite as successful, tough , ambitious and very capable she does not entirely come to life as the rest of the cast do.
John Le Carre never misses the brutal necessity of spying, he gives a human dimension to strategic and operation decisions in a system that is based on deception and betrayal and is pursued by honorable people. Unmissable.

Toothville Issue 2. Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Pacher (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters ) Swampline Comic (2017)

Action paced second installment pushes the story forward with energy and momentum. Tilda Hilfairy, the worst tooth fairy in history , hopes to be the savoir of Toothville with her invention, Tooth Rot. Unfortunately Dr Dippelurger  has created Decayless toothpaste which may mean the extinction of tooth fairies. Tilda investigates Dr Dippelurger and this leads her to Birchard Pharmaceuticals  where Tilda finds out the real purpose of Decayless and realises that the problem is much, much bigger than she had thought.
Kim Roberts packs a lot of story into the issue, this is wonderful, economical, compressed comic storytelling. The reveals are neatly staged, the action is loud, fast and great fun.The story has moved from being a very smart idea into a very engaging narrative that has the strength and depth to keep a reader engaged, satisfied and happily anticipating more.
Denis Pacher's art is striking and wonderful, he uses the whole page in a playful way that catches both the fairy tale roots of the story and its very contemporary delivery. The pages are designed as much as drawn, the gutters and panels are used imaginatively to contribute to the overall impact, they have a tremendous energy and expressiveness. The cast are as cartoony as they should be, Dr Dippelurger has the smirking villainy that he should have. Tilda Hilfairy is shinning rebuke to the anatomically impossible females that litter comics, she is glowing confident, uncertain, snarky and confused and always just wholly herself. 
Chris Allen's colours are loud and expressive, they pop off the page and give the art the the lift it deserves to capture the subtly and the details that should be relished. The way that all the bright colours work with each other instead of being confusing or chaotic is a significant indicator of the skill and discipline that Chris Allen has brought to bear on the work. His lettering is quiet, unobtrusive and natural,. except where the sounds effects need to be loud, eye catching and dominant.A great fun comic that wears the enormous work and care that it took to make it very lightly.

The Vanished. Lotte & Soren Hammer (Writers). Martin Aitken (Translation). Bloomsbury Paperbacks (2017)

A very engaging and enjoyable Danish crime story. Detective Superintendent Konrad Simonsen returns to duty after a heart attack and is assigned a case to tidy up, a man found dead at the foot of his staircase that may not be accidental. Konrad is not the only officer who is recovering, another officer is recovering from being kidnapped and they two are on the case together. Konrad Simonsen investigates the case diligently and finds something in the dead man's attic that opens up the case in a very unexpected direction. There is a sub plot regarding a school shooting that neatly intersects the main plot line and a issue about the death of a woman who had been involved in a previous investigation. All the plot threads are steadily drawn together and the conclusion is deeply sad.
The story is a slow burn, the investigation is slow because it was intentionally set up as a exercise in tying up a loose end rather than an active investigation. As the evidence of wrong doing slowly comes to light and the investigation starts to crystallize the investigation starts to gain momentum. This threads of the plot lead back into the past and a lot of people have every reason to resist them being brought into the light. The final unraveling is unexpected and sad, revealing a situation that has a sharp inevitability given the cast and the circumstances.
Konrad Simonsen is an engaging lead character, full of sharp edges he does not invite sympathy, his strong moral sense and deep competence draw the reader in. Lotte & Soren Hammer put him in a corner which they resolve with confident and very enjoyable skill, it is both credible and satisfying. Lotte & Soren Hammer are such capable and confident writers that they manage to make a group of very awkward and difficult characters deeply sympathetic. There is never any absolution , there is an unexpected depth of understanding that gives the story great depth and force.
The translation by Martin Aitken is transparent, the story is clearly Danish and the English is natural and unforced.
The Vanished is a slow burn story, it is unhurried and deliberate while never being slow,  Lotte & Soren Hammer are confident in the strength of the cast and the emerging plot mechanics to be willing to give the story the room it needs to unfold to its full glory. Great crime fiction.