Search This Blog

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Steel Spring. Per Wahloo (1968). Sara Death (Translator 2012). Vintage Books (2012)

A tense and very gripping political thriller that confidently uses the genre requirements to explore serious ideas in an sharp and thoughtful way. Chief Inspector Jensen , from an unnamed country, is set abroad for a liver transplant and when he is released from hospital finds that his country has closed its borders with rumours of a terrible epidemic taking place. He is sent into the country to investigate. The country is gripped by confusion and panic and large numbers of people have died, he discovers that there was  an increasing degree of public disruption and violence and mass deaths and that a medical crisis is ongoing. The reveals are carefully staged as the investigation continues and information is steadily uncovered right up to the bleak and utterly logical conclusion.
Per Wahloo has created a very interesting context for the story, the partial unraveling of a highly structured and controlled society that does not unleash chaos, rather it creates confusion, fear and incomprehension in the survivors. People are trying to live by the old rules and understand the new ones, when Jensen, a figure of authority meets them they respond as they always did. As Jensen moves through the country and tries to understand the collapse that took place over the moths he was away it becomes clear that there was a steady disruption and that it was not random.
Jensen is a great character, quiet and with a detached view of the proceedings, he moves through the chaos with care and attention to detail. He is a professional police officer and he brings all of the attributes of that role to his work. He is methodical and careful, asking questions, investigating leads and analysing information. His calm responses keep the reader focussed on the main thread of the story, the way the structure of the society has imploded.It is not about the chaos, it is about why the chaos arose in the first place.
As the investigation proceeds the dark heart of the story is revealed and the all too believable arrogance and entitlement that created the problems that had to be solved by even more arrogant and entitled means become clear. This is a very angry story that keeps the anger under severe restraint and has a calm acceptance that there are no good solutions.
Sara Death's translation is wholly transparent, the whole political and social construction of the story is clearly not Anglophone in origin, there is a very Scandinavian feel to the story. All of the nuances of the story emerge as does Per Wahloo's very distinct authorial voice. He is not an invisible author he is clearly present in the book and that adds greatly to the pleasure and texture of the story.
Written in 1968 this story has sharp observations that are relevant in today's context, a superb structure that brings in the reader and presents an argument with ferocious clarity and force. A wonderful stimulating read.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Resurrected 1 . Kim Roberts (Writer), James Johnson (Art), Chris Allen (Letters & Colours). Swampline Comics (2017)

A smart and engaging take on a classic cartoon show about a group of  supernatural investigators who drive a minivan spiked with a welcome shot of gore and a sharp edge. On Blackwod Island four investigators set out for the Blackwood Funeral Home (right beside Black Wood Cemetery) to check for ghostly activity. Naturally things take a turn for the worse and then the worse starts to expand and become significantly worse again.
What is greatly enjoyable is the way that Kim Roberts does not fight against the genre requirements, instead they are embraced and employed as fully as possible and then given a little boost. The conflict in the group is not banter it has a force that gives the story the push it needs. A ridiculous situation is not just taken seriously, it is actually serious and that brings the reader right into the story.
James Jonson's art is perfectly matched to capture the nuances and hints within the writing and delivers a deeply satisfying balance. The first zombie to be revived is both funny grotesque and horrifyingly grotesque  at the same time, there really are no rules for talent. The rest of the cast manage this same fine balance, cartoony art that brings astonishingly eloquent and expressive body language that allows for laughs and is nasty at the same time.
Chris Allen's colours match the cartoon heritage of the story and the art perfectly, when it comes to delivering the gore the colours smoothly and naturally manage the process without blinking. The lettering is quiet and natural to read, the sound effects are cleverly placed to give just the extra push needed at critical moments.
Resurrected has managed an fantastically difficult task in comics, take a well known pop culture idea, mash it with a related idea and make it work as an independent entity without betraying the origins. The steely core of horror in Resurrected makes everything else work and makes for great story possibilities that the talented creators can exploit for the delight of their readers.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

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

Mash ups can be a wonderful creative possibility in the hands of the right creative team. There is an opportunity to get the same thrill that the originals gave along with another dimension that the new team bring. The creative team behind Dracustein have an enviable track record for both respecting genre requirements and finding something new to say and this looks to be no exception.
A stitched together Dracula is building himself a romantic partner with the "assistance" of The Wolfman and The Mummy and other classic monsters. Naturally it does not go to plan. Just how it does not go to plan is what awaits backers of this Kickstarter project, I am one.
 I have a deep and abiding affection for the original incarnations of these monsters, they scared the life out of me when I saw them first, then I later loved them for their heroic sincerity. In the right hands it is possible to capture both of these aspects and the inherent humour without ever betraying the monsters. The sample pages made me very happy, I think that that the creative team have very neatly threaded a very slippery needle and I greatly look forward to how the story unfolds.
The link for the Kickstarter,
I have backed a number of projects from Swampline comics and I have been impressed with the discipline and effort they bring to bear on their projects, lovely production values and delivery on schedule.
Back the campaign and share the deep and abiding pleasure that excellent comics bring.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Darkest King 5. Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art). WP Comics (2017)

The very satisfactory conclusion to a smart noir story.Kurt King , a vigilante ex police officer and his bother Victor, a candidate for Mayor of the city of Coldwood have a very complicated history and are set for a confrontation at their mother's funeral. The threads of the story are neatly drawn together and the final outcome is surprising and deeply satisfying.
Across the whole story Tony Scott Astley has developed a classic noir set up, someone trapped in a situation where the choice is between very bad and worse. Kurt King is a vigilante, trying to attack crime in his city by directly attacking the criminals, trying to protect his brother Victor has proved to be one of his worst choices. When the long suppressed words are finally spoken and the full context for everything is made clear it rings true to to the story. The struggle between the brothers that was festering for so long finally gets an airing and everyone is severely bruised by the revelations. It is great that Tony Scott Astley sidesteps the easy route of a cynical conclusion and has the courage to push in a different direction.
Kurt King trapped and shaped by his choices is the wounded heart at the centre of the story and his path to finally being free is beautifully told. Paul Anderson's art continues to shine, the force is not in the physical altercation is is in the body language that screams the repressed feelings that finally have to find a way out. The flash back that shows Kurt's path out of prison is suitably grim and brutal, the etched cynicism of Kurt's guardian angel is a pleasure to read.. Kurt always was a believer and that is clear from every line of his face and the weary weight that has settled upon him.
Noir is easy to describe and very difficult to manage effectively, the appearance of noir is a trap for the unwary, the real action is always taking place in the barely submerged context. Tony Scott Astley and Paul Anderson have developed a story that captures the brutal surface and delivers the emotional context that drives the action with tremendous skill and attention to detail.
Finishing a story can be a lot harder than starting one, these creators make it look easy and natural. A great comic.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Tony Scott Astley. To purchase a copy of The Darkest King %, indeed to purchase the full run which you really should to get the deep pleasures that great comics deliver, they are available from

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Ghostly Tides 1. Kim Roberts (Writer), Dennis Pacher (Art), Colours & Letters (Chris Allen). Swampline Comics (2017)

A very engaging and enjoyable pirate story that thoroughly enjoys and embraces the genre. Finn competes in the annual Pirate Trials on Skull Island and looses. He encounters a witch in a tavern and follows her to Swamp Island and discovers that this was a very big mistake. As the witch and the resurrected skeletons of the Black Pirate and his crew sail for revenge, Finn and his friend Sam have to try and stop them.
This first issue solves the problems of a first issue with great energy and smart storytelling. The context for the story is swiftly established, it is a pirate fantasy story with a gullible hero and a dangerous villain. The trouble for the hero and the villain are smartly set up and the reader is nicely set up for the continuing story. The writing by Kim Roberts is smart and economical, there is a lot of story in the issue, it never feels rushed or crowded, the action is fast, furious and suitably bloody.
Dennis Pacher's art is friendly, full of wonderful details and simply exploding with energy and life. The cast are given enormous character and expressiveness, they are all bigger than life which they need to be, the skeleton crew are as lively as the mortal cast cast. The action is wonderful, it is very brutal when it needs to be and at the same time has exactly the humorous edge that it needs to keep the atmosphere playful. The panel layouts are a joy, the gutter decorations are a pleasure.
Chris Allen has coloured the story in exactly the bright colours that the tone of the story calls for, the colours bring out the details of the art and the nuances of the story. The sound effects
are perfectly placed and pitched, the story is already loud enough , the effects just add the emphasis exactly where it is needed.
A great fun comic by very talented creators that happily entices the reader to want more.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

King John. England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant. Stephen Church. Macmillian (2015)

There are three versions of King John, the villainous prince in Robin Hood, the tyrant forced to sign the Magna Carta and the historical king. Stephen Church is interested in the historical King John, his life and context and this very engaging book gives King John his due.
John was the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and was first called John Lackland as he really had no place in the succession to huge inheritance that Henry had assembled. This changed steadily as he came closer to to being a potential heir and so he joined his brothers in fighting his father. When Richard the Lionheart  became king John had a strained relationship with him as well, finally after Richard's death John became king.
It was at this point that John's great weakness, that he was a truly terrible politician aligned with the unfortunate fact that he was faced with a fiercely determined enemy in Phillip Augustus, King of France who was determined to establish French control of Normandy and Brittany which were part of John's kingdom. It was John's losses in France that shaped most of the actions of his reign as he had to raise huge sums of money to carry out a war to recover his lost lands.
A great deal of the trouble he had in England arose from his efforts to get the money for his wars, made much harder by his lack of success in France. John was faced with a hugely determined opponent who had a home field advantage. John was an effective military commander, his expeditions in Ireland and Scotland and the various battles he had in England demonstrate this. The problem he had was that he could win a battle and fail to win the peace. In England, Ireland and France John never displayed any ability to created and nurture lasting and effective alliances with the major barons. He was unable and unwilling to court them and his innovative tax collections cut direct against their privileges.John also managed to have a serious fight with the Pope over the right to appoint the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading churchman in the country. John was unfortunate in that Pope Innocent III was determined to actively assert papal privilege, John choose confrontation over finesse and he lost the struggle.
 John inherited a wide ranging kingdom in England, Ireland, and France and manage to essentially lose everything and in the process alienate the two significant power structures of the society, the aristocracy and the Church. He lost his kingdom to the Pope and his political freedom to his barons with the Magna Carta. Stephen Church has written a book that rescues King John from myth and with telling detail and a sympathetic assessment of his character. John has been overshadowed by his father, mother, brother and son and deserves better. Stephen Church has done King John a great service and given the man a chance to stand beside the legend.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Ninth Grave. Stefan Ahnhem . Paul Norlen (Translation). Head of Zeus Ltd (2017)

A very enjoyable and entertaining Swedish crime thriller. In Sweden the Minister of Justice steps out of the Parliament House and disappears. In Denmark a woman is attacked in her home. In Sweden the disappearance of the Justice Minister is secretly assigned to Fabian Risk, In Denmark the murder is assigned to Dunja Hougaard to the fury of some of her fellow detectives. Further murders in both cities put pressure on both investigations. When it appears that suspects have been identified  in each investigation the investigations are pushed into a new direction that leads to a very dark conclusion.
This is a big story and it takes a little time for the momentum to build sufficiently to really compel the reader. There is a huge cast and a constantly shifting narrative which means that the reader is getting a lot of new information before the rhythm of the story clearly emerges.When it does the superb plot mechanics and the deeply engaging cast are very compelling.
The plot mechanics are constantly unexpected, setting up reader expectations and defying them in a very smart and considered way. The structures of the story reveal themselves steadily, the major and minor reveals are superbly staged and the deeply laid connections emerge to complicate everything just as they should.
The cast are great, Fabian Risk, Malin Rehnberg and Dunja Hougaard are given the chance to emerge as fully developed personalities as well as competent, committed police officers. Their personal lives are not just tacked on to their work, they extend and develop who they are in meaningful way. Malin Rehnberg's pregnancy is both realistic and is never used to undermine her position, competence or authority. The supporting cast, including the victims are all given time to register as much more than plot devices, they have time and opportunity to make themselves heard. Stefan Ahnhem has solved the problem presented by a fabulously effective super-villain, the motive is forceful and weighty and he solves the how with economy and credible detail.
There is a event in the story that takes place at a critical time that did not ring true, one of the leading cast members finds themselves in a very difficult position, their response was deeply unsatisfactory, not from a story point of view but as a character. Either the response was wildly uncharacteristic and needed further explanation or the needs of the plot forced the writer to shortchange the character.  In such a carefully constructed book it stands out more that it might in another.
Paul Norlen's translation is transparent, the story and cast are all naturally and completely Swedish and Danish, the cultural differences between both being a thread in the story, the English flows without ever being less than natural. Excellent crime fiction.