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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Strange Shores. Arnaldur Indridason. Victoria Cribb (Translation)Vintage (2014)

Gripping and memorable Icelandic crime story that has deep melancholy heartbeat. Detective Erlendur is staying on his parent's abandoned farm when he hears a story about a woman who vanished in storm from a neighbour. Erlendur lost his younger brother in a storm decades before and the wound has never healed, so he responds to the story be asking questions among those who were alive at the time. Slowly a story emerges as peoples memories are brought to the surface. It becomes clear that there was more going on than had been known and the final unravelling is smart and bitter, exactly as it should be.
This is a very quiet story, the action is mostly Erlendur asking questions and stirring up memories that have long been dormant. The grip of the story lies in the cast and in particular Erlendur  himself. He frequently asks himself why he is pursuing this story, as it becomes clearer that there may have been foul play involved, he wonders what he will do about any information that he finds. It is always apparent to reader that Erlendur is attempting to hide himself from the story of the loss of his brother while being constantly having it brought back to him by his investigation.
The supporting cast are given a tenacious life, they are elderly now but they have a force and depth that bring the reader deeply into the story. As the lives they lived in the small fishing village emerge and the forces that trapped them it becomes increasingly clear that the past has never let them go. As the investigation continues the compromises and stories they have told themselves start to wilt under scrutiny, they become more engaging and vivid. Erlendur is doing something they want and do not want.
The plot mechanics of the story are superb, the pieces of the story that emerge fit together with a strong credibility and slowly lead to a brilliantly set up conclusion. The second story about Erlendur 's brother is masterfully woven into the narrative and the conclusion is deeply sad and and entirely suitable.
A novel about the long term impact of cold, very cold, crime Strange Shores is stunning, the poisonous effects of crime are rarely so carefully considered and revealed. Top class fiction.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lone. Stuart Moore (Writer), Jerome Opena (Art), Michelle Madsen (Colours), Sno Cone (Letters). Rocket Comics/Dark Horse Comics (2004)

A hugely enjoyable and engaging science fiction Western that mixes both with care to deliver a great story. Ravenous zombies have overrun the post-apocalyptic town of Desolation. Luke and her brother Mark are sent in search of a legendary gunman, Lone. When they find him it starts to become clear that there are bigger forces than zombies at work and that an terrible threat from the past has come back. The story unfolds at a great pace, the reveals are cunningly staged and the conclusion is satisfying bitter.
Stuart Moore makes the difficult task of successfully merging two distinct genres into a unified and satisfying whole look easy. The Western framework for the story fits nicely into a devastated post-apocalyptic world. The solitary gunman pulled back into the action is given an entirely effective science fiction twist that manages to lift the story up where it needs to be.
Luke, the tough, resourceful and female sharpshooter who does not realize just how much trouble is waiting is deeply engaging and brings the reader easily into the story. The fact that Luke is female is both deeply significant and does not matter at all. Stuart Moore has quietly demonstrated that it is the personality of the character that is key not the gender. There is no grandstanding or calling out about Luke, she is simply a cast member. It is a little worrying that thirteen years later this is as noticeable as it is.
Jerome Opena's art is entirely equal to the task of meeting the rival genre requirements with collision or confusion. Lone is a classic western hero, laconic and dangerous without flash, just fierce competence and a hat that shades his eyes. He moves through the story with anger and determination, bearing his burdens as he should. Luke and the rest of the cast are expressive, move with grace and physical force through the beautifully realized context. The science fiction robots, guns and monsters never seem out of place, this is the frontier where all sorts wash up and make trouble for each other. The use of panels to control the pace of the story is expert, they bring out the nuances and beats of the story.
Michelle Madsen's colours are science fiction bright, they catch the wide open dusty space of the frontier as well, it captures the emotional context of the story with subtle grace and care.Sno Cone's letters are quiet and natural to read, the sound effects are big and bold, they give the edge the actions scenes want to really land.
Lone is a great story and a smashing comic.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Kickstarter campagain: Resurrected. Kim Roberts, James Johnson, Chris Allen, SwampLine Productions (2017)

Swamp Line Productions do something very difficult and make it look easy. They deliver excellent comics, comics that clearly have come from individual talents working carefully together.
Now they have a new comic, Resurrected and a new Kickstarter campagin to support it.
A group of paranormal investigators accidentally raise the dead and create a zombie infestation on the Isle of Blackwood.
Kim Roberts, James Johnson and Chris Allen have a history of taking an obivous idea and moving it in unexpected directions, developing ideas into into stories that respect their readers.
There are never enough excellent comics, the opportunity to increase the quantity should be taken. I have backed Resurrected because I would really like to read it. Give yourself the same pleasure, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/resurrected

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Darkest King 3. Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art). WP Comics (2017)

An explosively enjoyable issue that picks up the story threads and twists them in very engaging ways. Kurt King, ex policeman and vigilante follows a lead to find Mr X, the crime lord of Coldwood, when he meets Mr X there is a lot of trouble for everyone, exactly as there should be.
Tony Scott Astley moves the story with great force and confidence from the point where Kurt finds his willingness to use violence to pursue justice as he sees it and forward to the results of his actions. What drives the Darkest King so strongly is that the two key characters, the King brothers are never passive, they respond and try to control events around them. The similarities between them are striking, Tony Scott Astley uses these to great effect as they cross paths with each other and find that neither are who they thought they were. Action is very neatly mixed with context and explanation so that the story moves very quickly and the same time the cast develop strongly and the stakes of the story increase for everyone. Using the classic noir elements of a wounded hero and a driven villain Tony Scott Astley has developed the story into a very dark and deeply engaging place that smartly places a question mark after the title.
Paul Anderson's art is a match for the writing, it captures and brings out every aspect of the story, giving emotional depth to the events, never losing the cast in the violence. The action is forceful and consequential, words have the impact of a striking fist and the feel it. The colours are wonderful, they frame and emphasise the emotional context for the story. The different parts of the story are given very different colour keys which act to both separate and link them. The lettering is easy and natural, the sound effects are placed for impressive effect.
The Darkest King 3 is a great payoff for the story, the threads are picked up and tied together very effectively the bitter undertow to the story is given full rein and nobody gets away unharmed. Smashing.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Paul Anderson. To purchase The Darkest King 3, which you should to see how very talented creators handle the creative challenge inherent in a smart story, it is available from  http://www.wpcomicsltd.com

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Darkest King 2. Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art). WP Comics (2017)

The second issue of the very engaging and enjoyable noir story moves backwards and forwards to add depth and context to the story. Kurt King, ex-policeman and vigilante is becoming increasingly concerned that his brother Victor is somehow involved with Mr X the crime lord of the city. Having suffered a devastating loss Kurt reflects on his shattered past with his brother. Victor is also making moves of his own to pursue his own interests. When Kurt returns to the hunt for Mr. X he finds much more than he ever expected.
Tony Scott Astley has a sure and confident approach to noir storytelling, he is willing to take the time to build up to a substantial pay off and keep a number of story possibilities open at the same time. Kurt is a classic noir lead character, deeply wounded and channelling his rage into a fight for something worthy, fighting corruption. The fact that his brother maybe implicated in the corruption is a complicating factor that ultimately does not distract or deter him. Victor King, the brother who got away, rich and successful is ambitious at best and very murky at worst. The  looming possibility that Kurt is being deftly played by someone else is quietly set up, nicely stirring the plot possibilities.
Paul Anderson's art is sharp and a pleasure to read, the physical setting is very powerful, the locations have a strong presence. This underlines the huge gulf between the brothers, harsh actions are taking place everywhere, the difference in the settings is vital to the story and context. The way panels and full pages are used to control the momentum of the story is great, in a story where reveals are crucial this is very important .The cast are powerfully expressive, Kurt wears his life on his face, battered and stubbornly determined, Kurt moves forward for his mission with a grim determination and bitter humour. Victor is a smooth shark, moving steadily in for the kill. The supporting cast all move naturally in their context amd give depth and force to the story. The shifts from conversation to action are natural and effective, that both are as dangerous as each other is captured with deft skill.
The colouring is striking and very important, it brings out every nuance in the story and creates and sustains the vital atsmophere of the story. The lettering is quiet and flows naturally with the panels, never distracting the reader, the sound effects are loud and pitched exactly at the right place and volume.
The Darkest King is smart, engaging and confident crime comics storytelling using a genre that is fatally easy to get wrong, a pleasure.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Tony Scott Astley. to purchase a copy of The Darkest King 2, which you should to improve your quality of life as only excellent comics can do, it is avalible from http://www.wpcomicsltd.com

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Kros: Hallowed Ground. John Ostrander (Writer), Tom Mandrake (Art), Sian Mandrake (Colours), Jan Duursema (Letters). Third Eye Skull (2017)

A very smart vampire story that uses a unexpected (but utterly logical) context to superb effect and adds a genuinely new idea to vampire story ideas. The battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal event in the American Civil War as well as the bloodiest encounter of the war. With bloodshed on that scale , blood calls to those who have a thirst for it. Wounded victims make easy and satisfying prey and who would notice the extra dead among the huge numbers.A hunter whose quarry is vampires would know to look for them where the feeding is easy and so Major Elijah Kros comes to Gettysburg with a commission from President Lincoln that allows him move about as he wishes. An encounter in an alleyway reveals who Kros is and what his mission is, and the story of the multiple battles, small and huge, that take place at Gettysburg unfurls. The reveals are very nicely set up, the action is stunning and the cast are never overshadowed by the colossal events taking place around them. The story shifts naturally and effectively from the small scale to the enormous without ever loosing the thread that ties everything to gether.
John Ostrander has not only developed an engaging context, the cast that move thought it with such determination and vigour are equally memorable. Elijah Kros  is opposed by a suitably competent and dangerous foe, a vampire of strenght, cunning and fierce will to feed and survive. The struggle between them draws in others, living and otherwise and with them come different agendas and priorities. With deft skill John Ostrander brings in the smaller personal conflicts that divide the cast around Kros as the stark differences between them become increasingly apparent. They have to find some possible common ground to be able to survive and combat the threat of the vampires, John Ostrander makes the route to this common ground tension filled and constantly awkward. The brutal loneliness of Elijah Kros is a high price to pay.
Tom Mandrake's art is a extravagant feast of  detail and scope and a substantial pleasure to read and luxuriate in. The level of detail is astounding, the battle scemces are loud, full of movement and never confusing. In particular there is a development among the shattered victims of the vampires who become possessed of the thirst themselves that is just stunning. A brilliant sequence of development and a final configuration that is simply breathtaking. Every nuance and intention with the skillful writing is captured and drawn out in the art. The human and non human cast are given a powerful life and move with purpose and intention, when they clash they do so to the fullest extent possible. The use of panels to control the pace of the story is exact and careful, bring the reader in close or pulling out as needed.
Sian Mandrake's colours are vital to the flow of the action and bring the emotional context of the story fully forward as it needs to be. Thoughtful use of blues and greys flow into the context and constantly support it, sepia and other quietly contrasting tones bring out the details as needed and anchor the reader's eye where it should be.
Jan Duursema's letters are quiet and natural, easy to ready within the panels, the sound effects are a bloody joy, they add the crunch and bite that a vampire comic needs.
Kros: Hallowed Ground is a great read, vastly experienced creators showcasing thier talent to deliver an excellent comic.

Malice. Keigo Higashino (Writer), Alexander O. Smith , Elye Alexander (Translation). Abacus (2015)

A superbly constructed, gripping and deeply engaging cat and mouse murder story. A famous and highly successful writer, Kunihiko Hidaka is found murdered in his locked office. Hidaka was preparing to leave for Canada with his new wife Rie and was visited by a friend Osamu Nonoguchi, a writer and Ms Fujio, a woman who has a problem with a book Hidaka has written. The detective leading the investigation, Kyochiro Kaga recognises Osamu Nonoguchi from a previous job as a teacher in a school where they both taught. Following this classic set up of a locked room murder and a severely limited set of suspects Keigo Higashino delivers a stunning story that constantly sidesteps readers expectations and assumptions right up to the brilliant and satisfying sour conclusion.
The structure of the book is overlapping accounts written by Osamu Nonoguchi and Kyochiro Kaga that competing with each other for control of the narrative. Each of them is pushing a particular version of events from the far past and directly around the murder, each is cunningly constructed and full of hooks and telling details for the reader.
The story is smartly structured as the two leads write succeeding updates that bring in new details and subtly or not so subtly alter the narrative. Osamu Nonoguchi and Kyochiro Kaga are nicely matched, both serious, capable, confident and willing to work very hard to achieve their aims. As the story develops the deeper roots of the events start to come to light and the mutual histories of the principals becomes significant.
Keigo Higashino never takes a short cut or cheats the reader, the accounts are clearly partisan, they are consciously one sided and the reader has to decide how to read them. With persuasive skill each succeeding account leads the reader to a different view of he story, even when a conclusion appears to have been arrived at there is still more depths to be explored. This is a technical tour de force of storytelling that sets up and solves story problems with astounding grace and confidence that never shortchanges the reader. Managing this while creating such an engaging cast and credible context without any visible effort is the work of a hugely talented writer.
Keigo Higashino is very well served by the translation from Alexander O. Smith  & Elye Alexander, it manages to ready smoothly in English while being clearly and audibly Japanese. At a critical moment they deliver different conversations from walk on parts that capture the crucial differences in outlook among the characters.
Malice is a great story and superb crime fiction, wonderful.