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Friday, September 16, 2016

Funny Business 1. "Bootcamp". Qusim Azam (Writer and Art), Usman Azam (Writer and Art) WP Comics (2016)

A very engaging and friendly comic that provides a clever set up with charm and a smartly managed fart joke. Agents Brian and Buddy are sent on on undercover mission to a bootcamp for overweight boys and hatch a plan to get proper food for the boys. The story is every bit as absurd as it should be, there are hints that there is also more going on.
The story is paced like an animated short and the panel layouts capture that rhythm very well, with close encounters and near miss escapes from trouble. The innocent ridiculousness of the story is used to great effect as the hints at something a little more serious slip in comfortably to keep it from floating away. I really like the fart joke, it is used very well and is perfectly set up and timed.
The wonderfully friendly art is a pleasure to read, it cartoony and brightly coloured, it gives the story the light hearted look it needs to succeed. The villi ans are not terribly scary, yet there are times when they can display something darker without ever upsetting the balance of the story.
This is an outstandingly confident comic, the art and the story are delivered with care and attention to detail so that the whole package has the fresh charm and hint of darkness that it needs to get going. The story possibilities are open and the two leads are resourceful and confident, they have enough depth to engage readers of all ages.  Great fun.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of  Funny Business, you should to see smart comics creators at work and realise just what a pleasure that is, you can purchase it from

Tales from Orbit. Kim Roberts (Snr. Editor) WP Comics (2016)

A very engaging and entertaining, big-tent, science fiction and fantasy anthology. The two genres can easily make for an uneven mix, in Tales from Orbit all the stories comfortably sit with each other, the diversity is a strength rather than diluting the impact.
Astral Crusaders. Paul Bradford (Writer),  William Alan Reyes (Art), Erik Korsgaard (Colours and Letters)  is a sharp story about a military patrol that does not go as planned. The story is artfully compressed, the set up action and conclusion are presented with crisp economy. The art is very bold, the cast are huge and heavily armored, never seem ridiculous and they move through their context with forceful physical presence. The variations in panel sizes and placement allows for the action to be explosive, intimate and fast all on the same page. The colouring is incredible, it is vividly intense, it turbo charges the story and gives it pulls up all the heightened emotional tones that surround the story with force.
Convention of the Gods. Jack Wallace (Writer), Gabe Ostley (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). A smart and funny idea that neatly plays with readers expectations. Gabe Astley's art is vivid and ultra expressive, it is expresses exactly the right tone for the story, it balance exaggeration and subtlety with tremendous care and detail. The colouring is a a pleasure, strong and vivid it draws out the story and the art to complete a lovely, effective comic.
Equal. M.C.Carper (Writer and Art) is short, quick to the point and a funny story. A demonstration by robots leads to trouble. The execution is everything and it works. The momentum of the story is strongly backed by vivid colouring and clear lettering, the pay off is pitched perfectly.
Night Sky. Daniel Horowitz (Writer), Estrela Lourenco (Art) is extraordinary, a huge idea that should required an enormous canvas is delivered with a shattering emotional impact in the simplest fashion. A night time picnic that has a wider meaning, it captures a terrible moment with a range of emotions that simply ring true at every stage. Estrela Lourenco's art captures the tone and intent of the story with beauty and grace, an astonishingly difficult balance has been created in the story. Outstanding.
Captain Yeah in Dark Vibes. Andrew Pawley (Writer and Art), a joyful and extraordinary blast of psychedelia , the art explodes off the page in a riot of colours and tones. The simple story gives the art the room to make an impact and the story gives sufficient structure and backbone to the art for the entire package to be a success.
Star K'rrot. Tiago Cruz (Writer), Ines Garcia (Art) features the most unlikely and hilarious alien invasion of earth and shows that troubles can come from the most unexpected quarters. When an alien ship visits Earth in search of an much needed energy source the story moves consistently in unexpected and very funny direction and the conclusion is everything it should be. The glorious black and white art by Ines Garcia misses nothing, all the details are present and the conflict between the invaders and the inhabitants are presented with just the right mix of perspective to ensure that insult is added to injury with precision.
Telescope. James Johnson (Writer and Art) is a perfectly executed comic from the 1970's, it has the story line, colours and general tenor of the freewheeling storytelling for the underground comix that just were having fun with comics. That it reaches back so far , so effortlessly is a tribute to the depth of talent on display, it is fresh, funny and just spot on, it works because there really are no rules for talent.
This is a great collection of comics, a tremendous diversity of styles and stories that manage to be a harmonious whole and very satisfying reading experience. Anthologies can be tricky to manage, Tales from Orbit makes it look easy.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent to by Kim Roberts. To buy a copy of Tales from Orbit, you should to prove beyond any doubt that the cure for bad comics are good comics like this one, you can purchase it from here

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Still Midnight. Denise Mina. Orion Books (2014)

A gripping and very engaging hard boiled Scottish crime story. Two armed men break into a family home demanding to speak to someone no-one knows. After a violent outburst, they kidnap the father and depart demanding a huge ransom. Detective Sargent Alex Morrow hopes to be given the high profile case and is bitterly disappointed to be given a subordinate role in the investigation. The investigation gets underway with barely contained personal animosity within its ranks and the kidnappers manage their
situation with an excess of bad tempered stupidity. The two threads of the story unwind tightly and slowly the connections are made and lead to a satisfying bitter and unexpected climax.
The plot mechanics are superb, the reveals are very well staged and the twists and turns of the story are clever, they ratchet up the tensions steadily and effectively. The story threads are carefully managed so that they cross and unwind with maximum impact and force.
The deep joy of this very bitter brew is the cast, Denise Mina has collected an amazingly diverse selection of deeply unpleasant and deeply hurt characters and they are all  demanding the reader attention with their vigor, anger and recognisable humanity. Alex Morrow is extraordinary, a searingly bitter and angry woman who is barely able to control the tumult that is writhing inside her. Angry at unfairly denied the chance to lead the case, she works with, against, and along side the officer who was given the lead, her moods and actions moving and changing as events move and change. Struggling to gain control of a case where she has lost it in her life she finds that the investigation is going into directions she really does not want  to be involved in. Denise Mina has managed a magnificent piece of writing with Alex Morrow, slowly the full extent of her circumstances is revealed and the roots of her anger become clear. In a shattering moment she is forced to see the price she is making someone else pay and instead of this undermining her, Denise Mina allows it to be a moment of release that confirms her depth and strength. That this is an unusual moment for a female character s a bit depressing, that it is managed with such confident skill is a pleasure.
The rest of the major cast are all given time care and attention to fully display their various shortcomings, they are caught up in a series of events that very quickly run out of their already very limited control. Each is given the chance to establish themselves and to act, their actions reveal them ever more deeply as the reader is draw into a somewhat unwilling sympathy with them as they become so firmly established.
The astonishing risk that Denise Mina takes with two of the cast that moves from absurd and sad fantasy to a credible and unexpected reality pays off with an genuinely astounding turn that wonderfully defies reader expectations. Deeply hidden in the hard boiled story that Denise Mins creates so skillfully is a generous heart that lifts the story up and makes it shine from the brutality of its plot and context. This is an extremely hard process to get right, one element should undermine the other, instead the skill and writing depth that Dense Mina brings to the book makes it lift off. A brilliant book, a gripping crime story and a sharp reminder that people are a collection of contradictions that are all fighting within each other all the time. A rich pleasure. 

The Adventures of Mac and Trouble. The World's Greatest Cat Magazine. WP Comics (2016)

Very engaging and enjoyable comic adventures of two cats that exploits the possibilities of comics very well.
The Origin. Rusty Gilligan and staff (writers), Dan Gorman (Pencils), Terry Paulet (Inks), E.T. Dollman (Letters). The longest story in the comic, this is how Mac and Trouble travel via a cat litter tray to a mysterious Movie Studio where reality is organised and corrected where required by time and space travelling operatives. Mac and Trouble are recruited to fight the menace of Dr Wormhole, a mutated lab rat bent on world domination. The story exploits the various sets up possibilities from cats, mice, rats, films to great effect. There is the required level of energy and momentum to the story. The art is simply fantastic, the abundant variety of panel layouts is astonishing, they are never confusing, they move control the hectic momentum of the story with eat care without every being so obtrusive that they pull the reader out of the story. The problem with the comic is the lettering, it id too small and very hard to read. The reader has to concentrate to read the word balloons and this greatly disrupts the flow of the story.
Never Say No to Trouble. Mac and Trouble Staff (Writers), Terry Pauly (Art), MaGnUs (Letters) is aexactly the sort of madcap absurd story that the comic shines wit. A quest for orange juice goes wonderfully astray, there jokes and set ups are unexpected and fresh, the finale is friendly and fun. Terry Pauly's art is animated and clear, the action is fast and the panel layouts are used to control the action very well. The lettering is mixed, the sound effects are great, the regular lettering is too small and hard to read. They word balloons are too packed to be comfortable.
Nazi Hobgoblins at the Core of the Cosmos. Mac and Trouble Staff (Writers), Michael Grassia (Art), Arthur Gibson (Letters) This story benefits from having a great title, the story itself is  a set up to get Mac and Trouble to Coney Island in 1939 in search of some hot dogs and finding something more. The art by Michael Grassia  is fluid and fast, the cats have the animated energy and character they need. The Sound effects by Arthur Gibson are excellent, there are too many words in the balloons, the lettering remains a distraction.
This is a comic that is still finding its feet, the writing needs to rely less on the words and trust the art more. This will take the pressure off the lettering and give it a chance to support rather than distract and slow down the comic. The artistic invention and energy is a joy, it has captured the possibilities that the story ideas offer and uses clever ways to capture the energy of animation shorts.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. If you want to buy a copy of The Adventures of Mac and Trouble, fantastic absurdity and wild joy and energy are known to be very good for you,then you can purchase it here  

Recollection. Rusty Gilligan (Editor). WP Comics (2016)

An engaging and enjoyable Comic fan magazine with a focus on Golden Age comics, characters and creators. Overall the magazine is enjoyable and informative, with an interresing mix of articles, comics and interviews.
Hanna-Barbera, The Dynamic Duo of Animation by  Michael Grassia looks at the professional career of the hugely influential animators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The article has a lot of information, well laid out about the work they created and the way that they changed to meet the requirements of television and the need for increased production.The article would have benefited from a little more critical analysis of their work and a greater focus on factors that made them successful .
Jo-Jo:Congo King,Roger Keel, Tony Lorenz is an oddity. A plane carrying diamonds crashes in an uncharted African jungle and a man later comes to a village to get a guide to take him to the plane. When he kidnaps he female guide, JoJo , the white jungle warrior and her boyfriend, goes after her to rescue her.  The story works out as expected. What is unexpected is that the story appears to be a contemporary creation and is delivered exactly as it would have been if written in the 1930's. The racial dynamic is impossible to ignore, a white hero saving a black female, a white villain getting his just desserts just strikes a lot of off notes as it is presented here. If this is intended as a pastiche of earlier strips it lacks any clues to being so, it is a very strange production.
Recollection Pin-Up Files : These highlight a few marginal Golden Age characters with solid information and clarity.
The Batman. A Movie Serial Review of the 943 Classic. Arthur Gibson is the stand out article in the magazine. An excellent, enthusiastic review of the serial that provides a lot of context, commentary. The balance between information and analysis is just right and the joy the writer gets from the serials is clear and crisp.
Noire: Your Move. Barbara Randall Kessel (Writer), Jim Taylor (Penciller), Jeff Austin (Inker), Brandy Dixon (Colours), Arthur Gibson (Letters). A sharp and very effective comic that manages a great deal in a compressed space. A mugging is interrupted by Noire, a female costumed hero, and the muggings is revealed as more than it appears. Clever reveals and a very sharp conclusion all work really well. The art is very inviting, the enclosed area of the alleyway is well used to crowd everyone together and push up the tension. The cast are expressive and the action has weight and impact. The colours are very well set up, the backgrounds are used to provide lighting without ever loosing the sense that this s nighttime action. One of the pleasure of the story is that Noire is a female action hero in a costume that is neither swimming gear or seriously impractical. The lettering is natural and fits into the flow of the story, subtly emphasising the story points as required. A very well done comic.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. If you want to buy a copy of Recollection, it is a enjoyable mix and the Batman article and Noire comic make it well worth reading, you can purchase it here

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Hitch-Hiker. No. 1. Aaron Kennedy (Writer), Diana Marques (Art) WP Comics (2016)

An engaging, enjoyable and bit too self-conscious science fiction comic. A slightly shabby human man is talking to a cigar smoking orange blob of an alien about where they both are. The human makes an extraordinary claim, rejected by the alien and a test of sorts is proposed and acted upon. The human lands them both in severe trouble and the real test of the idea is set up.
Aaron Kennedy has written two stories, one is engaging and rather charming, the other is a small but consistent pain in the neck. The alien and his world are both credible and engaging, they are unexpected and the details are just spot on. There is nothing very complicated about either, the cast are various coloured blobs with short legs and arms, they have energy and presence. They world does not have a lot of detail, just enough to make it solid and bring the reader.
The human is a interruption to the story, after he explains the wonderful premise to the story he spends most of the rest of the story poking the reader with needless references and a truly infuriating final statement. The character appears to be in the story and want to comment on it in some way, digging a knowing elbow in the readers ribs as they share the meta joke. Fortunately the quiet charm of the non human aspect to the story is greater than the annoyance generated by the far too smart charachter.
Much of the credit for this goes to Diana Marques whose friendly art and beautiful colouring are a treat for the eye. They planet is bright and vivid as are the inhabitants. They are forceful when needed and express their character through subtle body language. Given the shapes of the aliens, this is a very considerable achievement, the blobs are strongly expressive and individual. The human is nicely shabby, this is a nice counterpoint to his attitude which is sharp and rather acid. He is not dressed for the role, it is a clever bit of tension which helps reduce the problems that he creates for the story.
This is an intriguing set up, there is a powerhouse premise and if Aaron Kennedy could trust the readers more and dive into the story engine in a more wholehearted way this could well become a fascinating series.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. If you would like to buy a copy of The Hitch-Hiker 1, you should, it is smart and thoughtful and any comic that has enough spark to ruffle a reader is always worth a read, you can purchase it here

Eagleburger. Rudy Dean, Jef Stout (Writers), Gabe Ostely (Art) WP Comics (2016)

A dense, engaging and very inclusive conspiracy comix. This is very much in the tradition of earlier generations of underground comix, it explores the true history of recent decades via the conspiracies that swirl around Area 51, the Kennedy assassination, Elvis Presley and the notions of secret organisations that really run the world.
Dale Eagle, a fresh and deeply enthusiastic recruit to the CIA is transferred to Area 51 where he meets Agent Balzac and Deep Throat. Area 51 is not what Eagleburger expected, it proves not just to be a hidden site for the examination and exploitation of alien technology, it has layers of secrecy and conspiracy that suck the agent in far over his head. The action steadily gets more and more entangled, with details of one conspiracy bleeding into another until they are all finally drawn to together in an epic court case and and a conclusion that manages an effective change of tone.
The story is fabulously dense with detail and incident, Rudy Dean and Jef Stout have managed to include a bewildering array of conspiracy theories and loudly and savagely mock them all. This is a comedy not humour, the laughs come from the savage collisions of the cast and the plot. The unexpected use of well known characters like Elvis, J.F. Kennedy, Robert Oppenheimer is very well done,  rarely have they been used with such brutality and brutal effectiveness.
The extraordinary aspect to this comix is the discipline of the writing, the story is told in a hysterical key, everything is at top volume and there is no room for nuance. Keeping this coherent and on target is a very considerable achievement. The story travels in very wide loops to come back to nearly the same point of departure before looping off again. The powerful control that is exercised to ensure that the whole edifice does not collapse in on itself is rare, the story is unbalanced by design and that takes impressive confidence, technical ability and talent.
Gabe Ostely art catches the momentum and the ferocious comedy of the writing and explodes it onto the pages of the comix. The cast are all near caricatures, except where they are outright caricatures, they move through a fractured and absurd context with force and manic energy. The colouring is fantastic, it changes as the narratives move from one story to another, the different colouring is the key that keeps them organised and lets the reader move from one to another. The panel layouts control the pace of the story, from multiple close ups for conversations to full page spreads, the reader is consistently given variety to read.
The enormous ambitious density of the story and the high energy of the art play a bit against the overall impact of the comix. It is so dense that it is a little overwhelming for the reader, there is so much information on every page that it can be difficult to keep up with all the layers to the set up. The story is so dense that without the enormous energy in the comix the story would not lift off at all, let alone as successfully as it does. This is a mighty blunderbuss of a comix, apparently scattershot, with a very smart story engineering directing the delivery. This is made clear in the conclusion where the calm tone allows for something nasty to appear and to give the work the sharp edge it needs.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To purchase a copy of Eagleburger, reading a vibrantly passionate, creative and pummeling comix is a great form of exercise clinically proven to improve you mental muscle tone, it can be purchased here