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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex Volume 1. DC Comics (2005)

A collection of very entertaining Western stories with an engaging lead character, great art and a dry as dust black humour. Jonah Hex with his mutilated face and worn Confederate officer's uniform is a bounty hunter in the post Civil War West. A fast draw and a merciless hunter of outlaws he is described like this,"He was a hero to some, a villain to others;and wherever he rode, people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was death itself...the other...the acrid smell of gun smoke." Happily the stories in the collection live up to the promise of that description.
The West that Jonah Hex rides through is a brutal and savage place, the most significant difference between Hex and those who hire and despise him is that he is honest about his actions, the others hide their murderous greed behind a thin veneer of polite society. In "Bigfoot's War" written by Michael Fleisher with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Hex is hired by a rancher to recover his daughter who has been kidnapped by Indians. It becomes clear that the rancher has a nasty secret and his daughter is a very unpleasant, utterly spoilt woman. The story is fast and bitter, the action is very well staged and Hex emerges as the most honest character.
What all the writers of the stories in the collection get exactly right is that Hex is never pleasant or likable, his bitter humour and bleak honesty about his own self interest would make him unbearable in any other context.
In "Showdown with the Dangling Man" written by Michael Fleisher, art by Noly Panaligan, one of the outstanding stories in the collection, Hex's indifference to others is given full rein. The beautiful art captures the vivid details of the locations and the cast, the very grim conclusion is everything it should be. This is unheroic Western storytelling at its compelling best.This collection is packed with great art, excellent writing and hard-bitten spirit of the mythical American West, a pleasure.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Best of 2000AD. Rebellion (2008)

While it is not as wide ranging as the title would suggest it does contain a big slab of very engaging and entertaining stories from the comic. The dominant themes are violence, sport, war and black comedy, all together where possible.
Harlem Heroes is one of the least violent stories, Aeroball "The Sport of Tomorrow" is a mixture of Football,Boxing, Kung Fu and Basketball played by teams equipped with jet packs. The all black Harlem Heroes are a star team until an accident kills some of the team and a new squad has to be recruited. Rebuilt with a rookie, two reserves and a forty-year old veteran they set out to win the world championship. The story breathes life into this cliched set up with vigour and energy, the art gives the action energy and aerial grace, the cast are given a chance to step out of their stereotypes a little.
Flesh is a much bolder and considerably more violent story, time travel has enabled the Trans-Time corporation to go back to the Triassic era and build a huge fishing station to farm the pre-historic seas for food for their 23rd century customers. The details of the factory and the work are superbly laid out and the plot mechanics are set up with economy and skill. It is big and loud science fiction with a sharp edge. Shako is concerned with a polar bear who has swallowed a capsule that the C.I.A. want back and they hunt after the bear. The bear responds by hunting the humans and eating them. The bear is easily the most sympathetic character in the story and the black humour is nicely pitched to give the story a lift.
Rouge Trooper, featuring a biologically engineered soldier, designed to fight in the poisonous atmosphere of Nu-Earth who has gone rouge on a private mission is the stand out war story in the collection. The art is bold, the ideas are focused and tightly written and the lead character has a strong presence. It is Judge Dredd who has emerged as the most famous character from 2000AD, there are some early stories about him, they are in a distinct second place to the extraordinary Judge Death episode. The art is stunning, the details are precise and the cast are given breath and depth. The story idea is bitingly sharp and superbly realised.
The stories the 19 different strips in this collection are distinctive, brutal and delivered with wonderful energy and a willingness to push an idea very hard, well worth reading.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Give Me Liberty. Frank Miller (Writer), Dave Gibbons (Art), Robin Smith (Colours). Penguin Books (1990)

This book is a production by enormous talents using skill, craft and intelligence. Martha Washington is a child of an enclosed ghetto in a very unpleasant future America. She escapes from the ghetto via the imprisonment in a mental hospital, finding freedom when the asylum is closed due to budget cuts. Martha joins PAX, the Peace Force, who promise to wipe your record clean. Martha then finds herself at war in Brazil, fighting a renegade fast food corporation call Fat Boy. She falls foul of Lieutenant Moretti and the story of their conflict, and how Moretti’s hatred for her entwines itself through his plans for power, forms the core of the book. The bigger story is the collapse of the United States of America as environmental disasters, civil unrest, and military mistakes all combine to undermine the country. The ease with which Frank Miller manages his large cast and the way that splintering of the country is described is amazing. The book has fake newspaper and magazine articles, now a bit of a cliché, but still they give great depth to the book, adding greatly to the portrait of the society. Frank Miller also uses television newscasts, much as in The Dark Knight, I think to better effect in this book. The connection between Martha Washington’s story and the larger story is natural and unforced, they strongly reinforce each other to deliver a hugely satisfying whole.
Martha Washington herself is a great leading character. A first-rate action hero, brave, confident and very resourceful, the story treats her harshly but never disrespectfully. I think she is easily one of the best female characters in comics.
Give Me Liberty lies far away from the constrictions of copyright characters like Batman or Daredevil and far, far from the repulsive sexual politics of the Sin City sequence. The creative team of Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons are both at the top of their powers in this book; the colouring by Robin Smith is fantastic also. Dave Gibbon’s art is astonishing, very different from the formal layouts in Watchmen, it flows with the action and yet is packed with telling detail. The characters are individual and expressive, they move like humans, their faces are eloquent, and he gives the terrifying implosion of the USA real weight and substance.
A masterpiece, a powerhouse of a comic that should not be missed.