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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Reapers. JoJo King (Writer), Adrian9 (Art), John Palmer IV (Letters) Insane Comics (2015)

An engaging and enjoyable comic, a strong story idea and black humour work very well with sparse strong art. Violet and Mary both die at the same time and find themselves thrown together when they meet Victor, one of the Grim Reapers. Victor has a job for both women, work that he is unable to do himself, and persuades both to accept his offer. Mary and Violet set to work with nicely unpredictable results.
JoJo King solves the story problems that come with a set up with assured confidence and dark wit, establishing the cast and the story  framework with economy and impact. Violet and Mary die from different causes, which Jojo King uses as a quick way to also establish a background and character for each. This sets up a nice mix of outlook and motivation for each, they arrive at the same place by very different routes, story possibilities arising from their differences have been established very naturally.
Victor is a problem for any writer, how to give Death a personality that does not cut across the essential nature of who they are. In this case Death is nicely ruthless and pleasingly reckless, Victor has a requirement and really when it comes to it, finesse is not a major part of what he does. The balance between the story set up and the action is very well done, no time is wasted and nothing is left out either.
Adrian9's art is sparse and dark, the death scenes for Violet and Mary are excellent, they establish the differences between the two from the start. One of the very nice aspects to the art is that when the two women are naked in Victor's realm, the nudity is utterly matter of fact. Neither Mary nor Violet comment on their lack of clothing, neither seem bothered by it. It is a nice move that allows them be characters, they are not trapped by any sexual nudges to the reader before they have been given a chance to establish themselves. The art shines with the faces and close ups of the cast, living and dead, Adrian9 uses shading with skill to give depth and personality to the cast. The action sequences are not quite forceful enough, except for one that uses a tight focus on a character to great effect.
John Palmer IV's lettering for the dialogue is not a forceful as it really needs to be, it is functional and readable but the story framework calls for a all the elements to be assertive. Victor's dialogue is effective, it adds a little flourish to him that is very welcome. The rest of the cast are not given the same support and they would benefit from it. On the other hand the sound effects are spot on.
A clever set up with a load of potential avenues for the story and an engaging cast, Reapers is great invitation to the reader to settle down for more to come.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review issue very kindly sent by JoJo King. Reapers can be bought here,!/REAPERS/c/13311144/offset=0&sort=nameAsc, available in digital and print. Well worth it.

The Murder Bag. Tony Parsons. Arrow Books (2014)

An enjoyable and entertaining crime story. A man is murdered in his office in his office on Detective Constable Max Wolfe's first day with the Murder team. The investigation  becomes complicated with the public updates posted by the killer which greatly increase the pressure on the investigation. A second murder points the investigation to a clearer line of enquiry and the investigation starts to uncover a shared and violent past that has caught up with those involved. The plot unwinds nicely, the investigation is thoughtful and professional, the reveals are very well staged and the set up at the start pays of substantially at the end.
Tony Parsons deftly sidesteps the major clichés of the genre. Max Wolfe is a single parent with a young daughter and no notable addictive or self destructive tendencies. He is quietly competent and has a hot temper which he keeps under control and a willingness to pursue an idea. He does clash with a superior, not because she is absurdly stupid or incompetent but because Max Wolfe can be a problem to a senior police officer with a high profile case and a strong desire to retain her career trajectory. The officer that Max directly works for is calm, smart and capable, this gives the investigation a strong basis and allows the plot unwind without having to rely on any character being massively smarter or stupider than the rest. All of the cast are given voices of their own and emerge as sharp, defined characters who want the readers attention.
The plot mechanics are very well done, the major elements are used very effectively and then tied together in a satisfying way. In particular a crucial piece of information is delivered in a very smart set up that also ties a lot of plot threads together at the same time. One plot thread that did not quite come off is one that lay deep at the roots of the murders, the situation itself was credible, the way the long term results were handled by those involved did not quite come off . It does not imbalance the story, it does muffle the impact a bit.
With an interesting cast and a solid plot the book fails to entirely engage, there is a slight lack at the heart of the story. It does not quite bite hard enough, revenge is more personal, the bitter desire is given to the wrong character. It is entirely necessary for them, it is also necessary for another who is just a little too far from the motive and too close to the action  to carry it off without more direct roots in the blood or palpable rage.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A More Perfect Heaven. How Copernicus Revolutionised the Cosmos. Dava Sobel. Bloomsbury ( 2011)

A very engaging and informative history of Copernicus who proposed and  largely demonstrated that the Earth revolves the sun and not the other way around. This was just the wrong idea at the wrong time from the wrong person. What Dava Sobel shows with clarity, telling detail and a very easy style to read is that the political and social context made the work that Copernicus did too uncomfortable to accept. Scientific accuracy was never the problem, the broader historical forces that were breaking forth were demanding allegiance that required obedience not proof .
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish cleric in the Catholic Church who had a strong talent for mathematics and a fascination for astronomy. This was deeply rooted in his faith, the cosmos was the work of God and to study it was to study the glory of God. There was a strongly practical aspect also, the need to establish a reliable calendar to ensure that religious festivals, in particular Easter, were celebrated on the correct days was very important. The problem was that the work to establish a correct calendar lead someone with the scientific  integrity of Copernicus to the conclusion that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the reverse.
This was a problem as episode in the bible had been taken as the proof that the the Sun revolved around the earth, an idea supported by the previous giant of astronomy, Ptolmey of Egypt. Copernicus's idea was directly contradicting both a faith based interpretation and the weight of historical tradition. At any time both of these would have been formidable obstacles to the acceptance of a new idea, unfortunately this was also the time when the Protestant Reformation, spearheaded by Martin Luther challenged the spiritual legitimacy of the Catholic Church and upended the political context in Europe. New ideas in this volatile atmosphere were always going to be threats or weapons to be used in ways far removed from their actual content.
Copernicus spent his life trying to balance the increasing polarised demands of the church with his own  observations and deductions. It took the,slightly unintended, intervention of a German mathematician to finally bring the work Copernicus into general circulation. Others, including Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei used the insights that Copernicus published to develop the modern understanding of the Universe and the place of the Earth in it.
Dava Sobel solves a very significant problem with flair and strong control of the relevant and telling details. The balance between Copernicus the man and his astonishing work is tricky to establish, tilt too far in either direction and you loose both. The focus of the book is very much on the man, the explanations of the work are lucid and informative without being so concentrated as to be barrier to a non-specialist. Dava Sobel gives the history of the work after Copernicus' death which gives her the space to give due weigh to both idea and man.
Dava Sobel takes a very considerable risk in the book, which is a history, by including a work of fiction in it. It is a bold and entirely successful choice, it uses a different form to make the context for a crucial event much clearer without ever undermining the integrity of the historical study.
This is a fascinating book about a fascinating man, a pleasure to read.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

SinEater 1. JoJo King (Writer), Chase Dunham (Artist), Ken Reynolds (Cover Design) Insane Comics ( May 2015)

A very engaging and enjoyable comic that packs a quiet and very considerable punch. Cassandra is a sin-eater, as the opening vividly shows both her work and the burden it imposes. A very nasty incident at the morgue where she lives leads to a sudden need to exit her village, which becomes significantly more urgent and problematical at the same time.
In a very short space, 28 pages, JoJo King manages to present four significant set ups for the story and none of them trip up over each other or feel cramped or rushed. Cassandra is introduced with a great sequence and then given a chance to introduce herself, this set up is done very naturally with a lot of information being delivered in a natural way with a great balance between showing and telling. A villain is introduced in another deeply effective set up, one of the very welcome aspects to the comic is how a cliché is cleverly used, High Priest Jacob is a villain, however he is a wonderfully dangerous villain. Using a  religious leader as the bad guy is often fatally obvious, sanctity is a great cloak for horrifying selfishness and greed, what JoJo King has done is give Jacob a very dangerous edge. Jacob is not firebrand who rouses the passions of his congregation, much more troubling he gives them permission to act savagely. He does not tell them what to do, he praises them for knowing what to do and doing it, a much subtler, toxic and durable way to hold power.
The incident at the morgue is great, it is not a surprise, it is really well done and the role of sexual violence actually has a direct relevant to the story mechanics. I still wish that JoJo King had found a different route to the same end. This incident is the third set up which leads naturally to the fourth and final set up where the threads of the story are very neatly crossed and the the reader is left happily wondering where the story will move to next.
The cast are vivid and forceful, Cassandra is vulnerable, confident, capable and confused, she is a great lead character and Jacob, who in the very short space given to him, imposes himself very firmly on the story as a heavyweight, I look forward to seeing him flex his muscles and seeing how Cassandra responds and starts to flex her own muscles in turn. The supporting cast are also strong, they demand the readers attention because they deserve it, none feel like they are just taking up space.
Chase Dunham's black and white art is a joy. It is confident and distinctive, the lines are spare and expressive, the action is quietly intense without every being aggressive. Given the content the art has a lot of room to be filled with brutal detail, Chase Dunham instead gives the cast prominence over the blood. This brings the story much more forward as the cast are allowed to drive the action rather than being lost in it. Still when action is required it is delivered, Chase Dunham has a wonderful grasp of movement that gives the moments depth and force.
Sin Eater 1 is a confident, thoughtful and engaging comic from very talented creators, a pleasure.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent to me by JoJo King. To buy it, and you should treat yourself, go to

Friday, June 5, 2015

AntiChris 1. Jojo King(Writer), Manuel Mezquita (Artist), Ken Reynolds (Letters) Insane Comics (2015)

A very enjoyable and entertaining first issue that delivers an engaging cast and a smart story idea that has a lot of room to grow and develop. Chris, a teenage orphan find himself delivered to St Jude's Home for the Wayward, a halfway house for teenagers and finds that it is as strange as it should be. Chris meets the rest of the inmates,the very strange warden and the equally odd cook. An attempt to kidnap one of the teenagers leads to a strange event which is likely to be the springboard for the story.
Jojo King manages all the problems that come with setting up a story with care, very dark wit and considerable craft. There is an excellent balance between introducing the cast and setting up the plot mechanics. Using teenagers as the cast is a tricky approach, they are so encumbered by cliché that setting up recognisable characters who speak for themselves and feel like teenagers is tough. Jojo King makes it look easy, they have the outward snark and bravado that they should have given their circumstances, they are also afraid and lonely, anxious for acceptance and security. The two selves co-exist very naturally in the story and they mean that when the plot mechanics kick in, the reader already cares about what happens. One of the significant pleasures of the book is that the cast speak like humans, not some strained idea of what "young people" talk like nowadays, they have their own voices and are strongly themselves. The fact that one of the cast is a teenage female werevampire and this does not sink the story on the spot is a strong indication of the quality of the writing.
Manuel Mezquita's art is flat, scratchy, very dark and engaging. There is tremendous energy in his lines and the close ups of the cast are full of subtlety, they give the cast a strong physical presence. I really like the way he uses multiple panels to capture different aspects of a moment and the creative use of page layouts to capture the story. At times the panel sequence is not instantly clear and I had to navigate a bit more deliberately than usual, nothing to distract from the pleasure of reading.
Ken Reynolds' letters are quietly effective in the dialogue and wonderful in the sound effects, they are very nice matching size, font and effect to  add a strong extra element to the mix.
Talented creators and a very promising story, AntiChris is a great start.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Jojo King. To get a copy of AntiChris, which would be a good idea as then there would be more issues to read and enjoyit can be bought here:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Bat Country. Ryk Brink (Writer) & Florian Maier (Art). Webcomic

A very engaging and enjoyable webcomic that manages a very difficult story problem with flair and black wit. Ransom Pulaski  is taking the Weiner Grande Challenge when another of the customers starts to talk to him and a wonderfully absurd story starts to unfold. Back at Ransom's apartment two violent assassins are looking for Ransom and have a brutal encounter with a cleaner and a neighbour. 
Ryk Brink has chosen a very difficult storytelling process, one that deliberately fractures the story and uses absurd settings and elements to push the story in unexpected directions and keep the intent unclear. The opportunities to annoy, confuse and bore a reader are enormous with such a process and it is remarkable how Ryk Brink avoids them all and delivers a story that draws the reader along. The writing is consistently off-kilter to just the right degree to capture and intrigue the reader without leaving them feeling like they are wasting their time. The cast have a heartbeat, an eccentric one, it is still clear and they emerge as determined to grab the readers attention and hold it in their own right. The writing has a tremendous discipline, it never feels self indulgent, there is a strong purpose to the meandering and that gives the comic grip and weight. Florian Maier's art is extraordinary, it captures the off kilter tones and nuances of the story and gives them living shapes and form. The use of colour is striking and very effective, it emphasises odd details that counterpoint the odd details of the writing. The art is so distinctive, the transformation of some of the customers in Big Ed's is astounding, it could but never does overwhelm the story. This is a very impressive piece of work, it feels a bit like a jigsaw where the pieces are placed beside each other but not actually put together so you can see the picture but are aware of the individual details at the same time.  There is every reason for it to be a disjointed work, the tremendous craft that the creators bring to the project makes it work. Take the road to Bat Country, it is an intriguing and rewarding journey .

Chief Wizard Note: Many thanks to Ryk for telling me about the comic, it can be found here: