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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. 

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

Ultra Minion. Lukasz Kowalczuk (Writer), Macie Czapiewski (Art) . WP Comics (2016)

A stunning and very enjoyable science fiction comic that matches clever , subtle writing with jaw dropping art. A mistake in an experiment turns a minion into Ultra Minion and he leads the rebellion against the overlord. The straightforward story line is delivered with tremendous attention to detail, humour and closely fought action. This is a silent comic, there is no narration nor do any of the cast speak, the weight of the story is carried by the art.
Macie Czapiewski majestic gray-scale art is a delight to read and to spend time on relishing the numerous captivating details. The cast are very diverse, from the opposing leaders through to the foot soldiers, there is a commonality among the groups, yet each cast member is an individual. This is crucial to the story where there is no other way to manage the cast than through expression and body language. The cast move with tremendous grace, the are fluid and muscular, they run, walk, fight and stand in their context with physical presence and force. The panel layouts control the pace of the story with assured confidence, insert panels pick out relevant details and are used for cleverly staged reveals.
The expressions on the cast are truly expressive, they catch and amplify the body language and provides all the information that the reader needs about the situation. The overlord who has a mask over its face is still conveys intent and emotion as loudly as if shouting, the Ultra Minion a bundle of energy and it is clear why he can rally his followers. The climatic confrontation between the two is a highlight of staging and pacing.
With such, rightfully dominant, art it would be easy to overlook the strength in depth of the writing. Lukasz Kowalczuk has made a fiercely difficult choice, without any words to guide the reader the story has to deliver all the information without being so simple that it fails to grip. The story line is a classic one, the way that it is structured is clever and subtle. The conflict is developed in unexpected and interesting ways. Critically the story never breaks it own internal rules, the actions are logical within the circumstances. The actions of the conflict develop with precision, the actions arise from the cast who in turn are influenced by the previous actions.
Ultra Minion is a wonderful comic, it exploits the possibilities of the medium with great confidence and skill. The unlimited budget of comic art is used to provide the detailed context for the conflict, the action is choreographed with precision and the unexpected keeps breaking out.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To buy a copy of Ultra Minion, you should give yourself the unalloyed pleasure of reading a great comic, it is available from

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Scavenger 01. Kim Roberts (Writer), Megan Huang (Art). Markosia Comics (2016)

Very engaging science fiction that sets up strong story possibilities with style and economy. The planet Arin has been devastated, those in power have fled to a floating city, those left behind are scavengers on the remains of the industrial past. Aidan is a scavenger who is not all he seems, Caleb is a prince in the floating city who is also not all he seems. Aiden finds something, someone else finds out about the discovery and the story gears are fully engaged. This is a lovely mash up, a fairy tale written as sciemnce fiction where the essential elements of both are beautifully put together to make a very enjoyable mix.
Any first issue as a significant and difficult task to accomplish, establish the story, the context, the cast and to get enough action to entice the reader to want to know more. Scavenger 01 accomplishes all of this with confident skill. The story and the context are set up with great economy, the key background items are provided with sufficient detail to make sense and quickly enough so that the story can get going.
After the context and background the story itself is set up really impressively. There is a tremendous amount of information being delivered, the pace is never forced or slowed down. The story just unfolds in an very natural way just as it should to bring the reader to the vital stage at the end of the comic. The cast are slightly secondary to the information and the needs of the set up, they are still given a chance to be themselves. Caleb gets more room than Aidan, anger is going to stand out more clearly than calmness at first, Aidan is given sorrow which can be more powerful ultimately than anger. The final panel is proof that cliches become cliches because they work.
Megan Huang's page layouts are great, a strong variety of sizes and shapes controls the flow of the story and concentrates reader attention where she wants it to go. The art is angular and sharp, the cast are distinctive and move with great force and physical impact. In a close up the facial expressions are meaningful and express the character strongly.
I am knocked out by the clouring. In any science fiction comic colour is a critical element, in Scavenger the colours create an alien context that supports the action beautifully. Some of the panels have sharp background details, sometimes Megan Huang uses a solid block of colour only. This is a really confident choice, the colour has to capture and frame the action perfectly or else it will read in an off key way. These panels just work fantastically, they are really expressive and give a really strong signature to the comic and boost the story.
The lettering is subtle and clean, the sound effects loud and strong.This is a great start to a interesting story that has great possibilities.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy kindly sent by Kim Roberts. You can purchase a copy, (which you should as excellent science fiction comics are know for their vast healing powers,) here

Friday, September 2, 2016

Mr Crypt No. 1. Troy Vevasis (Writer), Aleksander Jovic (Art). Alterna Comics (2016)

Very engaging and charming comic that uses animation structures to great effect. On a night in 1932 a skeleton emerges from a grave and sets off to the nearby town where the locals assume he is an evil skeleton and chase him (with torches and pitchforks of course). The skeleton escapes capture, finds somewhere to hide, befriends a rat and sets about organising his life.
When the central idea is this simple the burden fall almost completely on the execution and the comic rises to the challenge with such ease and confident skill that it is a pleasure to read.
Troy Vevasis takes a very smart approach to the structure of the comic, it is a series of short episodes, each complete in themselves and with a running gag that provides a connection. The structure is similar to that used by short serial animated shows and it works really well here. The running gag is actually about running and it keeps the necessary tension into the story, it allows the natural easy humour of the writing come through as a counterpoint. Mr Crypts kind nature, he befriends a starving rat  is contrasted with the fear and rage of the mob that chases him. At the same time Mr Crypt is a walking skeleton so the reaction of the villagers is entirely understandable. The heart of the story is misunderstanding rather than hate and this creates story possibilities that Troy Vevasis takes full advantage of.
Troy Vevasis has taken a considerable risk with Mr Crypt, an uncomplicated story line leaves the writer no room to recover from a false note, everything has to work, each episode has to deliver something. It needs very considerable talent and confidence to make this work as well as they do in this comic.
Aleksander Jovic's art has the utterly essential friendliness needed to deliver the story, the idea is essentially horrific and it need to retain a slight edge while not being threatening. It has to make the absurdity of the situation normal, just not too normal. The slightly cartoony art manages all of this with ease, the villagers look angry but not baleful, the skeleton is a friendly as a skeleton can possibly be. The very ridiculous disguise that Mr Crypt uses is just a joy, it nails the story idea  and establishes the story universe with playful accuracy. The bright colours capture and emphasise the story ideas, the shadows are friendly not frightening. They are really strong as the story has the room for them, they are not subtle except in the way that the overall effect is, they chime so well with the story intent that they also hide their craft in plain sight. The lettering is quiet and natural, the sound effects are smart and capture the moments with the right weight and volume.
The "All Ages" label can be a death notice for any project, it runs the risk of being too obvious for adults, too condescending for teenagers and too thin for young children. Mr Crypt is a comic that can be read with pleasure by anyone because it is not "All Ages" it is simply true to the creators vision and delivers charm, craft, friendship, danger and complete absurdity with confidence.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Troy Vevasis, you can purchase Mr Crypt 1 (and you should the quiet charm will reduce stress and increase happiness) from  Mr. Crypt #1 - Comics by comiXology