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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Chronicles Of Terror. Edited by Kim Roberts. WP Comics Ltd. (2016)

A very engaging and enjoyable anthology of horror stories. This anthology takes a big tent approach to horror stories, there is a very wide range of stories and styles and very impressively the anthology feel like a unified collection rather than stories randomly collected in the same place. This is a piece of very skillful editing, without the support of a unifying idea, other than the rather nebulous one of horror stories, there is a considerable chance that the stories will work against each other rather than together. They do not, the wide range is a pleasure rather than a distraction, the skills of the creators are showcased rather than buried.
In any anthology there is room for a considerable variation in the quality of the stories, with such a large number of stories it a real possibility. None of the stories are less than interesting and some are excellent. Short stories are a very difficult form to manage, there is just enough room for the idea, it has to be presented in action, the set up and the climax are very compressed. The contributors in this anthology have all exploited this compression very well, using varying lengths to get the story where it needs to be.
Shots between Fangs, Angelo Dias (Writer), Dann Franco (Art), Raq's Rodigues (Colours), Raphael Andrade (Letters). This story uses the compression to tremendous effect, it has a brutal momentum from the start to the ending, there is no context or explanation, just the action of the moment. The tremendous and assured confidence of the writing, the great idea is has and the sheer momentum all combine seamlessly. Dann Franco's art is angular, expressive and delivers action with real physical force and weight. The colors by Raq's Rodigues are pitch perfect, they bring out all the tones of the story without ever overloading it. The letters are quiet, they never draw undue attention, Raphael Andrade's sound effects on the other hand are a brutal joy, they are just as loud and squelchy as required.
Can We Come In? Michael Gordon (Writer), Brian Azcurra (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters) is a really smart piece of writing that plays very nicely with reader's expectations. Brian Azcurra's beautiful black and white art is a pleasure to read, the physical context is strongly developed and the cast are astonishingly expressive. The second to last panel is a minor masterpiece of calmly presented horror and terror. the letters by Nikki Sherman are subtle and feel very natural within the panels.
Insanitarium Chris Gates (Writer & Letters), Haraldo (Art) is comprehensively and successfully in the readers face right up to the conclusion. Mixing mental health and splatter risks removing any tension from the story, Chris Gates has a sharp angle that brings it all horribly together. The slightly overheated art by Haraldo is exactly what the story needs to bring out the manic element that gives the story its tremendous energy.
The Mirror, Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Vermesse (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters) is a correctly dominated by the powerful art. The story is simple and effective, the art pulls every nuance and possibility up for the reader to relish. The colours are intense and verging on the claustrophobic,and they give the story the off -kilter atmosphere it needs to deliver.
No One Checks Out, Kim Roberts (Writer), Pietro Vaughan (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters). The black and white art  is simply staggering, it engulfs the reader and gives the story the heavy physical presence that it needs. Nikki Sherman's letters are never swamped by the art, they are clear and natural.
Together Forever Alexander Altman (Writer), Borislav Maljenovic (Art), Angel Rd (Colours) , Cristian Docolomansky (Letters) is wonderfully paced, the reveals are cunningly staged and it is genuinely unnerving. The art by Borislav Maljenovic is a pleasure to read, the cast move through their context with expressive body language, the details of the house are all really strongly presented. The colours by Angel Rd give depth and weight to the situation and allow the situation emerge in its own right without every forewarning the reader. Cristian Docolomansky's letters are natural and easy to read.
This is a tremendous, generous anthology that is a pleasure to read.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy kindly sent by JoJo King. To purchase a copy, you should it is tremendous value and a treasure of excellent comics, it is available here,  Chronicles of Terror - WP Comics Ltd. | DriveThruComics.com


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. Mark Hodder. Snowbooks Ltd (2010)

A wonderfully engaging and enjoyable alternative steampunk Victorian adventure. Sir Richard Francis Burton is shocked when the proposed debate with Jon Hanning Speke regarding the source of the Nile is cancelled due to Speke suffering a gunshot injury. Burton, feeling a little stranded in his life is recruited by the Prime Minister. Lord Palmerston to be the "King's Spy", to investigate problems that need to be managed discreetly. The first case is to investigate Spring Heeled Jack, a strange figure who has assaulted a number of young women. The story unfolds with tremendous momentum, constantly surprising and intriguing details of  unexpected inventions. The reveals are cunningly staged and the plot threads are pulled very tightly.
Mark Hodder takes as very considerable risk at the key point in the story that could easily have derailed the whole project, instead it weaves cunningly back into the narrative and provides a critical perspective that ensure that the conclusion is both satisfying and packs an emotional punch
This is not the England of Queen Victoria, it is the England of King Albert, a time when industrial and social forces struggling for dominance and power, this is an alternative route for history where unexpected knowledge allows a genius to imagine and execute new technology which in turn pushes society into cleverly conceived new directions. Mark Hodder has a number of story problems to solve to deliver a successful steam punk fantasy and he manages all of them with confidence and skill. The cast have to be recognisable as versions of the historical originals, otherwise the critical tension between history and the alternative is lost and the steampunk impact is essentially lost. Mark Hodder has used enough of the essential details of the significant cast to allow them to be alternatives of themselves, free standing in the context of the story and still in touch with their  historical avatars. The widely altered and still recognisable details of Victorian England allow the steam punk elements to function to the fullest extent. The steampunk elements have to be both steam and punk, they have to be an accelerated and old fashioned solutions to problems and Mark Hodder has a masterful control and expressive imagination that delivers the most astonishingly suitable steam punk elements.
The large cast are bold, energetic and all have a chance to register with the reader. From Richard Burton himself to a retired street lamp lighter they all speak for themselves and have something to say. The relationship between the plot mechanics and the cast is managed beautifully, the way that actions and reactions ripple against each other is gripping. Mark Hodder boldly sets up story possibilities and never undermines his own terms.   This is a glorious stew of a book, it has sharp ideas that are fully realised and memorable cast, a delight and a very considerable achievement.