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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Urban Legends No. 1. JoJo King (Writer), Maxim Mel (Artist/Creator), Steve Benton (Colours). Headshrinker Press (2016)

A gripping and very engaging horror comic that updates a classic horror story format and presentation with tremendous skill and confidence. The stunning cover is a true indication of the wonderful quality of thwe work on the inside. Babies are being found roasted alive in ovens while their parents are out and baby sitters are taking care of the children. There is no visible connection between any of the incidents. When a young woman heads out to her baby sitting job she assures her mother that she will be fine. It goes every bit (and more) as wrong as expected, it goes wrong in happily unexpected ways. The story twists and turns before its utterly satisfactory conclusion.
What is striking about this story is the wonderful confidence of the creative team, they set themselves a significant creative problem and have solved it with flair and very strong attention to detail. The story structure works very well, the framing element sets the context for the story and sets up the reader for the rest of the story. The whole context for the story is firmly established and used with considerable force and effect by JoJo King in the story and after the story.
Maxin Mel's art is a joy to read, the way the panels are used to control the flow of the story is masterful. Moving into close ups and pulling out to wide angle scene they confidently guide the reader into the details and back to the dramatic reveals as is required. The cast are varied and full of personality. The time is taken to give the leads space to establish themselves as somebodies before the trouble erupts. The physical context of the house and the town are solid and and seedy, they ground the story as it takes flight and gives the physical action real impact. The detective in particular seems to have a life beyond the confines of the story, he has a weight of living and hard experience written on his bones and brings it to bear when it is needed.
Steve Benton's colours are simply stunning, they capture, articulate and amplify the nuances inherent in the art and writing so naturally that the atmosphere is nearly palpable. Darkness, internal and external, is captures with care, the action is always clear, the lighting subtle and dramatic.
Choosing an old fashioned style is always an artistic risk, styles are always part of their own context and they rarely translate well, they can be a distraction rather than an addition. In Urban Legends what the creators have done is to use the style as a springboard for their own  vision and it works because there is a genuine spirit behind it. The old fashioned style is the overall suggestion, the comic is contemporary in every way, it uses the style because that is the correct one to deliver the story they want to tell.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by JoJo King, to get a copy of Urban Legend 1, which you should because really good comics from seriously talented creators are sovereign remedy for all of life's annoyances (major or minor) you can purchase it here, http://www.storenvy.com/products/18060146-urban-legends

Monday, November 28, 2016

Modern Testament Vol 3. Anthology of the Ethereal. Insane Comics (2016)

Very engaging and enjoyable collection of stories that are substantial, thoughtful and unexpected. Frank Martin uses unusual source material and rises to the implicit challenge, taking big story risks that pay off handsomely.The dynamic cover is by Jonathan Rector.
Shoulder Djinn. Frank Martin (Writer), Lucas Urruita (Art), Ezequiel Dominguez (Colours), Kel Nuttall (Letters). A young man has plans for the day in front of him, so do the two competing djinns who are giving him advice. Two voices giving contrary advice about what to do. It appears that one is stronger than the other, one strong one weak. A internal struggle is made external and very physical, then the real issue is neatly pulled up to the fore, giving the story a different slant.
Lucas Urruita's art is a pleasure to read, the cast are vivid and expressive, the action is tremendously forceful. Indecision and doubt are hard to successfully express, it can just look bemused, Tommy moves through the various stages to his final decision with clarity. The shifting perspectives of the story are delivered with care and attention to detail. Ezequiel Dominguez's colours are crucial to the story, they guide the reader through the different perspectives with ease, they give the djinns strong physical presence and weight, which is vitally important as the action develops.
The Abandoned. Frank Martin (Writer), Francesco Conte (Art) , Macerena Cortes (Colours), Kel Nuttall (Letters). An argument between a son and his mother gains heat and volume as the absent father is included in the mix. What is really impressive about this story is the way the argument feels old, it has been had many times before, it is also fresh each time, the emotions are never less than raw. The development of the argument strongly suggests one conclusion before a wonderfully convincing one is given instead. It is sign of the strength of the writing that the weight of the story can be so convincingly turned in a tiny space without cheating the reader or unraveling the story.  Francesco Conte has a considerable task to accomplish with the art, the context is very confined and there are just two members in the cast, the action is emotional rather than physical. The tension is developed fully as the cast respond to the changing dynamics of the argument and the balance of forces shift. The impact of rage is caught with subtlety and force as is the abrupt shift as the fight alters its tone. Macerena Cortes' colours give definition and depth to the context and the cast, they capture the shifting intensity of the emotions as they spill and roar. They are slightly muted which allows the real force of the words to come out loud and clear.
Down with the Sickness. Frank Martin (Writer), Joaquin Gr,(Art) Matej Stasko (Colours), Kel Nuttall (Letters). A dying man uses his pharmaceutical company as his personal resources when he becomes terminally ill. When he meets the source of his illness his problems become more clearly defined. Embodying an idea is always a tricky proposition, how to balance the requirements of both aspects. Frank Martin makes it look easy as Pestilence jumps from the comic with vivid, baleful life and sharp personality. A nasty sense of humour and a brutally frank approx to his  work, make him fascinating. Joaquin Gr, manages the equally difficult task of making Pestilence human enough to be easily read and foreign enough to be powerful and threatening. Looking like a green almost corpse possessed of enormous energy is a brilliant way to solve the problem. the details of the context give the story a very strong physical anchor that allows the ideas to operate successfully. Matej Stasko's colours capture the two elements of the story, the mundane story of a rich man's fear of death and the resources he uses to fight it and the triumphant march of his unstoppable enemy. The colours give lift and strength to both aspect of the story.
Kel Nuttals letters are consistently subtle, easy to read and change to support the story with care and focus. The sound effects are a joy, they give the emphasis just where it is needed. The ideas never push out the stories and the stories never overwhelm the ideas, a extraordinary balance of precision and force by very talented creators who have delivered a great comic.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Frank Martin, If you want to purchase a copy of Modern Testament Vol 3., and you should as really good comics will endow you with cosmic powers of joy in living, it will be available mid-December from  insanecomics.com .



Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chronicles of Terror No.3. Kim Roberts (Editor). WP Comics (2016)

A generous, engaging and very enjoyable horror anthology that is going from strength to strength, the range and quality of the stories is very impressive. The wonderful cover by Haraldo does justice to the juicy horror that lies behind it.
The Tale of Baron Urberstein Troy Vevasis (Writer), Saul Haber (Art) is very short and to the point, Baron Urberstein meets the previous owner of his castle, it does not end well. A wonderful gothic fragment  Troy Vevasis uses compression to great effect. Saul Haber's black and white art is a pleasure, the story jumps into life and the action is close up and savage.
Nightclaw, Marta Tanrikulu (Writer), Ferran Sellars (Art), Juri H. Chinchilla (Colours), E.T. Dollman (Letters) is a sharp edged police procedural. A killer is attacking elderly women on the night when a full moon is out. A classic set up that leads to a very unexpected and smartly unexpected reveal. Marta Tanrikulu plays expertly with reader's expectations pulling something nasty out of the bag. Ferran Sellars' art uses panel sizes and locations and shifting perspectives to expertly guide the reader along the story, the muted colours by Juri H. Chinchilla are lovely and bring out the dark tones of the story. E.T. Doolman's lettering is nicely unobtrusive, the sound effects are blaring and lift the action right off the page.
Dracustein. Kim Roberts (Writer),  Marthino Abreyu (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters) is a great mashup of two classic horror icons. Being immortal is lonely, Dracula's answer is to build himself a mate. The story succeeds because the simple emotional core rings true, wanting a companion does not make a companion want you. Marthino Abreyu is a treat, the elements from Dracula and Frankenstein are nicely used as well as a whole range of classic horror film elements. The bold choice regarding the look of the companion Dracula creates captures all the themes of the story in the flesh of the character. Chris Allen's colours are striking, they give the story a great atmosphere and depth.
Attack of the Zombie Penguins. Austin Allen Hamlin (Writer), Kurt Belcher (Art), Mindy Lodkin (Letters) is brilliant, a stunning idea and flawless execution. Rampaging penguins are devouring humanity and when a lone survivor has his back against the wall he takes action. Kurt Belcher's astounding art manages to capture the dark humour and the brutal savagery needed to make this story work. The panel of the penguins coming out of the water to attack the survivor balances cute and murderous perfectly, each element amplify the other. The in your face colouring pushes the volume of the story right up to where it should be. Mindy Lodkin's sound effects just the soundtrack this splatter fest should have.
Georgie Porgie , James Johnson (Writer and Art) is a creepy, sticky classic that constantly goes in unexpected directions until it comes to its disturbing conclusion. The horribly vivid realisation of some very dark psychology is masterfully accomplished.  Horror is a big tent, you do not need blood to create deep chills and shivers.
Almost Midnight. John Osbourn (Writer), Pietro Vaughan (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters). Making a deal with the devil has a clear drawback, you get what you want, so does the Devil and when he comes to collect the price becomes horribly clear. In the final packed minutes before midnight and the time for payment a woman tries to evade the inevitable. John Osburn slices the time very carefully stretching the minutes and at the same time letting them rush by. Pietro Vaughan glorious black and white art is so heavy and physical that the situation develops the dreadful weight it should have. The art traps the reader along with the cast and the final demand is stunning.Nikki Sherman's lettering is quiet and natural, it fits in with story and subtly provides emphasis at key points.
Demons. JoJo King (Writer), M.C. Carper (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters), a fever dream of a story, a desperate last minute justification for horrifying actions by a demented killer. JoJo King gives us the sweaty justifications of a killer about to take another victim even as he is aware that his time to act has run out. M.C. Carpers art and colours amplify the intense focus of the writing, amplifying the themes of the story with force and considerable subtlety as the internal and external struggles collide.Nikki Sherman's sound effects are loud and vivid, they sharpen the edge of the action very nicely.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts, to purchase a copy of Chronicles of Terror No.3, you should to sink your teeth into a hugely enjoyable selection of superb comics, you can get it here,   http://www.wpcomicsltd.com/comics

Monday, November 21, 2016

Wolf Country No. 6: Dust to Scripture. Jim Alexander (Writer), Will Pickering (Art), Jim Campbell (Letters), Liz Howarth (Editor). Planet Jimbot (2016)

A dense and deeply engaging issue that slows the action slightly to allow some room to look at the idea that is at the heart of the conflict and the series. At the settlement the vampires watch and wait as the victims of the last assault finally turn to dust and blow away into the depths of Wolf Country. In the city Halfpenny  consoles himself with scripture and rage against the ambiguity of the city. In the settlement, the soldiers leave to track down Luke, the vampire who now lives with wolves and Halfpenny finds  a conflict that suits him.
Jim Alexander has taken a severely thorny and contentious topic and handled it within the story context with assured confidence and deft writing skill. Matters of faith are explosive because they lie absolutely beyond argument, they is only acceptance or rejection. At the settlement the faith of the soldiers is a direct challenge to the faith of the settlers. They can  manage an uneasy truce because their ultimate aims are the same, the differences between them create room for savage actions. Mrs Halfpenny sacrifices to get the soldiers out of the settlement, they are a greater threat than the wolves. The wolves are clear external enemy, the soldiers are a subtle, unsettling internal enemy that can undermine the solidarity that the settlement requires to survive.
The same problem is facing Halfpenny in the city as he refreshes his faith in the true way in the face of the multiple ambiguities of the city. The stark conflict of the settlement sits well with his rigid faith, in the city there are unexpected challenges. Jim Alexander has written an issue that is dense with ideas which arise directly from the cast in the circumstances in which they find themselves. The action has slowed down, the story has not.
Will Pickering has a considerable task to deliver a mostly talking issue and make it engaging to read, he makes it look so easy that it is nearly possible to miss just how substantial an achievement this is. The cast are all well established so the depth of expression that they bring to their conversations has as much weight as the bursts of action that break out in the story. There is a 'debriefing' session that is just Halfpenny and a security officer, the flow of the conversation rests as much on their eloquent expressions and body language as it does on their words. When the tension is unsprung it is utterly satisfactory, the rage has been clearly building and finally has a target.
Jim Campbell's letters change as required without ever drawing attention, they are so easy to read that they blend into the context of the panels.
Wolf Country is continuing to develop in fascinating ways as detail and depth are added to the context and the cast are given more and more room to be themselves.
Chief Wizard Note:This is a review copy kindly sent by Jim Alexander, to purchase a copy of Wolf Country 6, which you should do for the life affirming pleasure that comes from reading great comics, you can get it here https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/490317579/wolf-country6

Saturday, November 12, 2016

SEMIAUTOMAGIC Collection. Alex De Campi (Writer, Letters), Jerry Ordway (Art), Marissa Louise (Colours), Lara Margarida (Art). Dark Horse Books/Illicit Press (2016)

A very entertaining and engaging supernatural horror collection.  Semiautomagic (Dark Horse), Professor Alice Creed is frequently called away from her classes to solve serious supernatural problems, in this case it involves someone she knows. A young man's spirit has been stolen by a computer game and Alice Creed realises that the problem is a widespread one. She locates the point of origin and heads for it, surviving the worst plane journey ever to find that the trouble is much greater than she had anticipated. Alice Creed makes a dreadful decision and has to manage the consequences. The set up is established with skill and economy and the downward spiral of the story is consistently inventive and unexpected, the conclusion is smart and satisfactorily sour.
Alex De Campi manages to deftly avoid two serious problems inherent in horror and superhero (Alice Creed is sufficiently powerful to qualify as a non costumed superhero) , how to get the problem started and how to test the hero sufficiently to be interesting. Frequently in a horror story someone has to act very stupidly to create the initial situation, they then start to act much more rationally after the trouble has started which undermines tension and credibility from the start. Alex De Campi simply steps over and start and presents the reader with a context where the trouble is already well established. Now everyone can get on with dealing with the problems, which they do. Alice Creed is a powerful, competent and deeply experienced supernatural warrior, creating a credible threat is difficult, Alex De Campi neatly uses a sequence where a solution to one problem is the source of an increasingly bigger one. By painting Alice Creed into a corner of her own making, Alex De Campi develops tension and sufficient uncertainty about the possible outcomes to propel the story very strongly. Alice Creed is narrating the story directly to the reader, there is another repeated narrative element which does not sit comfortably with this style. It is not by any means a problem, it is just a slightly jarring note in the flow of the story.
Jerry Ordway's art is simply luscious, it is such a detailed pleasure to read, it captures all the mad contradictions of the story and makes them completely normal and utterly insane. The relationship of the cast to their context is always credible, they move through a recognisable and distorted world with physical grace and presence, their actions have depth and heft. Alice Creed looks like a normal female human, dressed in entirely sensible cloths for fighting monsters, she is treated seriously which allows the fantastic to be serious as well. The cast, human and otherwise are expressive, their body language is as clear as their speech. From straight conversation to extreme, supernatural violent action the art is utterly engaging and the beautiful details are a treat to read. 
Marissa Louise's colours are stunning, they amplify, refine and concentrate the emotional sub text of the story and the art with breathtaking precision.
Alex De Campi's lettering is quiet, changing when needed by the cast or context, always unobtrusive and easy to read.
Semiautomagic: Childhood's End (Illicit Press) , is a series of collection of three stories each which follow slightly different paths.
Childhood's End, Alex De Campi (Writer, Letters), Jerry Ordway (Art), Marissa Louise (Colours), takes some of the most famous ideas in comics history and uses them in a darkly imaginative way. Alice Creed follows a trail of missing pets to an old house and finds something very nasty. The story is written in a Dr Seuss style rhyme which works because of the strength and unerring confidence of the writing. Jerry Ordway's art captures the required Dr Seuss echos and distorts them as required so that the various layers of the story are woven tightly together. All of which just goes to show that there are no rules for talent, the mash up sounds uncomfortable instead it is suitably unettling. Marissa Louise's colours highlight the various elements of the story and creates an unifying space for them all, making it look easy to be cute and creepy at the same time.
A Town Called Malice, Alex De Campi (Writer, Letters), Lara Margarida (Art), Marissa Louise (Colours) features a friend of Alice, Harriet, who opened the wrong door. When romance fades and life diminishes a woman takes a step to mark the moment and makes a wish at the same time. Happy consequences soon reveal their darker side and Harriet tries to help the woman where she cannot help herself. The story is the fullest exploration of one of the major ideas in the collection, magic has consequences, and it thoughtful and very engaging. Lara Margarida is a strong contrast to Jerry Ordway and the art stands on its own terms with confidence and force. The quieter story benefits from the slightly lower key of the art, the action is less dramatic without ever being less intense.  Marissa Louise's colours alter to match, capture and express the different requirements of the art while remaining as stunning as ever.
The Hollow Man Alex De Campi (Writer, Letters), Jerry Ordway (Art), Marissa Louise (Colours), Rob Jones (Layout assistance)  returns to Alice Creed this time as a debt collector, someone who comes to present the bill for the easy decisions that were made years before. Jerry Ordway, Rob Jones, Marissa Louise all combine seamlessly to deliver an nasty story.
The Semiautomagic Collection is a super set of richly realised horror with a great cast, a pleasure to read and relish the talents that are so confidently displayed.
Chief Wizard Note:  Semiautomagic, is available via Dark Horse Books and in comic stores, while
Semiautomagic: Childhood's End is not available as a printed book, the whole collection (recommended) is avalible on Comixology:  https://www.comixology.com/Semiautomagic-The-Bomb-that-Will-Bring-Us-Together-Childhoods-End-Collectors-Edition/digital-comic/425089 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Crocodile. Maurizio De Giovanni (Writer), Anthony Shugaar (Translator) Abacus (2014)

An intense tense and gripping crime story that builds to a bitter conclusion. Someone is murdering teenagers in Naples, the victims appear to be wildly unrelated and the killer quickly gets the nickname of the Crocodile. Disgraced Detective Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono has a suspicion about the case which is utterly at odds with the accepted explanation and he is drawn into the investigation over the strong objections of his superior officers. The story unravels steadily, the reveals are staged with great skill and the investigation slowly finds the real reasons for the killing.
The narrative is artfully split among various members of the cast and each is given the space and time to develop into someone real and substantial before they become embroiled into the tentacles of the plot. Giuseppe Lojacono, trapped by a scandal he did not create is an exile in Naples, brutally separated from his home in Sicily and his family. He is rotting away in an office, too toxic to be utilised , too innocent to be fired, the case pulls him in as his skills start to assert themselves. The killer is also an exile, come to Naples to bring death to those he hunts. From the astonishing opening chapter which reads like melodrama, he is slowly revealed to be what he really is, the truly terrifying Crocodile, a man with a mission. A third exile from Sardinia, Piras, the Assistant Public Prosecutor who is managing the investigation is another person with a shattered personal history. It is the understanding of grief that give Lojacono and Prias the edge to understand the line that the killer is following.
The Crocodile opens as a conventional crime story with a disgraced police officer and a relentless killer then it slowly moves to be something considerably darker and more intense. The narrative control that Maurizio De Giovanni has as the various threads slowly come together then the rush of time is cunningly splintered so that the final conclusion is arrived at with aching dread and ferocious tension.
Anthony Shugaar's translation is invisible, the story reads as entirely Italian written in English.
Like the title character, this story appears to be quiet and seeking to be unnoticed, as it reveals itself it establish a grip on the reader every bit as fierce and powerful as that of a crocodile as the power of grief and the horror that can spring from it becomes clear. A brilliant crime story, not to be missed.

Slash and Burn. Colin Cotterill. Soho Crime (2011)

A wonderfully engaging and enjoyable crime story set in Laos in the late 1970's. Dr. Siri is the national coroner in Laos, a position he never wanted and hopes to finally retire from when he becomes involved in a search for a American helicopter pilot who was MIA in the Vietnam war. Evidence had surface that he was alive and a delegation from the US government was arriving to investigate.  Dr Siri and his friends are included on the Lao team that travels with the Americans as they go to the reported crash site. When they arrive events spiral out of control as the hidden agendas start to emerge and the danger to everyone starts to become much clearer. The reveals are staged with great skill and sharp wit, as the body count rises the true scope of the problem is revealed. The secret at the heart of the story is substantial and brilliantly credible and unexpected, the conclusion is very satisfying.
Colin Cotterill hides the superb plot mechanics behind the wholly engaging cast and the astonishing context. Dr Siri is a misfit in the communist republic if post war Laos, a chronic disbeliever in any ideology he is constantly leaning against the boundaries of possible behavior to see what what margin of freedom he can find. He is an astute investigator as he is willing to see what is in front of him and think about why it happened. The rest of the cast are given the room to come forward and engage the reader as they cope with the circumstances that embroil them.
A major character in its own right is Laos itself in its ramshackle absurdity as the mix of communist political leadership tries to deal with the stubborn history of the country. Living in this context is to be an actor in a very absurd black comedy where proclamations are intended to change reality by denying it. Everyone is caught is the gaps between the actual state of living and the propaganda that floats above it like a dust cloud .
Colon Cotterall takes a very lighthearted approach to this context, mining the absurdity for generous humour and sharp barbs about the problems it creates. What makes it work is that he also takes it very seriously as the impact on his cast is the structure of their daily lives. They have to manage and they choose to relish where possible the absurdity and keep the dangers to a minimum. This gives the book a great weight that allows the plot to be gripping and sharp.
This is a great crime story with a  substantial story that is carefully constructed and a cast that inhabit their extraordinary context with vitality and force.