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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Red Christmas. Kim Roberts (Writer & Colours), Frederico Guillen (Art), Chris Allen (Letters & Colours). Swampline Comics (December 2017)

A bloody and satisfying Christmas story that uses a classic horror story idea with care and strong impact. When a department store Santa is fired and has a car crash his troubles increase greatly when he encounters a group of students on a booze run for their party. Events turn bloody.
Red Christmas does not rely on novelty, it has abundance of smart storytelling instead, the idea is not new the execution shows why it is still so strong. If you are going to do something very dangerous then it pays to make sure that you have done it properly.
Frederico Guillen's art is a pleasure to read, it creates a strong context for the action with the set up from both elements of the story. The action when it comes is never overwhelming which adds to the force, the calm context is never disturbed it is all concentrated on the cast in word and deed. There is nothing generic about the cast, they are all individual and very expressive, the body language is powerful and conveys the character of the cast as much as their words.
Chris Allen's colours are are muted and give weight and detail to the art, the calm intensity of the action is captured perfectly by the colouring, dreadful action can be low key as much as shouted.
Red Christmas does what it sets out really, really well. Classic horror thrills and delights delivered by  talented creators is the perfect way to launch Christmas with a pleasurable shiver.

The Man in The Queue. Josephine Tey. Arrow Books (2011, first published 1929)

A very enjoyable and engaging murder mystery. A man is found dead in he queue for a hugely popular musical show in London. The queue was tightly packed and the murder was not discovered until the press of the queue eased enough. Detective Inspector Allen has a considerable problem in his investigation, there are a multitude of potential witnesses and suspects in the queue, however the dead man has no identifying information on his person other than a revolver in his pocket and the unusual knife used to kill him. A suspect is identified and painstaking tracked down and the happily unexpected and wholly satisfactory conclusion reached.
The plot mechanics are superb, the murder is utterly public and credibly invisible, the size and nature of the queue manages to hide the victim and the murder effectively and create a engaging problem for the investigation from the outset. The difficulty in identifying the victim is also a handicap, the dogged and thoughtful investigation slowly pulls together the information. One difficulty is seamlessly replaced with another as the investigation progresses, none are overdone they flow naturally from one to the next and arise from the actions of the vividly realised cast.
Detective Inspector Allen is calm, professional, competent and thankfully works well with an equally competent superior. They tackle the problems of the investigation with energy and professional experience. The leads that are followed are plausible and the process of eliminating them is thoughtful and considered. The rest of the cast are given the opportunity to make an impression on the reader and thankfully the cast from the location in Scotland are allowed to be themselves rather than Highland caricatures.
There are two cameo roles that are star turns in their own right, both are females who happen to also be related to each other. Both have a support role for the suspect which should have boxed them into a particular space, they both effortless transcend the positions and emerge as powerful and striking characters in their own right. It is intriguing that both of these women fill very traditional female roles in the plot and the story, both are given a depth of character and a strength of mind that means they are also distinct persons in their own right. Detective Inspector Allen is interesting, the two women are intriguing.
Josephine Tey has sidestepped a lot of the social attitudes that can interfere with reading popular stories from that time period, there is one glaring exception to this, it is understandable in the context of the time it still is very jarring to a current reader. None of the cast are treated with the outright or amused contempt that could infuse the writing at the time and this adds greatly to the pleasure of the story, it reads a enjoyable historical fiction rather than a historical artifact.
This a a smart sharply told crime story.

Evil Witch Allie and the Black Whole. Kristin Tipping (Writer & Art). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 2017)

A hugely engaging and enjoyable comic that slowly and very effectively darkens and draws the reader into an perfectly judged story. Jake is a young man who lives near a bog and has a crush on his neighbor. The bog is full of ghosts and when Jake finds a little girl, who claims to be a witch wandering into the bog he rescues her. Jake and Allie are invited into house where Cal, (Jake's crush) lives and they both find that the house may be much more treacherous than the bog. The story unfurls carefully, the reveals are cleverly staged and the conclusion is dark and bitter.
The colouring is wonderfully dominant and extraordinarily versatile and expressive. The colouring is used as part of the lettering and sometimes used for the art without any line work. The colouring is used in a traditional way to emphasise and capture the details of the line work and create emotional key for the action. The generous use of the colours is very disciplined, it is always very carefully used in service of the story and the cast, it never overwhelms the comic. It loudly draws attention to itself and in doing so draws the reader deeper into the story and the slowing rising unease that becomes sharper  as the story unfolds.
The cast are engaging, Jake is uncertain and deeply doubtful of himself, he is also quick to help others who are in trouble and brave when it really matters and is very difficult to be so. Allie is a cute witch who reveals herself to be considerably more serious than anticipated.
The clever and utterly confident storytelling from Kristin Tipping is superbly paced, it plays with reader expectations and delivers in unexpected and utterly satisfying ways. The reveals lead the reader steadily down to a bleak secret and a great conclusion.
Kristin Tipping has exploited the possibilities of comics in a strongly creative and engaging way, her use of panels to control the flow and pace of the story are a joy to read. The cast are expressive and credible within the story framework. Kristin Tipping has a powerful creative vision and the skill and talent to deliver it. This comic is an undiluted pleasure.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Dracustein. Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Pacher (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Swampline Comics (November 2017)

A great fun mash up that packs a considerable ammount of story into the first issue. Dracustein is lonely and has a plan to build himself a life partner. Withe the assistance of the Wolf Man, the Mummy and a winged demon he has assembled most of the body parts he wants, the final mission is to find the head. A trip to the local village and the victim is found and the mission accomplished. Things rapidly go down hill from there, starting from the expected point of the reanimated female being horrified and repulsed and fleeing to the nicely unexpected events that follow. There are a number of interested and not so interested parties in the village and they make the situation for Dracustein much more complicated.
Kim Roberts has managed to lovingly parody some classic film monsters and and create new story at the same time that allows her cast become independent characters in their own right. The light touch and wonderful confidence this is accomplished with is clear at every stage. The cast are introduced quickly and effectively and the initial set up is completed nicely. It is what follows that give the story and cast the lift they need to be more than a straightforward parody, the reveals are smartly staged and the plot lines are neatly twisted. The monsters are given a comic element that works well, the intended partner for Dracustein is given a human heartbeat, horrified and scared at her transformation. This gives the story a darker edge and it sharpens the whole episode.
Denis Pacher's friendly art is a pleasure to read, the cast are given a life and energy, they are clearly monsters and equally comic monsters. Dracustein is expressive as he needs to be, this is a heartfelt project for him and when it goes wrong he is clearly devastated. The rest of the cast are given the delicate balance between their origins and the needs of the story. The horror elements are never toned down, they are presented with just the right degree of exaggeration to make them work.
Chris Allen's colours bring out the details of the art with great force and subtly, Dracustein's suit is two colours side to side not top and bottom, a classic split. The colours are bright and expressive capturing the emotional tones of the story, the leters are quiet and natural to read, the sound effects give a boost to the action when required.
This is a very enjoyable issue that gets the story off to a flying start and leaves the reader happily anticipating more.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Thin Man. Dashiel Hammett. First Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (1992) (First published 1934)

A deeply engaging and enjoyable crime story. Nick Charles , a former private investigator now married to Nora and engaged in managing their business affairs, is reluctantly pulled into a murder investigation. The victim, Julia Wolf, was the secretary to an inventor, Charles Wynant who had been a client of Nick Charles some years before. Reluctantly drawn into the investigation by Wynant's ex-wife and children and Wynant' s lawyer, Nick Charles fins that he has to pursue the investigation in spite of his objections. The reveals are masterfully staged and the investigation circles around the cast and steadily the dark secrets are revealed leading to a wholly satisfying conclusion.
The plot is a light as a feather, Nick Charles, in New York for Christmas and New Year 1932, finds that he is being pulled into an investigation which is seriously interfering with his plans to drink and socalise. Surrounded by people who assume that he is involved and then act on that assumption. Nick finally has to engage fully to solve the problem. Nick is not a lone wolf, he is a competent professional who works with the police who are happy to take his cooperation. Nick is calm and considered, dealing with trouble with a razor sharp wise cracks and a unflappable calm in the face of temptation, murder and being shot in his own bed. Nick is not a superman, he is just really annoyed at being involved and willing to follow here the trail leads when he finds he has to. He has the experience to not be surprised by what people do  or say and the composure to manage the the action as it unfurls.
The Jorgenson family, Charles Wynant, ex-wife Mimi married to Christian Jorgenson, with her daughter Dorothy and son Gilbert are the dark heart that the story revolves around. Mimi wants to find Charles Wynant to get more money from him, Dorothy want to find her father  because she is unhappy, Gilbert is rather odd and  inquisitive about unexpected topics. They all respond to Nick Charles and his wife Nora in unexpected and sharply revealing ways. Nick's calm managing of their attempts to include him in their drama make them ever more concerned to include him.
The context, New York in the last days of Prohibition is  carefully drawn, the action moves from sumptuous hotel suites and expensive apartments to speakeasies filled with reformed and not so reformed gangsters and criminals. In each location the supporting cast are given the time and space to economically and effectively make their presence felt. The walk on parts are all given sufficient weight to make an impact and add greatly to the pleasure of the story.
Dashiel Hammett has written an extraordinary story, Nick and Nora Charles are a married couple who like each other and clearly are deeply in love and comfortable with each other, they give the story a powerful romantic edge. Dashiel Hammett  is unfailingly clear eyed about the domestic drama of the Jorgenson,does treat them with anger or contempt, they are allowed to be themselves with overt judgement. The neatly constructed murder story is unfolded with quiet flair and no shortcuts. All of these elements co exist very easily with each other, all of them are vital to the success of the story. Powerful writing that hides behind a lighthearted tone means this wonderful book is a deep pleasure to read.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Red Christmas-Kickstarter. Kim Roberts (Writer & Colours), Frederico Guillen (Art), Chris Allen (Letters & Colours)

Swampline comics have established an enviable reputation for having smart ideas backed by sharp execution. Emerging from under their Tomb of Horror ( a great and wonderfully inclusive horror anthology) banner is a one shot, Red Christmas.
True to form there is a cracking idea, a group of friends knock down Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, deciding to try and hide the evidence proves to be a very serious miscalculation.
The sample pages up on Kickstarter showcases everything very nicely, a brisk and effective set up is established, the art is friendly and engaging with a clear indication that things are going to take an unpleasant turn very quickly. The cast are individual and expressive, already they are more than just bags of blood waiting to be burst open their actions will be consequential for them and the reader.
The colours are quiet and natural, they give depth and solidity to the context, they have a nicely wintery rather than a Chrismassy feel, dark nights will get darker.
I am backing this Kickstarter because I really want to see how the talented creators manage the story possibilities that they have set up.
 I think you should go to the link below and support the project because there are never enough good comics  and encouraging talented people to make them is a great way to get more.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1870476470/red-christmas

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sherlock Holmes. The Spirit Box. George Mann. Titan Books (2014)

A very enjoyable and engaging Sherlock Holmes story. In the summer of 1915 while German Zeppelins carried out bombing raids on London John Watson is mourning the death of his nephew in France. Sherlock Holmes has been summoned to London by his brother, Mycroft, to investigate a trio of suicides and Watson is is reunited with the detective as and they undertake the investigation. One of the suicicides becomes a focus and the investigation leads to a man who is trying to photograph the souls of the living. The investigation is nicely set up and unfurls in a very satisfactory way. Holmes is as smart and observant as ever and Watson is a great companion. The reveals are cleverly staged and the conclusion is sharp and satisfactory.
The cast are as they should be, both Sherlock Holmes and Watson are suffering the dislocations of age and being in a city at war. The investigation reminds them of times gone and is very nicely placed in the war time context. The essential dynamic between the two is revealed and restored through action exactly as it should be. Holmes is pulled away from his bee keeping and Watson is pulled out of his depression at the death of his nephew and they are reminded on the depth of the bond between them.
George Mann does with a nicely set up plot that  creates sufficient room for Holmes to be smart and dangerous and Watson to be competent and capable. The mechanics are cleverly set up with the mystery of the spirit box slowly coming in to view in a very satisfying way. The set pieces are very well set up and give the supporting cast lots of opportunity to engage the reader in their own right. The cast are one of the great pleasures of the book, as well as a sufficiently capable and enterprising villain who presents a genuine problem for Holmes to tackle, the rest of the cast are far more than window dressing.
Sherlock Holmes does not dominate the book, he is a moving force and his willingness to take action is vital, there is a nice wider story about loss that quietly goes on and it provides a great contrast to the investigation.
Smart stirytelling and a generous view of Holmes and Watson make this a very enjoyable addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories. A pleasure.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Voodoo Curse 1. Kim Roberts (Writer), Rienaldo Lay (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Swampline Comics (October 2017)

A very enjoyable and engaging horror crime comic that solves the problem of a first issue with confident skill. After a robbery gets messy,Jake Jones is murdered by his companion. This is a problem for his wife, Jake has gambling debts and his employer, who wants what was stolen. So a solution is found, bring Jake back to life via voodoo.
Kim Roberts manages to get the story to the most important point with confident skill, great pacing and lashings of gore. The cast are all suitably angry and nasty, they are all willing to do what they have to to secure their aims. There is a nice layer of betrayal stitched into the fabric of the story from the start that means that the unfolding story has great possibilities.
Rienaldo Lay's art is a joy, the cast are all strongly realised with eloquent body language and they move naturally through their context. The action is loud and splattery, the art catches the dark nuances of the story perfectly and brings them out very nicely. There is no hesitation in the art, it is a flat out as the story requires, the thread of brutal desperation that runs though the story is never overstated.
Chris Allen's colours are great, they give the art depth and reach, allowing for the horror action to strongly pop. The colours are used as special effects and they carry the work with ease, they give the action a increased force that is needed to polish the edge of the story.
This is a first issue that firmly sets up the cast and story and creates a very happy anticipation for the reader of where it will travel to. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

No Mark Upon Her. Deborah Crombie. Pan Books (2012)

A very engaging and enjoyable crime story. Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Meredith is murdered while rowing early in the morning. Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is assigned to the case and soon comes under pressure to close in on DCI Meridith's ex-husband who was in need of money and benefited greatly from her death. As the investigation continues information about DCI Meridith comes to light which pushes the investigation into a different and very hazardous direction.The reveals are cunning staged and the conclusion is wholly satisfying and sharp.
There are two story threads in the book, both delivered with impressive, confident skill, the investigation itself and the lives of the cast  that run alongside the investigation. The investigation is set up and managed with competent thoughtfulness by the police team lead by DS Kincaid. They are careful and thorough and when critical and potentially explosive information comes to light handle it with care and attention to detail. The cast members who play a part in the investigation only are given a chance to make an impression on the reader swiftly and they do so. They are never reduced to being just plot devices, they have weight and depth.
The leading cast are given much greater room for lives that run alongside the investigation. The murder and the investigation intrude on their lives , there is a very strongly developed sense that they have had lives prior to the murder and they will continue to do so after the investigation is closed. Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James are deeply involved in the investigation, their domestic life also gets a lot of attention. It is a complicated life, both are active police officers who greatly value their careers and also greatly value their children. Gemma is on leave to look after their newly adopted daughter and Duncan is due to take leave to do the same and allow Gemma return to work.  The adoption has created problems within their family which already has some credible difficulties.
The difficulty of balancing a commitment to work and family as well as the dynamics of marriage are all quietly played out in a natural and engrossing way. The pressure of the investigation serve to make the pressures of family clearer and more potentially divisive. The situation never feels set up or forced , it is a natural outcome from the circumstances and the way it is resolved is also natural and unforced.
Pessimism is a natural tone for a great deal of crime writing, Deborah Crombie sidesteps it without ever loosing sight of the appalling nature of the events in the story. There is a welcome optimism bubbling under in the story as the cast reorient their lives to take account of the circumstances and determine that the living should continue to live while mourning the dead. One does not preclude the other. A great story and a deep pleasure to read.

Not Drunk Enough Volume 1. Tessa Stone (Writer, Art, Colours and Letters). Oni Press (2017)

A wonderfully engaging and enjoyable horror story delivered with a light touch. Logan Ibarra and Abraham Lorhel are repair staff called out to a laboratory where they quickly discover that something very bad has happened. After Logan is knocked out and when he revives finds that he is with the few survivors from the recent events including Clement Varker, the CEO of the company who has undergone a serious transformation. As the group try to navigate a way out of the building and encounter a selection of monsters along the way, the background to the events is slowly revealed.
Tessa Stone takes a classic horror set up, a group of strangers trapped in a building struggling with each other and trying to survive and escape and has give it a thorough overhaul.The group are not strangers to each other, except for Logan, they do have a a nice dose of conflicts among themselves. The context is superb, a building full of horrifyingly transformed people who have retained their characters while having their physical being twisted in astonishing ways.This means that the monsters are not stupid nor careless, they are still are fully aware of their circumstances are are actively trying to control the, Exactly the same as the group of survivors which makes the struggle considerably more interesting as they are fighting with their minds as much as with nail boards, the nail boards do come in very handy at times.
The cast are full of energy, determined to survive or succeed, they demand the reader's attention as they try to impose some control on their circumstances. No is simply fodder, every is going to go down fighting to the end. As much as those who have been transformed are find themselves so the survivors are discovering themselves under the pressure of the fight. The cast a nicely developing and growing across the story as they respond to the circumstances. The cast is nicely and naturally  diverse.
The art is stunning, it is wonderfully confident from the great array of different transformations to the tremendous expressiveness of all the cast human and monster. Each of the cast are very individual. The action scenes are violent and gory, suspense is carefully generated across pages as the cast respond to looming threats.  In particular the management and control of the panels is outstanding, they are confidently used to expand and contract the focus of the story exactly as they should to serve the content.
The colouring is at the same standard, it brings out and emphasizes the story nuances and beats with considerable subtlety while being loud and vivid at the same time. The lettering is easy to read and never calls attention to itself, the sound effects on the other hand are gloriously loud and intrusive, they add greatly to  pleasure the story.
Tessa Stone has created a superb comic that exploits the possibilities of the medium to really capture and engage the reader.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Water's Edge. Karin Fossum (Writer), Charlotte Barslund (Translation). Vintage (2010)

A deeply engaging and pessimistic crime story where the ripples for a terrible crime spread destruction through numerous lives. In Norway, a couple out for a walk in a local wood discover the body of a young boy, clearly he has been murdered. The police launch an investigation lead by Inspector Sejer and they work carefully and competently following the possible leads as they arise. The disappearance of a second young boy adds to the pressure on the investigation and on the inhabitants of the small town. The story unwinds carefully, showing the widening impact of the murder and the disappearance of a large cast, the investigation is thoughtful and well managed, the reveals are well staged and the bitter conclusion is natural and horribly credible.
Karin Fossum has an wonderful confidence as a writer, there is a large cast in the story and the crime itself is less important that huge impact that it has on the cast. The victims are never overlooked, their absence is a vital as their presence as the rest of the cast reshape their lives.
The couple who found the body, the wife who is horrified and her husband who becomes obsessed by the crime. The fault lines in their relationship steadily become more are more unavoidable as the wife starts to come to life altering realizations about their marriage.
The mother of the boy found in the forest who finds that she has lost far more than her son.
The mother of the boy who disappears, a young obese boy who is vividly established before he vanishes, cling to the wreckage the mother finds that even that may be not what she thinks it is.
The gay teacher in the school where the two boys went, he is caring and thoughtful and manages to be willfully blind to the possible reactions and interpretations of his actions by people who are frighted at the events.
The murderer himself, a pathetic man who is caught in the storm of his own desires and the results of his actions, alternately self pitying and defiant.
All of them are treated with sympathy and none are spared, there is no judgement of them, there is a pessimistic unfolding of events that allow for the worst to happen in the most natural of ways. The story is quiet with a carefully controlled storm wreaking havoc in lives that will not recover. Karin Fossum's astonishing skill is developing her cast and allowing them to present themselves to the reader is why the book is not a grinding catalogue of destruction. It is grim and ultimately bitter, it is never depressing or dispiriting.
Charlotte Barslund's translation is transparent and natural, the whole sense of the cast and context is delivered with care and confidence, the setting is fully Norwegian, it is never foreign or awkward. This is superb crime fiction, a deep,very dark pleasure.

Family Man. Jerome Charyn (Writer), Joe Staton (Art). It's Alive (2017)

A gripping and very engaging noir crime story. In a crumbling New York City -"One hour into the future" a war between the mafia families has brought destruction upon them. Alonzo, a top assassin for one of the families is being hidden by his brother , Charles, the Monsignor to the New York Police Department. Alonzo, whose wife and children were murdered, chafing at the restrictions decides to visit some old friends. New York city is in turmoil as police and gangs fight over the spoils. Alonzo is given the task by his Don to find the killer of the other Don's and Alonzo sarts to look and finds that there is something very nasty going on and that Charles is up to his neck in it. The story unfolds carefully, the reveals are very nicely set up and the layers are steadily uncovered as the struggle for control of the future of the city emerges.
Jerome Charyn has created a very strong context for his vivid and determined cast to move in, New York city, steadily crumbling but still a vast prize is a looming presence in the story. It is the background and the foreground for the story. From the Mayor in Gracie Mansion and his rich supporters to the homeless destitute rooting in the garbage for scraps, the city hold everyone in its grip. The mafia families were a powerful force in the city, now they are waiting to be captured, the police have more ex-officers prowling the streets than active officers. In the middle of this there are those who are ready to seize an opportunity to  assert their control. Alonzo and Charles are playing and being played in this game for the city.
They are not alone, Jerome Charyn has a gift of creating characters instantly so the walk on parts are all full of life and demand the readers attention as much as the leading players. With the leading players the determination to be themselves and take control of their lives pushes them forward with tremendous force and when they collide with each other it is always a full speed. This gives the story great forward energy and depth as the cast move and maneuver to survive and gain the advantage they seek. The multiple possible meanings of Family are quietly explored as loyalty is tested and pushed to the limits.
Joe Staton's art is a joy to read. It creates the context vividly and the cast move through it naturally and effectively. The cast are all eloquent in their body language and their actions while they use words to hide and disguise.  From quiet conversation to savage action the art is confident and powerful, the every nuance of the writing is brought forth naturally and clearly. This is great crime fiction, there is a colossal crime at the hear of it with a cast that is bound together and pulled apart by loyalty, family ties and greed. The cast are never less than true to themselves and that gives the drama a cutting edge. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Steel Spring. Per Wahloo (1968). Sara Death (Translator 2012). Vintage Books (2012)

A tense and very gripping political thriller that confidently uses the genre requirements to explore serious ideas in an sharp and thoughtful way. Chief Inspector Jensen , from an unnamed country, is set abroad for a liver transplant and when he is released from hospital finds that his country has closed its borders with rumours of a terrible epidemic taking place. He is sent into the country to investigate. The country is gripped by confusion and panic and large numbers of people have died, he discovers that there was  an increasing degree of public disruption and violence and mass deaths and that a medical crisis is ongoing. The reveals are carefully staged as the investigation continues and information is steadily uncovered right up to the bleak and utterly logical conclusion.
Per Wahloo has created a very interesting context for the story, the partial unraveling of a highly structured and controlled society that does not unleash chaos, rather it creates confusion, fear and incomprehension in the survivors. People are trying to live by the old rules and understand the new ones, when Jensen, a figure of authority meets them they respond as they always did. As Jensen moves through the country and tries to understand the collapse that took place over the moths he was away it becomes clear that there was a steady disruption and that it was not random.
Jensen is a great character, quiet and with a detached view of the proceedings, he moves through the chaos with care and attention to detail. He is a professional police officer and he brings all of the attributes of that role to his work. He is methodical and careful, asking questions, investigating leads and analysing information. His calm responses keep the reader focussed on the main thread of the story, the way the structure of the society has imploded.It is not about the chaos, it is about why the chaos arose in the first place.
As the investigation proceeds the dark heart of the story is revealed and the all too believable arrogance and entitlement that created the problems that had to be solved by even more arrogant and entitled means become clear. This is a very angry story that keeps the anger under severe restraint and has a calm acceptance that there are no good solutions.
Sara Death's translation is wholly transparent, the whole political and social construction of the story is clearly not Anglophone in origin, there is a very Scandinavian feel to the story. All of the nuances of the story emerge as does Per Wahloo's very distinct authorial voice. He is not an invisible author he is clearly present in the book and that adds greatly to the pleasure and texture of the story.
Written in 1968 this story has sharp observations that are relevant in today's context, a superb structure that brings in the reader and presents an argument with ferocious clarity and force. A wonderful stimulating read.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Resurrected 1 . Kim Roberts (Writer), James Johnson (Art), Chris Allen (Letters & Colours). Swampline Comics (2017)

A smart and engaging take on a classic cartoon show about a group of  supernatural investigators who drive a minivan spiked with a welcome shot of gore and a sharp edge. On Blackwod Island four investigators set out for the Blackwood Funeral Home (right beside Black Wood Cemetery) to check for ghostly activity. Naturally things take a turn for the worse and then the worse starts to expand and become significantly worse again.
What is greatly enjoyable is the way that Kim Roberts does not fight against the genre requirements, instead they are embraced and employed as fully as possible and then given a little boost. The conflict in the group is not banter it has a force that gives the story the push it needs. A ridiculous situation is not just taken seriously, it is actually serious and that brings the reader right into the story.
James Jonson's art is perfectly matched to capture the nuances and hints within the writing and delivers a deeply satisfying balance. The first zombie to be revived is both funny grotesque and horrifyingly grotesque  at the same time, there really are no rules for talent. The rest of the cast manage this same fine balance, cartoony art that brings astonishingly eloquent and expressive body language that allows for laughs and is nasty at the same time.
Chris Allen's colours match the cartoon heritage of the story and the art perfectly, when it comes to delivering the gore the colours smoothly and naturally manage the process without blinking. The lettering is quiet and natural to read, the sound effects are cleverly placed to give just the extra push needed at critical moments.
Resurrected has managed an fantastically difficult task in comics, take a well known pop culture idea, mash it with a related idea and make it work as an independent entity without betraying the origins. The steely core of horror in Resurrected makes everything else work and makes for great story possibilities that the talented creators can exploit for the delight of their readers.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Dracustein Kickstarter. Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Pacher (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Swampline Comics (2017)

Mash ups can be a wonderful creative possibility in the hands of the right creative team. There is an opportunity to get the same thrill that the originals gave along with another dimension that the new team bring. The creative team behind Dracustein have an enviable track record for both respecting genre requirements and finding something new to say and this looks to be no exception.
A stitched together Dracula is building himself a romantic partner with the "assistance" of The Wolfman and The Mummy and other classic monsters. Naturally it does not go to plan. Just how it does not go to plan is what awaits backers of this Kickstarter project, I am one.
 I have a deep and abiding affection for the original incarnations of these monsters, they scared the life out of me when I saw them first, then I later loved them for their heroic sincerity. In the right hands it is possible to capture both of these aspects and the inherent humour without ever betraying the monsters. The sample pages made me very happy, I think that that the creative team have very neatly threaded a very slippery needle and I greatly look forward to how the story unfolds.
The link for the Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/dracustein.
I have backed a number of projects from Swampline comics and I have been impressed with the discipline and effort they bring to bear on their projects, lovely production values and delivery on schedule.
Back the campaign and share the deep and abiding pleasure that excellent comics bring.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Darkest King 5. Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art). WP Comics (2017)

The very satisfactory conclusion to a smart noir story.Kurt King , a vigilante ex police officer and his bother Victor, a candidate for Mayor of the city of Coldwood have a very complicated history and are set for a confrontation at their mother's funeral. The threads of the story are neatly drawn together and the final outcome is surprising and deeply satisfying.
Across the whole story Tony Scott Astley has developed a classic noir set up, someone trapped in a situation where the choice is between very bad and worse. Kurt King is a vigilante, trying to attack crime in his city by directly attacking the criminals, trying to protect his brother Victor has proved to be one of his worst choices. When the long suppressed words are finally spoken and the full context for everything is made clear it rings true to to the story. The struggle between the brothers that was festering for so long finally gets an airing and everyone is severely bruised by the revelations. It is great that Tony Scott Astley sidesteps the easy route of a cynical conclusion and has the courage to push in a different direction.
Kurt King trapped and shaped by his choices is the wounded heart at the centre of the story and his path to finally being free is beautifully told. Paul Anderson's art continues to shine, the force is not in the physical altercation is is in the body language that screams the repressed feelings that finally have to find a way out. The flash back that shows Kurt's path out of prison is suitably grim and brutal, the etched cynicism of Kurt's guardian angel is a pleasure to read.. Kurt always was a believer and that is clear from every line of his face and the weary weight that has settled upon him.
Noir is easy to describe and very difficult to manage effectively, the appearance of noir is a trap for the unwary, the real action is always taking place in the barely submerged context. Tony Scott Astley and Paul Anderson have developed a story that captures the brutal surface and delivers the emotional context that drives the action with tremendous skill and attention to detail.
Finishing a story can be a lot harder than starting one, these creators make it look easy and natural. A great comic.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Tony Scott Astley. To purchase a copy of The Darkest King %, indeed to purchase the full run which you really should to get the deep pleasures that great comics deliver, they are available from http://www.wpcomicsltd.com

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Ghostly Tides 1. Kim Roberts (Writer), Dennis Pacher (Art), Colours & Letters (Chris Allen). Swampline Comics (2017)

A very engaging and enjoyable pirate story that thoroughly enjoys and embraces the genre. Finn competes in the annual Pirate Trials on Skull Island and looses. He encounters a witch in a tavern and follows her to Swamp Island and discovers that this was a very big mistake. As the witch and the resurrected skeletons of the Black Pirate and his crew sail for revenge, Finn and his friend Sam have to try and stop them.
This first issue solves the problems of a first issue with great energy and smart storytelling. The context for the story is swiftly established, it is a pirate fantasy story with a gullible hero and a dangerous villain. The trouble for the hero and the villain are smartly set up and the reader is nicely set up for the continuing story. The writing by Kim Roberts is smart and economical, there is a lot of story in the issue, it never feels rushed or crowded, the action is fast, furious and suitably bloody.
Dennis Pacher's art is friendly, full of wonderful details and simply exploding with energy and life. The cast are given enormous character and expressiveness, they are all bigger than life which they need to be, the skeleton crew are as lively as the mortal cast cast. The action is wonderful, it is very brutal when it needs to be and at the same time has exactly the humorous edge that it needs to keep the atmosphere playful. The panel layouts are a joy, the gutter decorations are a pleasure.
Chris Allen has coloured the story in exactly the bright colours that the tone of the story calls for, the colours bring out the details of the art and the nuances of the story. The sound effects
are perfectly placed and pitched, the story is already loud enough , the effects just add the emphasis exactly where it is needed.
A great fun comic by very talented creators that happily entices the reader to want more.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

King John. England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant. Stephen Church. Macmillian (2015)

There are three versions of King John, the villainous prince in Robin Hood, the tyrant forced to sign the Magna Carta and the historical king. Stephen Church is interested in the historical King John, his life and context and this very engaging book gives King John his due.
John was the youngest son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and was first called John Lackland as he really had no place in the succession to huge inheritance that Henry had assembled. This changed steadily as he came closer to to being a potential heir and so he joined his brothers in fighting his father. When Richard the Lionheart  became king John had a strained relationship with him as well, finally after Richard's death John became king.
It was at this point that John's great weakness, that he was a truly terrible politician aligned with the unfortunate fact that he was faced with a fiercely determined enemy in Phillip Augustus, King of France who was determined to establish French control of Normandy and Brittany which were part of John's kingdom. It was John's losses in France that shaped most of the actions of his reign as he had to raise huge sums of money to carry out a war to recover his lost lands.
A great deal of the trouble he had in England arose from his efforts to get the money for his wars, made much harder by his lack of success in France. John was faced with a hugely determined opponent who had a home field advantage. John was an effective military commander, his expeditions in Ireland and Scotland and the various battles he had in England demonstrate this. The problem he had was that he could win a battle and fail to win the peace. In England, Ireland and France John never displayed any ability to created and nurture lasting and effective alliances with the major barons. He was unable and unwilling to court them and his innovative tax collections cut direct against their privileges.John also managed to have a serious fight with the Pope over the right to appoint the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading churchman in the country. John was unfortunate in that Pope Innocent III was determined to actively assert papal privilege, John choose confrontation over finesse and he lost the struggle.
 John inherited a wide ranging kingdom in England, Ireland, and France and manage to essentially lose everything and in the process alienate the two significant power structures of the society, the aristocracy and the Church. He lost his kingdom to the Pope and his political freedom to his barons with the Magna Carta. Stephen Church has written a book that rescues King John from myth and with telling detail and a sympathetic assessment of his character. John has been overshadowed by his father, mother, brother and son and deserves better. Stephen Church has done King John a great service and given the man a chance to stand beside the legend.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Ninth Grave. Stefan Ahnhem . Paul Norlen (Translation). Head of Zeus Ltd (2017)

A very enjoyable and entertaining Swedish crime thriller. In Sweden the Minister of Justice steps out of the Parliament House and disappears. In Denmark a woman is attacked in her home. In Sweden the disappearance of the Justice Minister is secretly assigned to Fabian Risk, In Denmark the murder is assigned to Dunja Hougaard to the fury of some of her fellow detectives. Further murders in both cities put pressure on both investigations. When it appears that suspects have been identified  in each investigation the investigations are pushed into a new direction that leads to a very dark conclusion.
This is a big story and it takes a little time for the momentum to build sufficiently to really compel the reader. There is a huge cast and a constantly shifting narrative which means that the reader is getting a lot of new information before the rhythm of the story clearly emerges.When it does the superb plot mechanics and the deeply engaging cast are very compelling.
The plot mechanics are constantly unexpected, setting up reader expectations and defying them in a very smart and considered way. The structures of the story reveal themselves steadily, the major and minor reveals are superbly staged and the deeply laid connections emerge to complicate everything just as they should.
The cast are great, Fabian Risk, Malin Rehnberg and Dunja Hougaard are given the chance to emerge as fully developed personalities as well as competent, committed police officers. Their personal lives are not just tacked on to their work, they extend and develop who they are in meaningful way. Malin Rehnberg's pregnancy is both realistic and is never used to undermine her position, competence or authority. The supporting cast, including the victims are all given time to register as much more than plot devices, they have time and opportunity to make themselves heard. Stefan Ahnhem has solved the problem presented by a fabulously effective super-villain, the motive is forceful and weighty and he solves the how with economy and credible detail.
There is a event in the story that takes place at a critical time that did not ring true, one of the leading cast members finds themselves in a very difficult position, their response was deeply unsatisfactory, not from a story point of view but as a character. Either the response was wildly uncharacteristic and needed further explanation or the needs of the plot forced the writer to shortchange the character.  In such a carefully constructed book it stands out more that it might in another.
Paul Norlen's translation is transparent, the story and cast are all naturally and completely Swedish and Danish, the cultural differences between both being a thread in the story, the English flows without ever being less than natural. Excellent crime fiction.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Darkest King No. 4 Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art) WP Comics (July 2017)

The very entertaining and engaging noir crime story continues to unfold in unexpected ways. Kurt King has just found out that the crime lord he was trying to find is his brother Victor who is running for mayor of Coldwood.A severely complicated personal history is given a sharp twist by the revelation. A flashback reveals the devil's bargain that Kurt made to get out of prison, and leads him to realize just how difficult his current position is. Victor also finds his freedom of action constrained by events, until the brothers meet again at a the worst possible moment.
Tony Scott Astley continues to twist the story very nicely, Kurt how finds that he has to take savage action to survive and finds that the unintended consequences are even more savage. Trying to balance what he has done is leading him down a dark spiral to more trouble. Victor, the successful businessman and possible mayor who sees only the results and not the causes of Kurt's actions has reached a final decision. No one is quite whom they seem and the brutal reality that surrounds them lets no one escape.
Paul Anderson's vivid and expressive art captures and expresses all the nuances of the story. The cast are vital and physically solid, they move through their context with power and determination. Moving form a brutal conversation in a prison to a deathbed each scene is captured with tension and barely contained emotion. The forces that are battering away at Kurt, Victor and the supporting cast are revealed in their attitudes and features as much as their words.
The layers of the story are beginning to wrap tightly around each other as the context deepens and widens, the brother's conflict is deeply personal and also has significant consequence beyond themselves. Kurt is emerging as a great noir hero, a wounded romantic who finds his choices vary between hard and harder, opposed by a villain to whom he is bound to in intractable ways. Great crime comics.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Tony Scott Astley, to give yourself the deep double pleasure of excellent crime fiction and excellent comics, The Darkest King 4 can be purchased from http://www.wpcomicsltd.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Unspoken. Mari Jungstedt. Tiina Nunnally (Translation).Corgi Books (2009)

A quietly gripping and very engaging Swedish police procedural. A man is beaten to death in his darkroom and found a week later. Henry Dahlstrom was a photographer and full time alcoholic who had had a large win   the race track before he was killed. Chief Inspector Anders Knutas leads the investigation into Harry's murder finding a simple case to be rather slippery in fact. At the same time a young girl, Fanny, who has a strained home life with her mother, develops a friendship with an older man that starts to develop into something more serious. When Fanny goes missing the threads that tie both cases together twist very neatly together to a very satisfactory conclusion.
The lot mechanics are excellent, the murder investigation is driven in a professional, competent way by DCI Knutas, as each lead is pursued the list of suspects gets smaller and answers more elusive. The disappearance of a vulnerable child increases the pressure and the investigation has to manage the additional work. The reveals are nicely staged and the final unravelling is very well set up.
The cast are very engaging, Mari Jungstedt has a gift for quickly establishing a character, as she does with Henry Dahlstrom, as much as for steadily developing one as she does with Fanny. That both victims are given the space to clearly register with the reader is crucial to the story, the investigation is in part an investigation into them as much as their circumstances and they are given their due importance.
Ander Knutas is a professional police officer with a functioning marriage and a stable relationship with his young children. He avoids being a genre staple or being dull by virtue of being fully developed so that his life outside of his work and his relationship with his work is thoughtful and engaging. The supporting cast are given the chance to establish themselves and they take it in full.
There is an interesting sub plot regarding a relationship between a married woman and a television reporter which is essentially independent of the main narrative. Mari Jungstedt is able to write this without it ever appearing distracting or redundant, it feels natural within the story. This s very impressive as it widens and deepens the general context for the events and Gothland in particular. It acts as a satisfying balance to the investigation.
Tiina Nunnally's translation is transparent, the language never jars or suggests that the story and context are wholly and naturally Swedish. Excellent crime fiction.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tomb of Horror 2. Kim Roberts (Editor) Swamp Line Productions (2017)

A very engaging and enjoyable horror anthology that is being released via a Kickstarter campaign, details below. A happy variety of excellent horror stories that include the following:
Der Schatten, Mariano Falzone (Writer), Alfredo Retamar (Artist), Alfonso Marugo (Colours). A man is having a problem with hi shadow and is sent to a specialist. She provides a remedy which does solve the problem in an unexpected way.  A clever set up and a smart pay off combine very nicely. Alfredo Retamar' art is strongly expressive catching and holding the balance of the story with care and strong detail. Alfonso Marugo' colours give depth and force to the art.
Hell House. Jack wallace (Writer), Francesco Conte (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Jenny has a dream that her grandfather tells her of treasure in his house and she travels there with her partner, Rob. This proves to be a bad idea is the most satisfying way with tremendous atmosphere and a very nasty edge. Francesco Conte's standout art nicely blurs the lines between dreams and reality and as they bleed into each other brings out every nuance in the story. The colours by Chris Allen are spot on, slightly subdues they give force to the unnerving atmosphere and the letters are easy and natural to read.
High Seas Undead People. Paul Bradford (Writer), Matt Olson (Art). This is a lesson on how to cram a lot of story into a very short space, pirates fight zombies, fantastic. Matt Olson's art is a joy, it brings pirates and zombies to brutal, fierce life.
Scarecrow. Kim Roberts (Writer), Zaex Starzax (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Scarecrow shows the undying power of tradition , full tilt horror when a paranormal investigation at a isolated farm goes as expected. Kim Roberts sets up all the elements with care, Zaex Starzax delivers intense, claustrophobic art that never lets the reader escape. The colours by Chris Allen capture and emphasis all the tones in the story and the sound effects are superb.
Demonic Sudoku. Julio Paz (Writer), Pietro Vaughan (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters). A sharp, bleak and very satisfying short . A mathematician solves a sudoku puzzle that leads to hell and beyond. Pietro Vaughan 's stunning black and white art gives the story force and depth that is needs to work. Nikki Sherman's lettering is subtle and quiet, natural to read.
Good anthologies are hard, getting diverse stories to work in harmony is tricky, this anthology not only does this it creates a cohesive whole where each of the stories get a lift from being in the collection.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. To support the Kickstarter campaign, get a great collection of stories from very talented creators and relish the joy comes from reading excellent comics please follow the link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1870476470/tomb-of-horror-vol-2-horror-anthology

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Strange Shores. Arnaldur Indridason. Victoria Cribb (Translation)Vintage (2014)

Gripping and memorable Icelandic crime story that has deep melancholy heartbeat. Detective Erlendur is staying on his parent's abandoned farm when he hears a story about a woman who vanished in storm from a neighbour. Erlendur lost his younger brother in a storm decades before and the wound has never healed, so he responds to the story be asking questions among those who were alive at the time. Slowly a story emerges as peoples memories are brought to the surface. It becomes clear that there was more going on than had been known and the final unravelling is smart and bitter, exactly as it should be.
This is a very quiet story, the action is mostly Erlendur asking questions and stirring up memories that have long been dormant. The grip of the story lies in the cast and in particular Erlendur  himself. He frequently asks himself why he is pursuing this story, as it becomes clearer that there may have been foul play involved, he wonders what he will do about any information that he finds. It is always apparent to reader that Erlendur is attempting to hide himself from the story of the loss of his brother while being constantly having it brought back to him by his investigation.
The supporting cast are given a tenacious life, they are elderly now but they have a force and depth that bring the reader deeply into the story. As the lives they lived in the small fishing village emerge and the forces that trapped them it becomes increasingly clear that the past has never let them go. As the investigation continues the compromises and stories they have told themselves start to wilt under scrutiny, they become more engaging and vivid. Erlendur is doing something they want and do not want.
The plot mechanics of the story are superb, the pieces of the story that emerge fit together with a strong credibility and slowly lead to a brilliantly set up conclusion. The second story about Erlendur 's brother is masterfully woven into the narrative and the conclusion is deeply sad and and entirely suitable.
A novel about the long term impact of cold, very cold, crime Strange Shores is stunning, the poisonous effects of crime are rarely so carefully considered and revealed. Top class fiction.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lone. Stuart Moore (Writer), Jerome Opena (Art), Michelle Madsen (Colours), Sno Cone (Letters). Rocket Comics/Dark Horse Comics (2004)

A hugely enjoyable and engaging science fiction Western that mixes both with care to deliver a great story. Ravenous zombies have overrun the post-apocalyptic town of Desolation. Luke and her brother Mark are sent in search of a legendary gunman, Lone. When they find him it starts to become clear that there are bigger forces than zombies at work and that an terrible threat from the past has come back. The story unfolds at a great pace, the reveals are cunningly staged and the conclusion is satisfying bitter.
Stuart Moore makes the difficult task of successfully merging two distinct genres into a unified and satisfying whole look easy. The Western framework for the story fits nicely into a devastated post-apocalyptic world. The solitary gunman pulled back into the action is given an entirely effective science fiction twist that manages to lift the story up where it needs to be.
Luke, the tough, resourceful and female sharpshooter who does not realize just how much trouble is waiting is deeply engaging and brings the reader easily into the story. The fact that Luke is female is both deeply significant and does not matter at all. Stuart Moore has quietly demonstrated that it is the personality of the character that is key not the gender. There is no grandstanding or calling out about Luke, she is simply a cast member. It is a little worrying that thirteen years later this is as noticeable as it is.
Jerome Opena's art is entirely equal to the task of meeting the rival genre requirements with collision or confusion. Lone is a classic western hero, laconic and dangerous without flash, just fierce competence and a hat that shades his eyes. He moves through the story with anger and determination, bearing his burdens as he should. Luke and the rest of the cast are expressive, move with grace and physical force through the beautifully realized context. The science fiction robots, guns and monsters never seem out of place, this is the frontier where all sorts wash up and make trouble for each other. The use of panels to control the pace of the story is expert, they bring out the nuances and beats of the story.
Michelle Madsen's colours are science fiction bright, they catch the wide open dusty space of the frontier as well, it captures the emotional context of the story with subtle grace and care.Sno Cone's letters are quiet and natural to read, the sound effects are big and bold, they give the edge the actions scenes want to really land.
Lone is a great story and a smashing comic.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Kickstarter campagain: Resurrected. Kim Roberts, James Johnson, Chris Allen, SwampLine Productions (2017)

Swamp Line Productions do something very difficult and make it look easy. They deliver excellent comics, comics that clearly have come from individual talents working carefully together.
Now they have a new comic, Resurrected and a new Kickstarter campagin to support it.
A group of paranormal investigators accidentally raise the dead and create a zombie infestation on the Isle of Blackwood.
Kim Roberts, James Johnson and Chris Allen have a history of taking an obivous idea and moving it in unexpected directions, developing ideas into into stories that respect their readers.
There are never enough excellent comics, the opportunity to increase the quantity should be taken. I have backed Resurrected because I would really like to read it. Give yourself the same pleasure, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/resurrected

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Darkest King 3. Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art). WP Comics (2017)

An explosively enjoyable issue that picks up the story threads and twists them in very engaging ways. Kurt King, ex policeman and vigilante follows a lead to find Mr X, the crime lord of Coldwood, when he meets Mr X there is a lot of trouble for everyone, exactly as there should be.
Tony Scott Astley moves the story with great force and confidence from the point where Kurt finds his willingness to use violence to pursue justice as he sees it and forward to the results of his actions. What drives the Darkest King so strongly is that the two key characters, the King brothers are never passive, they respond and try to control events around them. The similarities between them are striking, Tony Scott Astley uses these to great effect as they cross paths with each other and find that neither are who they thought they were. Action is very neatly mixed with context and explanation so that the story moves very quickly and the same time the cast develop strongly and the stakes of the story increase for everyone. Using the classic noir elements of a wounded hero and a driven villain Tony Scott Astley has developed the story into a very dark and deeply engaging place that smartly places a question mark after the title.
Paul Anderson's art is a match for the writing, it captures and brings out every aspect of the story, giving emotional depth to the events, never losing the cast in the violence. The action is forceful and consequential, words have the impact of a striking fist and the feel it. The colours are wonderful, they frame and emphasise the emotional context for the story. The different parts of the story are given very different colour keys which act to both separate and link them. The lettering is easy and natural, the sound effects are placed for impressive effect.
The Darkest King 3 is a great payoff for the story, the threads are picked up and tied together very effectively the bitter undertow to the story is given full rein and nobody gets away unharmed. Smashing.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Paul Anderson. To purchase The Darkest King 3, which you should to see how very talented creators handle the creative challenge inherent in a smart story, it is available from  http://www.wpcomicsltd.com

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Darkest King 2. Tony Scott Astley (Writer), Paul Anderson (Art). WP Comics (2017)

The second issue of the very engaging and enjoyable noir story moves backwards and forwards to add depth and context to the story. Kurt King, ex-policeman and vigilante is becoming increasingly concerned that his brother Victor is somehow involved with Mr X the crime lord of the city. Having suffered a devastating loss Kurt reflects on his shattered past with his brother. Victor is also making moves of his own to pursue his own interests. When Kurt returns to the hunt for Mr. X he finds much more than he ever expected.
Tony Scott Astley has a sure and confident approach to noir storytelling, he is willing to take the time to build up to a substantial pay off and keep a number of story possibilities open at the same time. Kurt is a classic noir lead character, deeply wounded and channelling his rage into a fight for something worthy, fighting corruption. The fact that his brother maybe implicated in the corruption is a complicating factor that ultimately does not distract or deter him. Victor King, the brother who got away, rich and successful is ambitious at best and very murky at worst. The  looming possibility that Kurt is being deftly played by someone else is quietly set up, nicely stirring the plot possibilities.
Paul Anderson's art is sharp and a pleasure to read, the physical setting is very powerful, the locations have a strong presence. This underlines the huge gulf between the brothers, harsh actions are taking place everywhere, the difference in the settings is vital to the story and context. The way panels and full pages are used to control the momentum of the story is great, in a story where reveals are crucial this is very important .The cast are powerfully expressive, Kurt wears his life on his face, battered and stubbornly determined, Kurt moves forward for his mission with a grim determination and bitter humour. Victor is a smooth shark, moving steadily in for the kill. The supporting cast all move naturally in their context amd give depth and force to the story. The shifts from conversation to action are natural and effective, that both are as dangerous as each other is captured with deft skill.
The colouring is striking and very important, it brings out every nuance in the story and creates and sustains the vital atsmophere of the story. The lettering is quiet and flows naturally with the panels, never distracting the reader, the sound effects are loud and pitched exactly at the right place and volume.
The Darkest King is smart, engaging and confident crime comics storytelling using a genre that is fatally easy to get wrong, a pleasure.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Tony Scott Astley. to purchase a copy of The Darkest King 2, which you should to improve your quality of life as only excellent comics can do, it is avalible from http://www.wpcomicsltd.com

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Kros: Hallowed Ground. John Ostrander (Writer), Tom Mandrake (Art), Sian Mandrake (Colours), Jan Duursema (Letters). Third Eye Skull (2017)

A very smart vampire story that uses a unexpected (but utterly logical) context to superb effect and adds a genuinely new idea to vampire story ideas. The battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal event in the American Civil War as well as the bloodiest encounter of the war. With bloodshed on that scale , blood calls to those who have a thirst for it. Wounded victims make easy and satisfying prey and who would notice the extra dead among the huge numbers.A hunter whose quarry is vampires would know to look for them where the feeding is easy and so Major Elijah Kros comes to Gettysburg with a commission from President Lincoln that allows him move about as he wishes. An encounter in an alleyway reveals who Kros is and what his mission is, and the story of the multiple battles, small and huge, that take place at Gettysburg unfurls. The reveals are very nicely set up, the action is stunning and the cast are never overshadowed by the colossal events taking place around them. The story shifts naturally and effectively from the small scale to the enormous without ever loosing the thread that ties everything to gether.
John Ostrander has not only developed an engaging context, the cast that move thought it with such determination and vigour are equally memorable. Elijah Kros  is opposed by a suitably competent and dangerous foe, a vampire of strenght, cunning and fierce will to feed and survive. The struggle between them draws in others, living and otherwise and with them come different agendas and priorities. With deft skill John Ostrander brings in the smaller personal conflicts that divide the cast around Kros as the stark differences between them become increasingly apparent. They have to find some possible common ground to be able to survive and combat the threat of the vampires, John Ostrander makes the route to this common ground tension filled and constantly awkward. The brutal loneliness of Elijah Kros is a high price to pay.
Tom Mandrake's art is a extravagant feast of  detail and scope and a substantial pleasure to read and luxuriate in. The level of detail is astounding, the battle scemces are loud, full of movement and never confusing. In particular there is a development among the shattered victims of the vampires who become possessed of the thirst themselves that is just stunning. A brilliant sequence of development and a final configuration that is simply breathtaking. Every nuance and intention with the skillful writing is captured and drawn out in the art. The human and non human cast are given a powerful life and move with purpose and intention, when they clash they do so to the fullest extent possible. The use of panels to control the pace of the story is exact and careful, bring the reader in close or pulling out as needed.
Sian Mandrake's colours are vital to the flow of the action and bring the emotional context of the story fully forward as it needs to be. Thoughtful use of blues and greys flow into the context and constantly support it, sepia and other quietly contrasting tones bring out the details as needed and anchor the reader's eye where it should be.
Jan Duursema's letters are quiet and natural, easy to ready within the panels, the sound effects are a bloody joy, they add the crunch and bite that a vampire comic needs.
Kros: Hallowed Ground is a great read, vastly experienced creators showcasing thier talent to deliver an excellent comic.

Malice. Keigo Higashino (Writer), Alexander O. Smith , Elye Alexander (Translation). Abacus (2015)

A superbly constructed, gripping and deeply engaging cat and mouse murder story. A famous and highly successful writer, Kunihiko Hidaka is found murdered in his locked office. Hidaka was preparing to leave for Canada with his new wife Rie and was visited by a friend Osamu Nonoguchi, a writer and Ms Fujio, a woman who has a problem with a book Hidaka has written. The detective leading the investigation, Kyochiro Kaga recognises Osamu Nonoguchi from a previous job as a teacher in a school where they both taught. Following this classic set up of a locked room murder and a severely limited set of suspects Keigo Higashino delivers a stunning story that constantly sidesteps readers expectations and assumptions right up to the brilliant and satisfying sour conclusion.
The structure of the book is overlapping accounts written by Osamu Nonoguchi and Kyochiro Kaga that competing with each other for control of the narrative. Each of them is pushing a particular version of events from the far past and directly around the murder, each is cunningly constructed and full of hooks and telling details for the reader.
The story is smartly structured as the two leads write succeeding updates that bring in new details and subtly or not so subtly alter the narrative. Osamu Nonoguchi and Kyochiro Kaga are nicely matched, both serious, capable, confident and willing to work very hard to achieve their aims. As the story develops the deeper roots of the events start to come to light and the mutual histories of the principals becomes significant.
Keigo Higashino never takes a short cut or cheats the reader, the accounts are clearly partisan, they are consciously one sided and the reader has to decide how to read them. With persuasive skill each succeeding account leads the reader to a different view of he story, even when a conclusion appears to have been arrived at there is still more depths to be explored. This is a technical tour de force of storytelling that sets up and solves story problems with astounding grace and confidence that never shortchanges the reader. Managing this while creating such an engaging cast and credible context without any visible effort is the work of a hugely talented writer.
Keigo Higashino is very well served by the translation from Alexander O. Smith  & Elye Alexander, it manages to ready smoothly in English while being clearly and audibly Japanese. At a critical moment they deliver different conversations from walk on parts that capture the crucial differences in outlook among the characters.
Malice is a great story and superb crime fiction, wonderful.

Toothville 2- Kickstarter Campaign Kim Roberts (Writer), Denis Pacher (Art), Chris Allen (Colours & Letters). Swamp Line Productions

The second part of this very engaging story with a hugely engaging lead character, a nicely developing villain and a superbly set up story line is now running a Kickstarter campaign.
A fresh and clever look at the work of tooth fairies, featuring the worst tooth fairy in history who is also the most innovate one, who is facing the gravest threat to the existence of tooth fairies that has ever existed. The writing is smart and funny, the cast have vigour and force, emerging as individuals with a sharp edges and tremendous energy.
Toothville 1, which is available as one of the backer bundle rewards, set up the story with wonderful confidence and closed on a suitably gripping cliffhanger. Now the chance to see how the talented and creative team behind Toothville are going to take the story is avalible.
Smart, inventive and engaging comics like Toothville are one of the great pleasures in life, give yourself the chance to enjoy that pleasure by backing Toothville.
Chief Wizard Note: I am a backer for Toothville 2, I would really like it to be successful so that I get to read it. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/toothville-2

Black Magick 1: Awakening. Greg Rucka (Writer), Nicola Scott (Art), Chiara Arena (Colour Assists), Jodi Wynne (Letters). Image Comics (2016)

Very enjoyable and engaging set up with a very strong idea and a smart execution. Rowan Black is a police officer in Portsmouth and when she is called to a crime where a hostage taker demand to meet her she finds that he knows far more about her than he should. This is the start of the unravelling of her balance between her two lives, one aspect is brutally intruding into the the other. Rowan Black is a witch, the type that deals with actual magick. Her current situation is just the latest in a long line of public lives that have hidden the real, enduring, private one. She is the object of dangerous interest to serious forces and the events taking place at Portsmouth have attracted their attention. The balance that Rowan Black is under attack from mortal and supernatural forces who wish her harm.
Greg Rucka solves the problems of a set up with graceful confidence and a sharp eye for telling detail, the opening sequence introduces the central idea with wit and the transitions are seamless and effective. The hostage taker kicks off the story with force and very neatly and naturally ties the twin aspects of Rowan Black's life together. The ripples from that event, the obvious and the hidden aspects are carefully revealed and create a gripping and increasingly tense narrative that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the story.
Greg Rucka proves the essential context details about Rowan Black's real life in a natural way as the need for them emerges from the unfolding events. There is never an abrupt info dump for the reader, the information surfaces through credible action and reaction. The cast are equally credible and natural, they are establish with wonderful economy and then allowed the space to develop and emerge in their own right. Rowan Black is a first among equals, the supporting cast are all strong and vital, this makes the action forceful and consequential. It also gives the supernatural aspects a solid and convincing context, they have an equal footing with the ordinary and they cross each other without breaking the story.
Nicola Scot's art is a pleasure to read, its confidence matches the writing and it captures and brings out every nuance and detail. The cast are memorable for being utterly natural looking, including the deeply unnatural cast members. Rowan Black looks, moves and dresses like a human female adult who has a dangerous job to do. Even standing in her underwear she manages to look composed rather than exposed, she is never undermined by the art.This is critical to the success of the story, Rowan Black has to be a credibly tough opponent for the forces ranging against her to capture and exploit the tension of the coming conflict. Nicola Scott creates a nicely detailed and weighty physical context for the action, this anchors the action when it arrives and when it does it is delivered with tremendous force and impact.
The colour scheme is great, the black, white and gray tones have small explosions of colour at critical moments, they serve nicely to show the layers of the story as they break through to each other under stress and pressure. Jodi Wynne's letters are quiet and natural, they are unobtrusive, changing as the need arises to emphasize a different detail of the story, the transitions are so much part of the context they are not noticeable while being very effective.
Black Magick: Awakening has set up an intriguing story, a serious conflict with a deeply engaging lead charachter and worthy opponents, the possibilities are enticing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Audacious Crimes of Colonel Blood. Robert Hutchinson. Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2016)

A wildly entertaining and very gripping history of an extraordinary man whose career would strain the limits of fiction. Thomas Blood was a Protestant Irishman who fought for the Parliament in the English Civil Wars and discovered that he had chosen the wrong side with the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. He was stripped of his estates in Ireland and effectively impoverished. In response Thomas Blood became one of the most constant and dangerous plotters against the restored regime. He was deeply involved in a plot to storm Dublin Castle, centre of English rule in Ireland and later the astonishing rescue of a fellow plotter being escorted to a court in York. Captured after an attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, Thomas Blood carried out his most breathtaking and scarcely credible exploit and continued to be trouble to a lot of people up to and beyond his death.
Robert Hutchinson has a swashbuckling tales to tell and he does it full justice while never loosing the critical perspective of a historian. Thomas Blood was genuinely extraordinary, he was also alive and active in extraordinary times and Robert Hutchinson carefully brings out the man and his context. There is a swaggering bravado about Thomas Blood that would make him entirely comfortable in the Three Musketeers, he never plotted in the shadows, being known for his actions was clearly vital to him. This vanity did not make him any less serious, his basic carelessness did that, a failure to saddle a horse properly nearly proved fatal in an ambush.
Much like Charles II, the Merrie Monarch, who on any closer inspection was a deeply dangerous man who had a gambler's heart and and a set of secret agendas that he pursued with force and steely will, Thomas Blood had a personal charisma that no written account can fully capture. It is visible only by the otherwise inexplicable results and loyalty of others who were not fools or easily fooled. Thomas Blood moved among a groups of bitterly disappointed and revengeful men who were perfectly willing to risk terrible torture to kill the King. These men were naturally secretive yet they embraced the flamboyant Thomas Blood, however much they may have agreed in principal it is hard to see how they would practically cooperate with each other absent some significant personal factor.Thomas Blood was one of the most wanted people in the country yet he was never betrayed while living under different names and in different places. He was never invisible, he was drawing on the unspoken loyalty and complicity of people who knew him and very likely had a strong suspicion as to who he was.
Robert Hutchinson has a wary respect for this charisma, he clearly is hugely enjoying the the exploits of Thomas Blood while not being wholly seduced by the man. This makes the book very readable, the distance that Robert Hutchinson maintains allows for the brutal and nasty aspects of Blood's actions to emerge along side the more cinematic ones.
Thomas Blood is one of the small group of people whom it is wonderful to know at a distance, the safely read about them from the perspective of history. They bring a distanct context vividly to life by their actions and remind us that the forces of history are never impersonal, they always have a beating heart. This book is a deep pleasure.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Modern Testament Issue 4. Insane Comics (2017)

A superb anthology that manages very difficult story problems with tremendous confidence, humour and imagination.
Better the Devil You Know... Frank Martin (Writer), San Espina (Art), Adri Pratama (Colours), Ken Nuttall (Letters). An angry and frustrated man is offered a deal by the devil and he makes his choice. Frank Martin neatly sets up the question, why would you make a deal with the Devil ?, no ambiguity or metaphor intended, the literal devil. In the face of demonic honesty why would you make a deal? San Espina's art is lovely, the devil is a businessman or a horned monstrosity, whatever serves the purpose of the moment. The context of stubborn frustration and anger is stitched into every detail of the context, closing in on the cast as they have their discussion.  The devil is calm, cool and fiercely confident, the best salesman in history letting the customer sell themselves. Adri Pratama's colours capture every subtle nuance in the event and bring them forward without ever upsetting the balance of the story. The dark colours never hide the details, they give them weight and presence. Ken Nuttall's letters are quiet and easy to read, they flow with the story allowing the voices of the cast to be clearly heard.
God Complex. Frank Martin (Writer), Martin Szymanski (Art), Miguel Marques (Colours), Ken Nuttall (Letters). A scientist issues invitations to a conference without revealing the topic, he has enough of a reputation to bring a crowd, he makes a breathtaking announcement and finds that an unexpected attendee has a problem with that. A claim to know everything could annoy someone who does in fact know everything. In a wonderfully bold and unexpected story God is not amused and it does not end well. Martin Szymanski solves a really difficult problem , what does God look like? Martin Szymanski makes an entirely logical choice within the context of the story that confidently strikes out away from the most familiar versions. Cosmic action is delivered with the same attention to detail as a conversation, the move from one to another is entirely natural and controlled. The clever shifts of the story are captured and framed perfectly. Miguel Marques bring bright colours to the story managing to capture the emotional tones and context of the story with pin point accuracy,even at its harshest God's actions will always be full of light. Ken Nuttall's letters make a story with a lot of text light and easy to read.
...Than The Devil You Don't... Frank Martin (Writer), San Espina (Art), Adri Pratama (Colours), Ken Nuttall (Letters). The phrase "The devil is in the detail" is proved to be horribly accurate as the the buyer comes to collect his purchase. The devil has a sharp and clear argument as well as the best tunes, blaming another for a freely made deal is likely to end badly. San Espina is as good at action as he is with a tense conversation, the controlled anger of the devil is captured superbly. Adri Pratama's colours are as dark and dense and the story calls for, there is no redemption or escape here. Ken Nuttall uses the letters to capture the change of tone when it is needed without ever drawing undue attention to the the letters themselves.
At Death's Door. Frank Martin (Writer), Anthony Pugh (Art), Julian Dominguez (Colours), Ken Nuttall (Letters) is the stand out story in this collection, sharp, blackly funny and with a brilliant set up and stunning pay off, it is a serious pleasure. Death is despondent and Cain has been sent to check on him and get him back on track. Frank Martin has taken a wonderfully imaginative and unexpected angle that nicely plays with reader expectations. Anthony Pugh's friendly art sells the story idea with understated confidence, using a very familiar setting to capture and control readers expectations with subtle skill and a wonderfully expressive cast. Julian Dominguez uses the colours to anchor the action with care, amplifying the emotional tones of the story and bring out every nuance the writing and art.
Ken Nuttals letters are natural and unassuming , the sound effects are perfect they give the force required when required.
Modern Testament takes a fresh and unexpected look at ideas that have been used in stories for as long as there has been stories, with entirely deserving confidence Frank Martin and the other creators show that there is always room for more, all that is needed is the huge talent they bring to the work.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Frank Martin. To purchase a copy of  Modern Testament 4, you should to give yourself the guilt free pleasure of excellent comics, it will be available from   insanecomics.com later this month.