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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tomb of Horror. Kim Roberts (Editor). Swapmline Comics (2017)

A very engaging and enjoyable horror anthology that that a has a wide and happy selection of stories that all sit comfortably with each other to create a very satisfying whole. Among the stories in this anthology are:
A Song for Mongrels, Bobby Harris (Writer and Artist), is sharp and smart, an apparently homeless woman screaming at a bus stop may be a nuisance, she may also be a lot more than that. Bobby Harris gathers a lot of story into a short space, clever set up and very satisfactory pay off. The art moves from naturally from open scenes to intense close ups, the cast are strongly expressive and bring the reader into the story.
Harold. John Ramos (Writer), Vince Underwood (Artist) neatly manages reader expectations to deliver a nasty and very satisfying story. Harold Francis Grauseman , husband, father, derelict is lost in his own circumstances until he is noticed by others, it does not go well. John Ramos manages the tone of the story with confident care, the reval is beautifully staged and very effective. Vince Underwood's art is beautiful, deeply expressive and detailed, it catches the nauances of the writing exactly and moves effortlessly from quiet to very , very loud without hesitation. Impressive use of panels to control the story adds greatly to the pleasure of reading.
The Man Who Has Everything. Jack Wallace (Writer), David Newbold (Pencils), Ivan Miranda (Inks), Geys & Letters (Chris Allen). George is the angry, frustrated not-quite fitting in member of staff who has a crush on a fellow staff member. With his boss about to leave the job there are opportunities in the air for George, they arrive on cue and the outcomes is as horrible as it should be. An extended set up is exactly the lead in that the huge pay off deserves. Jack Wallace has amplified a situation everyone who has worked in an office has probably encountered with great force and precision. David Newbold creates a great cast, they have the required physical presence and diversity for the context, George is almost a cliché, his vitality and vulnerability bring him to singular life. Ivan Miranda's inks bring the details into sharp focus allowing the final scene to explode exactly as it should. Chris Allen grey's are subtle and exact, they add depth to the art and catch the nuances of the story, the lettering quiet and easy to read, wearing its craft lightly.
The Supermarket. Marcello Bondi (Writer), Salvatore Coppola (Art), a very simple idea matched with flawless execution makes for a treat to read. A visit to a supermarket leads to a question and a devastating answer. Salvatore Coppola's luminous black and white art propels this story, carefully leading the reader with beautiful detail and movement down to the sharp revelation. Marcello Bondi has paced the story so that it lands with force, a gem.
Virus. Shawn Milazzo (Writer), Cem Iroz  (Art), Nikki Sherman (Letters), short and  to the very sharp point, an excellent black joke. Cem Iroz's art delivers the context with detail and care and nicely creepy detail when required. Niki Sherman's letters are easy to read and unobtrusive, creating the space for an excellent sound effect.
Al the stories in this collection are at the same very high standard as these, there is a glorious variety in the themes and treatments, talented creators working flat to deliver deeply pleasurable comics.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Kim Roberts. SWampline Comics are currently running a Kickstarter for Tomb of Horror, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1139490928/tomb-of-horror-comic-anthology, it is well worth your support to get the thrill that reading really, really good comics provides. . Tomb of Horror will be listed for sale on the Swampline website later in the year.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Sword Interval: Volume 1. Ben Fleuter (Writer and Artist), Natasha Tara Petrovic (Flat Colours & Book Layout) LINE Webtoon (2017)

A very enjoyable and entertaining set up for a smart supernatural story about a monster hunter who is searching for the undead warlock who killed her parents.Fell Barros arrives in the town of Titanfolly and encounters David Shimizu a retired monster hunter who wants nothing to do with the spate of missing people in the town. Fell is really interested and starts to investigate and finds herself pulled into trouble. The story unfurls very nicely, genre staples are used carefully and shaken up equally nicely, the reveals are very well staged and the layers of the story are cleverly set up so that by the end the story possibilities are enticing.
Ben Fleuter has used a classic story framework, a woman on a personal mission of vengeance is assisted by a powerful agency that has an interest in her quarry and perhaps an undeclared interest in the woman as well. The woman is aided by another who has enough experience to sense the hidden currents and still has a commitment to helping the woman. The story possibilities are huge and Ben Fleuter has the talent to exploit them.
Giving the framework a supernatural element is great dimension, it creates a range of possibilities that Ben Fleuter takes full advantage of. From the opening episode to the steady unfurling of the background that brought Fell Barros to begin her hunt, the supernatural element is integral to the story. It is not used to solve difficult plot points, it is the context that binds all the layers of the story together.
Fell Barros is a great character, she is full of angry energy and focus, what she does not have is enough experience to survive without assistance. David Shimizu is a genre staple, the overly experienced hunter dragged back into the game to protect someone else. Instead of being a walking cliché, he has a nice humanity and a wary appreciation of the scale of the risks that Fell does not see. Pairing an inexperienced female with a much more experienced male always runs the risk of diminishing the female role, Ben Flueter sidesteps this problem very nicely, Fell gets to establish herself before and after she meets David, she is clearly the lead character, this will be her story. She will be standing , learning and fighting for herself.
The villains are great, from the cause of the problems in Titanfolly to the Atlas agency and the Hierophant they are substantial threats to Fell and David. they have mixed motives and agendas which make them hard to deal with and are very determined to achieve their goals. The struggles that Fell has are consequential, she is never given an easy way out, to win she has to be willing to fight hard and not back down.
The total mix makes The Sword Interval a very engaging read, Ben Fleuter has great confidence in his story telling and is willing to take the time to set up events with sufficient detail that when the action arrives it has a genuine impact. The complicated backstory that brings Fell to Titanfolly is really delivered.
The art is friendly and moves naturally from action to conversation, the supernatural creatures are given a life and energy that makes them both otherworldly and ferocious. One of the substantial pleasures of the book is that Fell looks like a female human, fit and strong with exaggeration, she as well as the rest of the cast are expressive and move naturally in their context. The low key colouring by Natasha Tara Petrovic is perfect for the tone of the story, matching the matter of fact presence of the supernatural in the world.
The Sword Interval Volume 1 solves the problems of a set up with confidence and clever detail, the story possibilities opened in a very inviting way and I look forward to the road ahead.

Drive: Act One Dave Kellett (Writer & Artist). Small Fish Studios Inc (2017)

Wonderfully engaging and hugely entertaining space opera that is seriously funny, gripping and thoughtful. The Second Spanish Empire rules a widespread area of space thanks to its control of the ring drive that makes interstellar space travel possible. The empire has a very significant problem, the Continuum of Makers who created the drive want it back and this is a war that that the Empire is going to loose. When an alien who can see gravity pilots the drive ship the equation changes, provided that the empire can find enough of these aliens to pilot their ships. The problem is that the alien has completely lost his memory and all his records were destroyed. Then it becomes clear the Continuum of Makers is not the only major threat to the empire, in addition to the infighting within the ruling family there is a rising threat from another quarter that could destroy the empire.
A space opera has a number of requirements to take flight and Dave Kellett delivers on all of them with gorgeous confidence and sharp humour. The first requirement is size, a space opera should have a huge context, the conflict should be interstellar, crossing planets and star systems with an inclusive and credible sweep. Drive has the wide expanse it needs, space is huge, made accessible by the ring drive, it is still huge and this is woven into every part of the story. The scale of the empire is staggering, so are the problems it faces. From the simple problem of actually administering such a huge organisation and maintaining the ruling family, as well as the huge problem of maintaining control over the drive ring technology on which everything depends, the scale is enormous. Dave Kellett match the problems facing the Empire with a similar scale, the Continuum of Makers have a smaller population that the Empire, their technology easily bridges that gap. The second group have a recruitment method that is simple and implacable that makes compromise of any sort impossible.
Against this scale the cast have to stand out and capture the reader, the problems are epic in size, the actions have to be human sized to engage the reader. The huge cast of Drive are a joy to spend time with, they strongly individual, they all act with such vitality that they demand time and attention from the reader. At the heart of the story is a middle aged, divorced, perennially grumpy female drive ship captain who has the task of saving the empire. She carries the story with forceful ease allowing the whole immense context to develop and be detailed without ever loosing focus on the central narrative.
The art is friendly and a pleasure to read, it is expressive, the cast are never static their body language is loud and constantly balanced against their words to deliver sharp humour that never undercuts the serious intent of the situations they find themselves in. The art moves confidently from the intimate to the expansive without ever loosing focus, the panel design controls the pace of the story with considerable discipline. The non-human cast are alien without being too alien, they key issues of their non-human status is clear. In any comics space opera sound effects are very important, Drive has great sound effects, they are used to add extra depth to the situation.
Drive is a huge story, packed with detail and a strongly controlled and cleverly developed narrative, a deeply engaging cast. Comics are a natural fit for science fiction, with Drive , Dave Kellett demonstrates how to use the possibilities of comics to deliver superb space opera. A triumph and a joy to read.
There are a number of short stories set in the drive universe included in this volume.
Your Distant Homeland.  Dylan Meconis (Writer and Artist). When a proud Veetan of the Planet Veeta finds himself in Moscow and becomes involved with a bakery who specalise in Piroshki dumplingsthe results are funny, engaging and finally deeply heartfelt.
Cute Things. Christopher Hastings (Writer and Artist) , is a superb and original twist on the Alien story concept, hugely funny and accurate.
That Time The Veetans defeated the Tesskans Forever!.  Ryan North (Writer), Tony Clifff (Art). When the most pacifist race of beings in space is threatened by the most violent there should be only one outcome and there is, it is just a superbly set up and delightfully surprising one.
The Esteemed Gentleman Alonso Who Came From The Stars. Evan Dahm (Writer and Artist) The consequences of the Empire finding you can be sadly different to expectations, sad,funny and truthful.





Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tales of the Fractured Mind. Roddy McCance (Writer), Rolands Kalnins (Art). (2017)

A wonderfully and deeply engaging anthology of stories about the impact of mental mental health issues on the people who directly suffer and those around them. Roddy McCance's deeply felt and sympathetic writing and Rolands Kalnins' stunning art make an outstanding difficult problem look easy. They present the problem and the person as related to each other, neither drown out the other and the balance brings the reader closely into the issue and the lives in a way that only fiction can. Mental health issues are frightening in a way few other problems are, they strike directly against the self that we all carry with us, they are a theft of our , literally, most personal possessions and fear of such loss makes cowards of nearly all of us. As this anthology makes clear with confident compassion is that those on the other side of the abyss are just as frightened and considerably more lonely.
The Persistence of Depression. Jay talks to someone about what it is like to be depressed, the internal, mental hellscape that he has to travel that he wants to exit from. Roddy McCance captures the enormous weight of depression, they all encompassing way that is keeps someone in its grip and every attempt to escape is another chance to be a failure. Rolands Kalnins's art captures the extraordinary range of the ways that someone can feel bad about themselves, they way that a hell constructed by yourself is always inventive. The colouring is magnificent, it captures the shifting shades of the emotional tones and pulls up the details of the art and the writing.
Clock of the World is a startling lucid and utterly compelling explanation of Bi-Polar Disorder that explains it as a matter of time, fast time, slow time and the need to control time. The inherent extremities if Bi-Polar Disorder make it hard to grasp the connections between the two. Roddy McCance solves that problem with creative insight and subtle confidence.  Rolands Kalnins takes the central idea and makes it explicit, weighty and utterly compelling. The struggle to manage the physical mechanics of a giant time machine, a clock, that shifts modes from fast to slow and the impact of fast and slow time is captured with powerful, telling detail. The colouring is powerfully used to differentiate the time modes and underscore that it is always the same person.
Just Like Everyone. A apparently simple question, what do you see when you look in the mirror, is an agonizing, overwhelming matter for some. The ordinary desire to fit in is a huge dilemma as they try to match the perfection of others with the shapeless features they see in the mirror. Roddy McCance writes a very short and intimate story that captures the struggle, Rolands Kalnins' intimate , close up art captures the nuances of the story with precision.
War on Reality. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is such a direct assault on the notions that mass organised violence is based on that  truly acknowledging is effectively impossible, it is a very often burden to be borne, sometimes shamefully, by the individual. A father and son, both military veterans, find that they can share an understanding, lubricated by country music, and find room to support each other. Following the spine of a song and using two vivid flashbacks, the story is quietly set up and forceful in its impact. Rolands Kalnins' takes two men who are not hugely expressive and shows the deep bond between them , the beautiful colouring is used to provide the deep context for the things that are never said.
Our Song. The terrifying loss of self that dementia brings as one person slowly recedes from any shared life with others is traced with deep sympathy. Standing on the shore and watching his wife float further and further away into a new life as the life line of  'our song'  slowly frays is heartbreaking. Art for a story where essentially nothing happens is hard to do, there is no action to carry the reader along, instead the quiet subtlety of changing details match and captures the depth of the story.
Mountaineering. Having a body that mocks your gender identity is a hugely public and private problem, being out of step on such a taken for granted issue is climbing a mountain every day. The struggle to be yourself and seen by others as yourself is brutal and fraught. Writing an extended metaphor is always a risk, it can simply not bear the weight or become so convoluted as to become meaningless. Roddy McCance, proving again that there are no rules for talent, makes it look easy and natural. Rolands Kalnins does the same for the art, carefully mixing up the metaphorical scenes with other ones that never break the story idea. Smashing colouring as usual.
Caitlyn. This is a very difficult story to read, the impact of bullying is not always fatal, it is always hugely destructive. The hammer blows of abuse that steadily shatter confidence and self belief are captured with horrifying clarity and the retreat from the onslaught is wretchedly credible. The utterly dominant colour scheme is vital to the story, the washed out colours of memory against the stark white boxes of the abuse display the  power relationship all too clearly.
Chief Wizard Note: This is a review copy very kindly sent by Roddy McCance, Tales of the Fractured Mind started on Kickstarter and should be available on Comixology in a month, you should get it to see how passion, craft and talent combine to create a work of art.