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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.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

KRAZY. George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. Michael Tisserand. HarperCollins Publishers 2016.

A hugely engaging and enjoyable biography of George Herriman, who created the newspaper comic Krazy Kat and developed it over an extraordinarily sustained period of creativity that lasted for decades.
There are two major themes in this book and Michael Tisserand does justice to both, the first is the racial context to George Herriman's life and the second is is life as a creative professional. George Herriman was a Creole from New Orleans who spent the greater part of his life declaring and being accepted as a white American, his nickname was George the Greek. George Herriman was committing the single most serious crime that he could carry out in social terms in the overtly racially divided USA of the time, he was "passing". By doing this he was directly confronting and undermining the most important tenant of the racial social creed, that a white person was intrinsically superior to non-white people and that their superiority was written on their skin for all to see. If in fact that skin was telling a lie, appearing to be white when the facts of family were otherwise was to effectively show up the complete nonsense for what it was, a lie put about by one group to support their dominance over others, a simple power play backed by nothing but violence and hatred.
No group responds well to such a direct and unassailable attack on something so precious to the structure of their lives, "passing" had fatal consequences for many, their treatment especially vicious to provide a warning to others.
George Herriman lived his life standing on this knife edge and never faltered, his secret was a secret for years after his death, Michael Tisserand carefully raises the question regarding exactly what George Herriman knew himself, his father had made a choice when George was very small so it is possible that he was not aware of his own heritage. Equally there are pieces of work that can be read without forcing the conclusion that he was aware of a hidden racial identity. Michael Tisserand does not step beyond the evidence, he does provide a very vivid context of the racial forces for forcefully and publicly at work in the USA. If George Herriman was conducting a fully conscious life as a Creole in a White skin then his ability to manage the mental strain and impact throughout his life without betraying himself in the slightest is the only aspect of his life more astounding than his work.
The second theme of this book is the extraordinary creative professional life of George Herriman, newspaper cartoonist. Michael Tisserand places George Herriman directly in his professional context as a member of a wide spread group who illustrated the news first and as photography took over provided comics for newspapers. George Herriman was part of a group of professional cartoonists who were together at the emergence of the art form and ho created many of its most enduring strips. The way that Krazy Kat developed from the desire to anchor a career in a continuing strip is deeply engaging, Krazy Kat was the end result of a lot of other efforts that had varying degrees of success until the star emerged. Having storming success with single strip comics, it was when Krazy was given a full page on a Sunday that George Herriman revealed the unplumbed depth of his creative genius. A simple framework of unrequited love between a kat, a mouse and a dog the confines that would choke another liberated George Herriman.
Krazy Kat in the Sundays never achieved the heights of popularity that others did, still it had a hugely loyal audience, though George Herriman spend his life downplaying his work and fretting that he would loose his employment.
Krazy is a very enjoyable book and a lovely tribute to an extraordinary man whose contribution to the sum total of human happiness is beyond measure.