Monday, 30 June 2014

The Private Eye #6 Review (Brian K Vaughan, Marcos Martin)

PI’s assistant, Melanie, is recuperating in Schwarzenegger Medical (really!) after the crash that totalled her cute lil’ car, while PI and Raveena have a lead on who killed Taj - a mysterious guy she hung out with called Deguerre. And there’s more: he plans on bringing back Internet. 

The Private Eye #6 is, of course, another fine digital issue in this great series - there hasn’t been a dud yet! This issue sees the plot advancing as PI and Raveena inch ever closer to the villain, Deguerre, and it’s about time - if there was a flaw with the first book, it was that there wasn’t really a confrontation between our hero and the bad guy. As the series gets ever closer to the final 10th issue though, Brian K Vaughan is slowly steering those characters together by making Deguerre aware of PI and deciding to hurt him by kidnapping his assistant Melanie. 

Vaughan makes the plot much clearer with this issue: Deguerre is bringing back the internet and to do so he needs to launch a satellite into orbit - that’s what the giant missile Nebular’s been working on is for. 

Deputy Correspondent Strunk gets his moment in the spotlight as he faces Deguerre’s two French assassins who’re trying to abduct Melanie, and an awesome gunfight erupts. Strunk’s gun has various settings, like Dredd’s lawgiver but much less deadly (no grenades!), firing colourful (paint?) pellets as well as live rounds. 

And speaking of colourful, artist Marcos Martin and colourist Muntsa Vicente continue to provide wonderful art for this book. The designs for futuristic hospitals are believable but still look different from what we have today, and the mask designs are as brilliant as ever. Vicente’s colours are unbelievably good and every page in this issue is gorgeous as a result of her work. 

The issue ends on a great cliffhanger which sets up PI and Deguerre’s first encounter - looking forward to that! The Private Eye #6 is another great issue full of strong writing and even better art.

Get all issues of The Private Eye at:

MPH #1 Review (Mark Millar, Duncan Fegredo)

Mark Millar’s recent string of unremarkable comics - Kick Ass 3, Jupiter’s Legacy, Starlight - continues with MPH, a story that’s basically about characters like The Flash without calling them The Flash. 

Thirty years ago some guy was able to run superhumanly fast thanks to a drug known as MPH. Fast forward to Detroit in 2014, and we meet Roscoe, a drug dealer who gets arrested and thrown in the slammer after being caught selling twenty pounds of cocaine. There, some prison dealer burnout somehow has a container of the same MPH drug which he offers Roscoe, who pops a pill - and then things change. Suddenly Roscoe can move so fast, he can walk out of prison and, with his newfound superhuman speed, the world is his oyster! 

If you’re familiar with Millar’s takes on superhero stories, you’ll be unsurprised with this first issue. The main character’s a put-upon schlubb who gets screwed over by the higher-ups, while elsewhere an older, wiser character in introduced, and then the hero gets their powers and begins realising their potential. 

Difference here is our main character Roscoe swallowed a motivational speaker’s book and spends most of this issue spouting that kind of American Dream drivel, even going so far as to make something as insipid as a “vision board” where he posts photos of all his shallow ambitions - expensive car, big house, money, etc. - in a vain attempt to somehow realise them sooner. 

I want to root for Roscoe who’s been dealt a tough hand growing up in Detroit, a city that’s literally filed for bankruptcy, with so few opportunities that he’s forced to deal drugs to get enough capital to invest in something legit, but I hate his corporate-speak - it just makes him sound even more of a tool than he already is! 

And speaking of dealing drugs, how the hell does a prison dealer get his hands on something like MPH in the first place? And, what, Roscoe happened to be the first and only person to try it - why not the dealer, who says he’ll do any drug? More importantly, why isn’t MPH under lock and key in some government lab? It just seems a bit too convenient that Roscoe would come across something like this drug at just the right moment. 

Duncan Fegredo’s art here is pretty good but he’s not given much chance to draw anything challenging which is where he shines. With Hellboy, he drew some breathtaking images as Mike Mignola’s scripts took in elements of fantasy and horror, swirling them all together and really getting the best out of Fegredo. With Millar’s MPH, the first issue is mainly set in a dull prison with a few drab urban scenes outside of it. It’s decently rendered, it’s just that having seen Fegredo’s abilities, I feel that the script’s not serving him well. 

MPH #1 is really just a serviceable opening issue rather than a firecracker of one. It’s Millar going through the motions rather than producing anything original and rather than be excited for what’s to come, I’m ambivalent as to where the series will go (I’m guessing getting even with his former drug boss, robbing some places, and then going straight). It’s sets up the story well enough but the story doesn’t seem very interesting at all.

Trees #1 Review (Warren Ellis, Jason Howard)

“Ten years since we learned that there is intelligent life in the universe but that they did not recognise us as intelligent or alive”

Giant alien tubes, or “trees”, have been planted across the globe. They spew noxious green ooze, poisoning cities and melting people, and the presence of this extraterrestrial tech has changed the world. New York City has flooded, while in China, a cultural city has sprouted up around one of the trees. Humanity has been brought to its knees by an unseen alien race who didn’t even bother fighting us, but seems to have used our planet as a giant septic tank! How do we fight back against this impossible force?! 

Warren Ellis’ new Image series is an interesting take on the alien invasion storyline and the first issue introduces readers to this strange scenario, asking more questions than it answers, as is its wont. To mirror the global effect these trees have had on the planet, the story takes place around the world with a storyline in Brazil, America, China and Norway, all underlining the chaos the trees have brought about. 

You can tell this is a Warren Ellis comic because of the misanthropic angle the aliens take and it’s easy to imagine Ellis’ grin at imagining Earth being used as a dumping ground for alien waste. That and the dialogue of course: “You would be young Chenglei, from Pigshit Village in scenic Incest Province, yes?” and the deadpan humour “Are you trying to sing again, Marsh? You’ve been warned about that.” 

It’s a decent first issue that doesn’t do much more than set up the series going forward. We’re barely introduced to the characters and it’s unclear exactly what the story is - we’ve been conditioned by numerous books/movies to think that if aliens attack, then humanity must fight back and prevail, which I assume is the story here; though it’s Ellis, so expect the unexpected. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wipes out humanity and lets the aliens win! But the number of intriguing questions it raises, plus the author, means I’ll definitely be back to see where it’s headed. 

3.5 stars

Trees #1

Southern Bastards #2 Review (Jason Aaron, Jason Latour)

Earl Tubb has returned to Craw County, Alabama, after 40 years to deal with his dead father’s matters, but realises something is rotten in his former hometown. Murder, crime and corruption riddle the small southern town and it seems to stem from one man: Coach Boss. In Southern Bastards #2, Earl meets the villainous Coach and realises if justice is to be served, he’ll have to go it alone. 

Jason Aaron made his feelings about the south very clear in his afterword to the first issue: he loves and hates it but he’ll never go back there (he lives in Kansas these days). Maybe that’s why this series has a feeling of post-apocalyptic doom overhanging it. The blood-red eyes of dogs, the merging of death and football in one scene, the ambivalence of the police to obvious crime, the free reign the thugs have over the town, and the near-constant overcast sky, ending in a thunderstorm, all contribute to a truly oppressive mood in this comic, with Aaron’s view of the south being overwhelmingly negative. 

The second issue is essentially all setup. Aaron’s still establishing the scenario, introducing all the players, and preparing Earl for his inevitable role as vigilante. Coach Boss’ presence in this book is firmly presented as the all-powerful ruler of this town and even if we only glimpse him on the edges of the football field, there’s no doubt that he enjoys enormous respect and control far beyond any ordinary person. 

Maybe it was the thunderstorm setting, but the finale felt like a scene straight out of Aaron’s Thor where the lightning gifts Earl with what he’s going to use to fight Coach Boss and his goons with. This scene is particularly dramatic as artist Jason Latour colours most of the issue in muted, dark colours and then when the lightning strikes everything is hellishly red and yellow. 

Two issues in and Southern Bastards continues to be an intriguing series which I’m confident Jason Aaron will develop into something extraordinary by tale’s end. Southern Bastards #2 is a good comic though it’s mostly table-setting for more dramatic issues to come and so feels a little unsatisfactory by itself.

Chew/Revival #1 Review (John Layman, Rob Guillory, Tim Seeley, Mike Norton)

I say this with complete love because I’m a huge fan but Chew might be the weirdest comic being published at the moment. It’s been an odd series since the beginning but if you saw how Volume 8 ended, you’ll know just how bizarre things get and how far John Layman and Rob Guillory have departed from “odd” and leapt into a new category of weirdness. 

In yet another strange move, Chew has crossed over with another Image series, Revival, for a spin-off comic, Chew Revival. It’s a double issue printed back to back so once you finish one comic and get to the middle, you flip it over and read the other, with stories from the respective creative teams set in Revival’s Wisconsin. 

In the Chew issue, Tony and John to investigate the foodie-related crime of dismemberment and meet Officer Dana Cypress, who fills them in on the whole reviver-phenomenon. FDA-whackiness ensues, and it ends on what Chew readers will know is an ongoing visual joke. The Revival issue follows Dana and Tony as they investigate a case of grave-robbing and lost love. 

I say that crossing Chew with Revival is a strange move because the two series are kinda polar opposites, and this crossover really highlights this. Chew is a fun, gleefully over the top and utterly silly comic - Revival is a dead-sober, horror-centric one. When reading these stories back to back, the difference in tone between them is actually quite jarring. 

I read the Chew issue first and loved the usual craziness especially the way John Layman’s lighthearted take on placing Tony and John in the Revival world really worked. He played it for laughs and pulled it off. 

Flip over to the Revival side and immediately you can tell something’s wrong: Tony looks different. I’ll only accept Rob Guillory’s Tony and seeing his infinitely more realistic depiction by another artist was really off-putting. My expression was like Dana’s on the same cover. 

Tim Seeley’s comic focuses on the tragedy of love lost, the intensity of that love transcending life and being warped by whatever caused the revivers to come back. There’s lots of sadness, violence and gore. Tony goes from being the hero of Chew to another bland detective character in a bad cop show. 

I’m a Chew fan, not a Revival one, and this crossover didn’t win me over to Revival. In fact, it underlined why I read Chew every month as opposed to Revival, and it’s not just tone, but just how original Chew is - there is no comparison to this series, it’s doing something totally unique and enjoyable. 

But comparing this Chew comic to the regular series stuff? Unfortunately it falls short, and I’m putting that down to the Revival element that’s mixed in. People coming back to life in Wisconsin just isn’t very interesting, at least not in the way it’s done in Revival, and sending in Tony and John to investigate that doesn’t make it more so. 

As a Chew fan, I enjoyed part of this comic even if I feel it’s not as good as the 100% Chew monthlies, and I felt ambivalent at best towards the Revival stuff. Maybe if you’re a fan of both titles you’ll get more out of this. For me though, this was a crossover that seemed like a fun idea on paper and quite a mediocre one in execution.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Letter 44 #7 Review (Charles Soule, Joelle Jones)

The first part of Letter 44’s second arc is, weirdly, a prologue issue. So the story writer Charles Soule and artist Alberto Alburquerque set up in the first book with the crew of the spaceship Clark heading out to face a potential alien threat while President Blades back on Earth deals with a conspiracy against him in his own ranks? That’s put on hold while we delve into a couple of the characters’ lives before they went into the Clark for their one-way mission. 

I’m really enjoying Letter 44 and think it’s a wonderful story from an enormously talented creative team but this issue feels like filler. I’m not really that interested in finding out that one of the crew won a Nobel Prize for her anthropology work and her subsequent miscarriage led to her marriage failing; or that another member of the crew is a raffish, Han Solo type whose financial problems lead to some reckless choices. I’m interested in where they are now, ie. on board a spaceship about to meet their fate on an alien vessel! 

And, to be totally honest, I don’t recognise either of these characters without having to go back and look through the first book, so its not like I was on tenterhooks waiting to find out why they’d accepted this suicide mission in the first place. 

But that’s just me - maybe there are readers of the series who’ve been dying to find out more about the crew and will love this issue. I’m all for character development but I would’ve preferred if Soule had done this in the story going forward, rather than pausing it and jumping back several years - unless he’s doing it because these two characters won’t have a chance to develop because they’re about to die? 

Alburquerque sits out this issue while guest artist Joelle Jones illustrates it. Jones’ artwork is really lovely, as readers of Helheim will already know, and I never noticed before how similar her and Alburquerque’s style is, so regular readers of this series won’t find the change too jarring. She’s clearly got range though as she’s usually drawing zombie barbarians and witches in Dark Ages Europe and this issue calls for her to draw realistic, 21st century stuff instead. Though the action moves from the Amazon basin to Siberia and she does a superb job with all scenarios. 

Letter 44 #7 is a well written comic, as most of Soule’s tend to be, and looks great thanks to Jones’ work; it just feels like an unnecessary addition to the series. It adds a bit more depth to a couple of unmemorable characters and little else. 

Here’s hoping we move forward to the present soon and catch up with the crew of the Clark when we left them at the end of #6, because that’s the reason we’re reading Letter 44 in the first place.

Letter 44 #7

Manifest Destiny #7 Review (Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, Owen Gieni)

Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni’s Manifest Destiny makes a welcome return, kicking off its second arc nicely in #7. 

Our heroes, Lewis and Clark, along with Sacagawea and their crew, are making their way downriver after the nightmare that was La Charrette. But what they found in that outpost looks to be only the beginning…

This isn’t the most action-packed issue but it’s never boring. Writer Chris Dingess works on a new character, Madam Boniface, as she assists Lewis in studying the monsters they’re encountering in the new world - and discovers his real reason for being out here in the first place. There are also welcome snapshots into the supporting characters’ backgrounds and how they ended up on this increasingly more dangerous mission. 

The strange new world they’re in keeps the comic tense as anything could happen at any moment - and of course does. The boat gets snagged in the river on an underwater arch, like the one from the first issue, which seems to act as a warning sign in this part of the world. And then - well, I won’t spoil it, but yikes! 

I’ve mentioned the art team, Matthew Roberts and Owen Gieni, every time I write about this series but it can’t be underplayed just how good the art in this series is. Dingess knows this and gives them more splash pages to display their talents. So right away on page two we see Sacagawea taking on a giant ladybird (a more action version of that scene is on the amazing cover by comics legends Marc Silvestri and Todd McFarlane), with the arch getting a page, a row boat getting capsized (a literal splash page!), and the last page reveal. 

All of the splash pages are well placed so that they nicely break up the issue but in no way interrupt the flow of the story. And they’re such beautiful images - the pencils, inks and colours merge perfectly on the page so you find yourself lingering over them, going back and looking at them again. It’s really first class artwork. 

Manifest Destiny #7 is an excellent start to the second arc in the series. The characters get more fleshed out, there are some new monsters to fight, and there’s all the potential in the world to see what’s around the next bend in the river. Get the first trade if you haven’t read it, then pick up #7, and enjoy one of the best original comics of the last year!

Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet #1 Review (Kevin Smith, Ralph Garman, Ty Templeton)

I love Batman ‘66 - I love the TV show with Adam West, I love the comics series by Jeff Parker. I don’t love Kevin Smith. However, that’s not enough to dissuade me from his recent foray into comics, Batman ‘66 Meets the Green Hornet, with podcast co-host, Ralph Garman, and Batman artist extraordinaire, Ty Templeton. 

The setup of the comic has Bruce Wayne going on a train which also happens to have Britt Reid and his valet Kato aboard which gets hijacked for its valuable cargo. They change into costume and fight the campy villain. It’s actually fine for a Batman ‘66 plot but the execution is just really, really boring. 

Take, for example, Jeff Parker’s Batman ‘66 story where Penguin and Mister Freeze create a giant iceberg in Gotham harbour. This leads to an underwater submarine sequence, a fight atop the iceberg, visually interesting scenes inside the iceberg - there’s a lot you can do with that scenario that’s fun and imaginative. 

Now take Smith and Garman’s Batman ‘66. It’s a train that gets stopped with glue on the tracks. The villain wears a pink suit and is covered in glue. They try to fight but get their feet glued to the floor. So nothing happens. Train. Static characters. Exposition. Done. Zzz… 

Smith/Garman are clearly huge fans of the series and they’ve got the voices and the tone down cold, but their story is a complete non-starter. Granted they leave the issue with an exciting cliffhanger but the rest of the comic is sooooo dull, even if you’re a fan of the series. It’s the same structure Smith used in his last Batman book, The Widening Gyre - boring story for most of it, exciting final page. But I’ll be really disappointed if the resolution is “Wait, old chum - it just so happens I have…” (reaches into belt). I know it’s in keeping with the TV show, but please be more creative, Smith/Garman! 

Ty Templeton has worked on Parker’s Batman ‘66 as well as other Batman comics (not to mention illustrating Marc Tyler Nobleman’s excellent book on Batman’s creator, Bill Finger: Bill The Boy Wonder), and his artwork here is as superb as you’d expect. Also, Alex Ross’ cover is quite good - it’s really cool to see Adam West’s Batman painted photo-realistically on the front of a Batman ‘66 comic. It’s like a still from the series! 

Maybe the other issues will improve and, hopefully, given Smith’s track record of delivering late comics, they’ll actually all come out within 2014! But, based on this first issue, I’m not very interested in this Batman ‘66 story. Batman and Green Hornet chase a glue dude? Eh. Next! (Phew, avoided all the glue puns!)

Sex Criminals #6 Review (Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky)

“Uh oh. Honeymoon’s over” says Jon, and, while he’s referring to a bump in his relationship with Suzie, he could well be referring to Sex Criminals #6, which sees a surprising dip in quality as Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky return for the next part in their sex/comedy crime drama. 

Gone are the nutty, rambling intros - though thankfully the brilliant letters pages have been kept - and the musical numbers etc; now we have Jon telling us his mental problems. Ooo, buzzkill. 

So they got away with it! They robbed the bank, escaped the sex police, and were able to save Suzie’s library from foreclosure. That’s the end of their story right - end of the series? Nope. The sex police are closing in just as Jon’s various mental disorders are flaring up. 

Sex Criminals #6 is definitely not a bad comic and I do get it - it’s a character issue, fleshing out Jon’s under-developed character - but this new direction of Jon telling us about his shingles, hypochondria and other maladies is not a great one, especially in comparison to the wonderful story that preceded it. 

I suppose though that if you suffer, or have suffered, from paranoia, anxiety etc. then this issue will be meaningful to you, and it does provide an insight to those of us who have no experience with these problems as to what it’s like living with said problems. Also, though I’m sure most of you already know this, NEVER EVER use WebMD to self-diagnose - that site will drive you crazy like it did Jon who discovered that he had CancerAIDS! 

Zdarsky’s art is as top notch as ever and Sex Criminals remains a stunningly good looking comic. But, like Jon, this series needs to get a grip! It finds a story by the end of the issue though so I guess this was a setup issue. Hopefully the next comic will see a return to the high quality that we’ve all come to expect from the series. 

Well, it had to happen - after five stellar issues, Sex Criminals puts out a mediocre one. Hey guys, remember Cumworld? Can we… can we go back there? Remember brimping? Heh. Guys… ?

Sex Criminals #6

The Annotated Mantooth! Review (Matt Fraction, Andy Kuhn)

Everyone’s acting just a little too cool… 

… at least the guys intro-ing this book are. Warren Ellis repeatedly reminds us that he’s in a pub and he’s drunk and fuck you, he’s in a pub while he’s writing this, and did you know he’s drunk and in a pub? Joe Casey’s intro starts with “You have no idea what kinds of drugs I had to ingest to get this introduction down on paper…” Ooo, yeah you guys are real outlaws, you “rock star” comics writers! I get it, you really wish you were the comics version of Hunter S. Thompson except you’re not pulling it off! Greg Rucka also wrote (a needless) third intro but I’ll be damned if I ever read another word by that hack so who knows what he said. 

So why does one of Matt Fraction’s least known comics have three introductions? One word: padding. Take away the extras - the three introductions, the afterword from the publisher, the covers, the short story, and the annotated scripts - and you’re left with 40 pages of comics. In other words, the reason you’re buying this book - for the comic - isn’t even the length of a double-size issue. 

The format of the book is: left hand page is divided into two columns, comic script and annotations; right hand page is comic said script is about. I get that this is also the hilarious joke - this is a comic not even attempting to be intellectual in the least and we’re getting all kinds of stuff you’d find in an academic book. Har har, we’re annotating a story about a gorilla in drag punching Hitler! Yeah… what a riot. And they do this the entire book. Oh, my sides...

Even though this is supposed to be the joke, I didn’t bother reading the scripts or the annotations - all that text crap isn’t why I read comics in the first place. I usually have a novel going on so if I want to read prose/text, I’ll go read that. When I pick up a comic book? It’s because I want to read comics. Those scripts that get printed on the back of anniversary editions like Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum? I don’t read those either - why read the same story twice? Same reason I didn’t read the scripts here. But I get it, it’s a funnee joke...

Mantooth is James Bond as a gorilla, which actually works out as a small collection of jokes thrown in amidst overblown action. Some jokes are kinda funny like the “hard fucking category” listed among the Nobel Prizes, or the name of the killer robot: “World’s Greatest Grandpa”; the zombie watercar visual cracked me up, and the dialogue is as screwy as you’d expect from Fraction including “hoppin’ he-cunts” and Mantooth’s battle cry, “SHIT THE BED!”.

But are they cohesive as a story? Not really. They’re a sequence of knowingly kerazy scenes that add up to a very shallow and forgettable read. Mantooth fights Bond villain, says some creative swears, wins, the end. Repeat three times. Fraction also satirises Oprah, but Bond and Oprah are pretty easy targets and not exactly difficult to mock - Oprah’s manipulative and superficial? Duh. Bond’s silly? Double duh. Your point…? 

There’s an idea that to become a great writer, you have to get X number of words out of your system before you actually write something worth reading; I’d class Mantooth as one of those comics Fraction had to write in order to create the great comics he’s producing today (Hawkeye, Fantastic Four, FF, Sex Criminals). 

Simply put, there’s a reason why Mantooth is one of Fraction’s least known comics: it’s gorilla crap.

The Annotated Mantooth!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Rachel Rising 3: Cemetery Songs Review (Terry Moore)

Ohhhh-kay, I think this is where I exit the series, it’s officially become boring!

In the last book, the creepy blonde woman, Lilith, revealed that she and Rachel are back from the dead because they’re witches out for revenge on the town that wronged them centuries ago. It was pretty exposition-heavy but unfortunately things haven’t improved with this third book, which also manages to have even less going on!

The problems with this volume are 1) there is a lot of exposition but very little is actually revealed, 2) there’s no advancement of the plot, 3) the characters remain static, and 4) the female characters are difficult to distinguish from one another.

This book is full of moments we’ve already seen. Earl’s standing watch over Jet, again, who’s “dead”, again, and who comes back to life, again. Rachel and Johnny repeat their conversations about how Rachel was dead and now she’s come back to life and that’s impossible and yadda yadda yadda – get past it already! Malus continues to corrupt Zoe, the little girl who’s been killing people since the beginning. And that’s it – a whole lotta repetition!

So, as part of the witches’ revenge on the town of Manson, a trio of witches poison the water supply, but who are these witches? Besides Lilith, who’s the head witch, who’re the other two? When Lilith talked about the three witches, she mentioned herself and Rachel, and another – Jet? Or is there a third witch who hasn’t been introduced yet or are there more than three? Because so far I count at least five (though there may be seven!). It doesn’t help that Terry Moore’s character models for these witches make them near impossible to tell apart. Other than this, I still really like Moore’s artwork and it continues to be a delight in this book.

And, while that finale is shocking at first, once you remember that Rachel and Jet have come back from death twice already, why wouldn’t they come back a third time?

Rachel Rising was fun initially but it’s gotten so damn slow and repetitive I’ve lost interest. Rachel Rising, interest falling. Bye, Terry Moore!

Rachel Rising 3: Cemetery Songs

Friday, 27 June 2014

Outcast #1 Review (Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta)

Having successfully tackled zombies, Robert Kirkman’s new archetypal horror series is: The (Southern) Exorcist.

Kyle is a troubled man with a troubled past. His mother was troubled – or possessed – and he’s now divorced with his wife taking his troubled kid from him. Now, another troubled kid is possessed and the troubled local priest can’t help – will troubled Kyle rise out of his funk and defeat the demon? Troubled people = compelling characters, apparently.

Robert Kirkman does not write great first books. The Walking Dead, Invincible - both titles’ first books were average at best, and it took multiple volumes for me to warm to The Walking Dead. Divvy up those volumes into single issues and we’re talking literally dozens of comics before the titles took off.

So it is with Outcast #1, which is at best an average comic and a pretty weak opening gambit. Kirkman’s written a lot of comics but he’s not actually a great comics writer. Kyle’s very uninteresting main character: a dull, clich├ęd mess of a divorcee who spends his time feeling sorry for himself, sobbing and sleeping. Even when he rises to the challenge of the exorcism, he still comes across as an ordinary, boring guy. Kirkman’s trying to make him into a Southern Constantine but Kyle appears to be nowhere near as brilliant a hero.

Kirkman doesn’t do anything with the exorcist angle either. What do you expect from an exorcism story? That’s what you get here. Kid possessed with demon, tied to bed, hurts parents, grins evilly and lashes out with extraordinary strength once the exorcists show up, oh so scary, exorcist does whatever, demon leaves, blah blah blah. There’s nothing original here - it’s the exorcist story template through and through.

It doesn’t help that Kirkman’s dialogue is as clunky as ever, like when Kyle’s sister shows up and addresses him as “big brother” thus telling us that they’re related. Because I know when I see my brother, I always address him as “little brother”, rather than his name, to establish our relationship to anyone around us who wants to know. Subtlety!

I do like that the first issue is double-sized but they’ve still kept the price point to $2.99, so it’s very good value for money, and the nod to The Walking Dead on the second page where the kid’s eating his fingers was nicely done (at least it felt like a nod to TWD). And Paul Azaceta’s art is pretty good – there are no problems with the story proper and some panels stand out like the scenic shots of West Virginia. Also, unlike The Walking Dead, Outcast is coloured rather than black and white.

But I have to say, Outcast #1 didn’t do much for me. As much as Kirkman crams into this first issue, I’m not that interested in the story or the characters, and I’m not at all excited for the second issue, or the series as a whole. It’s not a poorly put-together comic, it’s just not for me – perhaps if you’ve been waiting for an exorcist comic, you might get more out of it. Maybe it’ll get good by the fifth volume (ie. some 25 issues in)?

Outcast #1

Deadpool vs. Carnage Review (Cullen Bunn, Salva Espin)

Carnage is roaming free and causing carnage because the dude's got no imagination. Watching the chaos unfold in between looking for shows starring Kat Dennings, the TV tells Deadpool that he’s the only one who can track Carnage as they’re both on the same crazy wavelength. That’s all it takes as Deadpool Beautiful-Minds his way to Carnage, “reading” the secret messages in the everyday that, against all odds, lead him to the bloodthirsty symbiote; yup, disturbingly, Deadpool’s madness method works! And the rest of the book is fighting between the two. Who wins? Well, they’re both invincible so… yeah, it plays out as you’d expect.

Following the success of the Deadpool Killology (Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Deadpool Killustrated, Deadpool Kills Deadpool) and Night of the Living Deadpool, Cullen Bunn’s Deadpool four-issue standalone miniseries seem to be a staple of Marvel’s publishing schedule now. This latest is a throwback to ‘90s superhero comics with a Vs storyline starring two quintessentially ‘90s characters, Deadpool and Carnage.

Bunn delivers what you want from a Deadpool Vs Carnage comic – lots of bloody violence (this is not a comic for kids) as the two indestructible characters have at it with gusto. Deadpool stuffs a grenade down Carnage’s mouth, Carnage dismembers Deadpool, Deadpool drives a thresher into Carnage, etc. It’s a lot of fun, silly stuff!

Where things take an unexpected left turn is when Bunn introduces philosophical discussions on free will into the dialogue, and the finale, far from being an over the top gore-fest, becomes a surprisingly cerebral conclusion. But I don’t want to overplay the intellectual angle too much as its more of an interesting element thrown in the mix than being representative of the whole book – it’s mostly as crazy and action-heavy a comic as you’d think with some great scenes between the two.

Artist Salva Espin’s Deadpool expressions and body language are pitch-perfect, and I love the little details he throws into the panels, like the opening scene in Deadpool’s house where there’s a roll of toilet paper in every room. What the hell is Deadpool doing – what’s wrong with him?! I kept wondering, and then I realised, oh yeah, he only eats chimichangas and beer. Little (gross) detail, but shows how much the artist knows the character.

Deadpool Vs Carnage is a decent version of the overused superhero staple, the Vs comic, and it’s enjoyable while it lasts but essentially it’s pretty forgettable, disposable entertainment.

Next up: Deadpool Vs X-Force!

Deadpool vs. Carnage

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Journey Into Mysterious Comics #1: Bee and Puppycat #1 Review (Natasha Allegri, Garrett Jackson)

Each week we read comics we know and love – that’s why we read them! But what about the scores of other comics that get published that we don’t read? In Journey Into Mysterious Comics, I’ll pick up a random comic I know nothing about each week and review it. Maybe I’ll strike gold and find a great new title to follow, maybe I won’t – but I live in hope!

Join me each week as we… Journey Into Mysterious Comics!


Right away, I noticed something different with this one – as my comics were being rung up in the shop, the counter woman pointed to the cover of Bee and Puppycat #1 and said “that cover is awesome!”. She didn’t say anything about the other comics I was buying. It’s not a bad cover, but it’s very… girly: manga girl and mean-looking cute cat against a colourful background.

I should say that I’m making my random picks based on little more than the cover, so when I opened up the comic I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turns out this comic is drawn in a very manga-like way and I feel that it’s aimed at younger readers purely on the overly cutesy style – but it’s quite pleasant art from Natasha Allegri.

The story follows Bee as she recounts getting her pet Puppycat – a cute talking animal that’s part puppy and part cat – which became SO unexpectedly trippy! Bee falls asleep and she enters this weird nether-realm where Puppycat enters her body through various holes – it’s kinda Freudian! And then later when Bee gets locked out of her place, Puppycat can’t open the door to let her in – “I’m too small” he weeps. Is the comic working through some bizarre sexual issues via an almost Grant Morrison-esque lens? (By the way, it’s not creepy, she’s of age – then again, it is interspecies…)

Looking at the bare bones of it, it’s a fairly mundane comic – Bee gets a pet and then a temp job – so kudos to writers Natasha Allegri (who’s also the artist) and Garrett Jackson for being so creative in turning it into this magical-realist tale. Eg. a floating monitor with a face and wings gives Bee her job = Bee checks her email to find a job offer in her inbox, etc.

The second part (written by Madeleine Flores) features Bee and Puppycat visiting the world’s worst bakery – they literally have fresh fish laid alongside fruit pastries!!! Bee’s wearing a kerazy dress which looks like it’s been starched to hell, stood up around her like a cloth tutu, which barely covers her knickers!

Then, of course, they get abducted by the monitor with a face and wings, are beamed into a weird alternate universe and visit a weeping mermaid – see what I mean about Grant Morrison-esque madness!!??! I love it!

I feel like the $3.99 asking price is a bit steep seeing as you can breeze through this in no time, but I was really pleasantly surprised by this one. I was expecting yet another cat-themed girl comic and got something more like Grant Morrison crossed with James Kochalka – a combination I never knew existed but am glad it does!

Great stuff, guys, and a great comic – check it out everybody, this one will surprise you!

What a delightful start to the column! 

From Kaboom! Studios and Cartoon Hangover, Bee and Puppycat #1 by Natasha Allegri and Garrett Jackson is out now

Strongman Review (Charles Soule, Allan Gladfelter)

Tigre is an old, burned out Luchador wrestler who was once the toast of Mexican wrestling and starred in numerous Luchador films back in the 60s and 70s – kinda like blaxpoitation flicks but with Luchadores. Now he’s throwing seedy wrestling matches for fifty bucks a pop. That is until he’s approached by a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his dead lover from decades past, and she has a mission for him: stop the organ traffickers that’re destroying the poorer neighbourhoods of the city. But, with the crime reaching far beyond the slums to the corridors of political power, will this be Tigre’s last fight?

Debuts are tricky things, especially in comics. Read the debut comics of some of the biggest names writing today – Warren Ellis, Brian Bendis, Garth Ennis, to name a few (coincidentally all surnames ending in “is”) - and you’ll end up reading some pretty crap books with no indication of the quality these guys would achieve years down the line. Charles Soule, though? Strongman is his first published comic and it’s so polished and good, you’d think he’d been in comics for years!

The only other non-superhero book of Soule’s I’ve read is Letter 44, but right away you can tell Strongman is worlds apart from that title. With its storyline of a Luchador wrestler hunting down organ traffickers with his bare hands and saving the city from corrupt politicians, Strongman is a vigilante story that has the gloriously corny aspects of the pulp vigilante stories from the 70s. It reads like a cross between Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and Frank Miller’s The Hard Goodbye.

It’s played totally straight but it also has elements of humour, noir, and pathos sprinkled throughout, and, of course, a deep love and respect for Luchador wrestling (the great Mexican wrestlers never took off their masks, and Tigre is never depicted without his). But Soule also pulls off more sophisticated narrative tricks, playing with what’s real and what’s isn’t as we peek into the mind of a man whose years of alcoholism and fighting have destroyed his memories. There’s the same weird unbalancing scene from The Hard Goodbye where Marv realises Goldie may not be dead, as Tigre sees his own Goldie seemingly come back to life.

I like that Soule basically does his more strait-laced version of the Luchador and that, while Tigre is (and needs to be for the story he’s in) a near-unstoppable machine, that he does have weaknesses and the moments where his true strength come through are based around choices of honour and character rather than physical power. That said, there are some brilliant scenes where Tigre’s strength is utilised well that fit in perfectly with the story.

Allan Gladfelter’s art is wonderful – I loved the character designs for Tigre and his pals, and the opening few pages are creatively constructed and bursting outwards to the reader before settling down into the traditional comic panel structure. The action’s drawn well so none of the beats in the fights are missed, and moments like Tigre sat in a bar booth by himself with a drink have a remarkable power to them.

Also, and this isn’t a spoiler, but when you read this and want to understand the final two pages, pay attention to the borders of the panels throughout the book, and you’ll get your answer. 

Strongman’s not the masterpiece that Miller’s The Hard Goodbye was (which it clearly owes a lot to), but it’s still a great comic that does enough to make itself stand out, and it’s a helluva debut to come roaring out of the gate with! Strongman: it’s a good one, guys, check it out!

(This is an aside but, according to Wikipedia - so take this with a hefty pinch of salt - the second Strongman volume is completed, Soule & Gladfelter just haven’t sold it for publication yet. Why, when Soule’s star has never been brighter, have they not published this?! All the Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns, Superman/Wonder Woman, Inhuman, Thunderbolts, She-Hulk and Letter 44 fans Soule’s been cultivating would swarm to it! C’mon chaps, Strongman Volume 2 – let’s have it!)


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Journey Into Mysterious Comics #0

Each week we read comics we know and love – that’s why we read them! But what about the scores of other comics that get published that we don’t read? In Journey Into Mysterious Comics, I’ll pick up a random comic I know nothing about each week and review it. Maybe I’ll strike gold and find a great new title to follow, maybe (and probably) I won’t – but I live in hope! Join me each week as we… Journey Into Mysterious Comics!  


In this, the zero issue column of Journey Into Mysterious Comics, let me lay down a couple ground rules about what to expect:

1. There will be no DC or Marvel here!
I read plenty from both already, so my random picks for this column will exclude the Big 2 and focus on smaller publishers putting out work I would not normally read. This is about venturing outside the comfort zone, folks!

2. Recent releases only!
There’ve been plenty of bizarre and whacky comics published in over the years, but I want to focus on the comics coming out now rather than going back and reviewing something that’s likely been dug up and mocked elsewhere. So everything I review in this column will be current at the time of writing - new bizarre and whacky comics, here I come!

3. Webcomics welcome!
The idea for this column came when I picked up my comics of the week at my local comics shop, glanced at the many shelves of comics I wasn’t getting, and wondering what they were like. So I’m aiming to put some money in creators’ pockets by purchasing one random comic from the shop each week and reviewing it. But if there are some weird and wonderful webcomics out there, drop me a line if I don’t come across it myself, and I’ll have a look at it. The more bonkers, the better!

4. Ignorance is a must!
I’ll be selecting comics that look the craziest with the least recognisable names, characters and titles – but I won’t do any background reading or delve into anyone’s histories, creator or character. My review will be based entirely on the comic in my hands and nothing more, so the ignorance on display is intentional!

See you for JIMC (let’s see if that catches on) #1, with no variant covers!

Daredevil, Volume 5 Review (Mark Waid, Chris Samnee)

Down to his last twenty bucks, Matt Murdock goes to make amends with his former partner and best friend, Foggy Nelson, only to discover… Foggy has cancer. And I thought Mark Waid’s version was supposed to be the upbeat Daredevil!

Besides the crossover with Superior Spider-Man (which was pretty bland), the book follows a mysterious assailant’s plan to destroy The Man Without Fear as he attempts to spawn dozens of Daredevils by recreating Matt’s childhood accident. Who is the man with the plan? Who is Ikari? And why does Stilt-Man keep committing crimes in New York City, the most heavily superhero-populated city in the Marvel Universe?!

I’m not a huge fan of Daredevil nor have I been the biggest cheerleader for this acclaimed series but it’s had its moments, and this book is arguably the best. It’s also the conclusion of an arc that’s apparently been running since the first volume – I say “apparently” because I had no strong impression of an arc threading through these five volumes!

Nonetheless, Waid does his best to make the connections between the multiple books and almost pulls it off – until he reveals the mastermind behind it all. Really – that guy? Would that guy have been able to pull it off? And no, I’m not talking about Stilt-Man, though I do like that he’s become a running gag in this series.

However, Waid does successfully create a tense atmosphere of paranoia as Matt realises the villain’s agents are everywhere and we see him slowly losing his composure. That scene when a replacement solicitor shows up at the office for an interview with Matt was a masterstroke of bait and switches, especially with that incredible final panel! I’m surprised the attempts to re-create Matt’s accident proved so fruitful though – apparently there IS a formula for creating multiple Daredevils if you want to! Kind of makes him less than unique though…

But it’s Foggy who’s the standout character of this book. I love how Matt’s there for his pal as he goes through chemo but Foggy’s there for Matt too in figuring out the villain’s identity and telling his buddy what he needed to hear when he needed to hear it. And the coda to the book, a short story starring Foggy called Punching Cancer… man, what a tearjerker! Foggy goes to the children’s cancer ward to tell them stories of the superheroes he’s met over the years and gets upstaged by Iron Man who drops by to buck up the kids’ spirits. I won’t say anything more but it was a beautiful comic. 

And a large part of its beauty comes from Chris Samnee’s outstanding art. It’s almost redundant to praise the art in this series as Marcos Martin, Mike Allred and Chris Samnee’s art is never anything less than stellar, and everyone has mentioned how gorgeous the book looks, but, one more time (all together now!), the art is AMAZING!! I may not love all of Waid’s scripts but I’ve enjoyed the artwork in every single book in this run. 

Daredevil Volume 5 is one of the highlights in Waid’s run – don’t miss it!

Daredevil, Volume 5