Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hawkeye #19 Review (Matt Fraction, David Aja)

Matt Fraction/David Aja/Matt Hollingsworth continue to put out one quality issue after another though groaning under the weight of Eisner Awards for their work on this series. Like Hawkeye #11 (aka the Pizza Dog issue), Hawkeye #19 sees Fraction and Aja playing with the comic book format, seeing what they can accomplish visually with fewer words.

Following their fateful encounter with the Clown, Clint and his brother Barney are in a bad way. Clint’s temporarily deaf while Barney’s temporarily in a wheelchair. Most of the issue is “silent” (ie. wordless) as its told from Clint’s perspective and Aja uses sign language panels to communicate the dialogue. Some subtitles would’ve been useful as, unless you’re familiar with sign language, you’re unlikely to know what the signs mean, though some you can guess.

Aja flashes back between Clint and Barney’s youth and the present, juxtaposing their current situation with a similar one that happened to them as kids, when Clint was again temporarily deafened. It’s a strong family-themed issue as the two brothers work out their problems the best way brothers do – with their fists – though there’s genuine love between the two that’s very evident on the page.

The last couple of pages imply that we’ve skipped a ton of action as Clint and Barney rally for the fight back against Clown and the Bros, so I guess we’ll see that in forthcoming issues – though unfortunately there’s not many more to go as this creative team’s run is shortly coming to an end.

The art team of Aja and Hollingsworth – do I even need to mention how good they are anymore? Aja’s producing the finest work of his career, with each issue revealing a new inspired take on his style, while Hollingsworth’s colours are among the most striking you’ll see in a superhero comic.

And that’s the other thing: this is a superhero comic! Have you ever seen anything like this issue, and so many others before it, doing the kinds of things it’s doing in a superhero comic before? It’s just amazing what each new issue surprises the reader with. It’s like, not even a week after winning the Best Single Issue Eisner for Hawkeye #11, the team have decided to make their bid for next year’s prize with Hawkeye #19 – and they may very well walk away with it again!

Fraction/Aja/Hollingsworth: nobody does it better.

Hawkeye #19

Letter 44 #8 Review (Charles Soule, Alberto Alburquerque)

After the dip in quality that was the weird blip of the last issue, Letter 44 is back in the present and roaring! The war in Afghanistan is turned around following President Blades’ authorisation to use the secret tech America has been developing to combat the possible alien invasion. Meanwhile, back on the Clarke, one of the crewmembers, Gomez, appears to have developed a psychic-esque link with the Chandelier (the alien mining vessel) just as its completed its construction. Also, will the Chandelier prove to be a mining tool or a weapon of cosmic destruction?

Reading an issue of Letter 44 is like catching an episode of your favourite TV show – Charles Soule effortlessly pulls the reader into the world of the story and holds on tight until the end. It’s like if Breaking Bad were a comic. The pacing is terrific too, so that events are playing out in a way that’s neither too fast or too slow. Things are definitely building but not at the expense of underdeveloped characters or half-baked plot – it’s perfectly measured. 

Both storylines – on Earth and in space – are as compelling as each other. Blades’ administration is becoming more daring and exciting as Blades takes more risks than his Bush-esque predecessor, while life on the Clarke is equally fascinating as we see how the new baby, Astra, is adapting to life in deep space, and how the crew are preparing for first contact.

Alberto Alburquerque’s back on art duties and he brings his usual A-game to this comic. He’s comfortable with drawing military operations in Afghanistan as he is a medical exam on a spaceship – the guy’s range is formidable and his imagery is always transcendent.

Eight issues in and Letter 44 continues to impress – it’s as fresh now as it was when it launched and, as the cliff-hanger finale on the last page proves, is only getting more exciting as it goes on. #8 is another wonderful issue in this great series!

Journey Into Mysterious Comics #5: Bad Dreams #1 Review (Gary Winnick)

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! 


A little girl called Mary appears in a dream world. There are lots of fantasy creatures around, like a shadow thing called Nimrod, a talking mouse called Sir Spanks, and a spider imaginatively called Spide. Together, they must go on a quest for Mother Night to bring back the darkness to a land of eternal day as the endless light is driving everyone mad from lack of sleep!

Bad Dreams #1 is an all-ages comic from Gary Winnick, perhaps best known for his work as designer of the Lucasfilm Games’ classic Maniac Mansion. The comic’s look is kinda similar to MM with the interesting use of colour and wonderfully elaborate houses – visually it’s appealing.

But, because it’s aiming for a much younger audience, the writing and storytelling is much less sophisticated. Mary, our main character, couldn’t have less character if Winnick tried – she is as blank a slate as possible. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are themselves unremarkable – they’re basically all about the way they look rather than the way they behave.

Bad Dreams is a cute quest story that younger readers will enjoy more because they’re much less critically-minded readers and the adventure is fine and suitable for kids; but for the older crowd like myself, there’s little here to engage with. Little-to-none characterisation, bland plot, and forgettable dialogue all marred my experience of this comic though I liked the quirky art. Definitely one for the under 10 crowd only, methinks.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances Review (Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal)

Bah. Running. Exercise. Ugh.

The last (and only!) book I read about long distance running was Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and it was ok – Murakami’s writing always has this strangely Zen/peaceful quality to it. But it basically repeated the same thing over and over: he likes running because it makes him feel good about writing, about his life, about everything.

Matthew Inman’s written a similar book, albeit in comic form, in The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances, which also informs you that he likes to run because it makes him feel better about his life, about his work, about everything. But it’s also about other things like Inman’s hatred of gyms and gym culture, his dislike of healthy food-only diets, and an anecdote about giant Japanese hornets (which are literally the size of sparrows!).

Thanks to a combination of natural storytelling ability and appealingly over-the-top imagery (his apathy is characterised as a morbidly obese fairy called The Blerch who urges him towards cake and Netflix), Inman is able to take this rather mundane-seeming material and turn it into a compelling and fun book.

Besides the autobiographical stuff, there’s actually a lot of good advice for anyone looking to start running themselves. Like how not to pressure yourself early on to change all aspects of your life if you decide to start running, or to set unrealistic targets (waking up at 5am every day? Fuck that!).

There’s a refreshing honesty to his approach – he’s not setting out to tell you how to lose weight, and he’s not telling you that running will solve all of your problems; he’s just telling you what works for him. You won’t get a ridiculously sculpted body if you run long distance – instead you’ll get giant legs! And if you want a six pack, you’ll have to starve for it to show, and Inman is steadfastly against dieting/starvation – by all means make healthy choices but don’t deny yourself junk food either (that said, the schlumpy guy he portrays himself as in the book isn’t who he is in real life – man looks like a catalogue model, damn him. But he says he was a fat kid growing up so I guess that mentality is for life).

But Inman’s message is clear: whatever you do, choose to run. The rewards far outweigh the costs, which are quite minimal and mostly consist of time which most people have, they just talk themselves out of using it to exercise (it’s just easier not to!). And he is quite a convincing proselytiser of running; the idea of reaching a void-like space in your mind when running is quite appealing.

I liked his anecdote about running in Nagoya, Japan (a beautiful city) which makes you feel his pain acutely as he ran out of water early on in the run on a hot day and began being chased by giant hornets. He eventually outruns them and gloriously discovers a vending machine in a bamboo grove, calling the moment when he drank a cold purple grape drink a near religious experience! The Japanese do put vending machines EVERYWHERE and I’ve had that purple grape drink before – Fanta Grape is godly whether you’re dehydrated or not.

My favourite part of the book is his critique of gym culture, showing all kinds of body types in the gym and revealing their thought bubbles – basically everyone has body issues whether you’re a massive blob or a skinny, tanned Adonis. Running won’t get rid of that – nothing will until you start liking who you are - but it will give you a high that’ll help put things into perspective and make you feel better too, mentally and physically.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances is a highly readable, fun comic about the joys of running with some amusing insights into our current overly-health obsessed society. It almost makes me want to become a runner too.



The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Chew: Warrior Chicken Poyo #1 Review (John Layman, Rob Guillory)

Goddamnit, ANOTHER cybernetic luchador chicken comic - honestly, the market is flooded with this crap! 

Of course I’m joking - there is only one badass chicken that owns all of comicsdom! 

This is what every Chew fan has been dreaming of since they first met the character - Poyo’s very own comic! No longer relegated to just those delightful splash pages in the regular issues, Poyo stars in this one-shot that sees him saving the President of the United States on a molecular level before embarking on a Lord of the Rings quest parody to defeat the evil Groceryomancer. 

This comic. Fucking. Rules. 

I’ve been down on Chew these last couple issues (three if you count the Revival crossover) but Warrior Chicken Poyo wins me right back - this is what I love about Chew wrapped up in one barmy comic! John Layman cooks up one amazing adventure after another as our hero fights terrorists before heading to fantasyland to fight killer vegetables (the Tomatokazes were my favourite!) before taking on the Groceryomancer himself. 

It’s an incredibly violent comic too, so your local comic shop will likely have it wrapped in an “over 18s only” bag like mine did. But the violence is sooo cool - the way Poyo defeated the Groceryomancer? I mean… that was so damn imaginative and funny! Perfecto, Senor Layman! 

Rob Guillory’s art is always fantastic but he really pulls out the stops in this issue. He takes Layman’s raw ingredients of a script and does all kinds of zen-level shit to it, bringing it to glorious life - the killer vegetables are one thing but the way he can make you believe a chicken can kick so much ass is something else. Those moves Poyo was pulling off were insane - he is a genuine action hero and I can’t wait to see him portrayed in the animated series. 

Speaking of Rob, the letters page is taken up with pics of his second kid which is very sweet - and he named her Amelia Mae too!! 

But the Poyo love doesn’t stop there - 10 pages of covers from the likes of Chris Burnham, Ray Fawkes and Sina Grace celebrate Poyo’s adventures further! It’s hard to pick a favourite out of them but I loved Burnham’s (his exceptional work on Batman Incorporated made me a fan for life) and Daniel Warren Johnson’s art is simply breathtaking. What a brilliant way to end the issue! 

I haven’t talked about all the great moments and surprises that await the Chew reader (that final page!) and I won’t - you’ll want to discover those for yourself and you’ll love them. What a great comic - Warrior Chicken Poyo #1 is everything the Chew fan could want from a Poyo one-shot. It’s entertaining, imaginative and fun, with great writing and art. It might be the best one-shot any series has ever had! 

Check it out and enjoy as Layman and Guillory serve up a steaming pile of awesomeness!

Deadpool Vs X-Force #2 Review (Duane Swiercynski, Pepe Larraz)

The problem with a character like Deadpool is that he’s done so many whacky things – killed all of the Marvel superheroes, gone through literature murdering famous characters, and even gone up against umpteenth versions of himself (including the legendary Beard o’ Bees Deadpool) – that when a perfectly decent story like Deadpool time-travelling while fighting X-Force comes along, the response can be – meh. Which isn’t really fair as Duane Swiercynski and Pepe Larraz’ comic isn’t bad.

In this issue, both sides find themselves in American Civil War times with Deadpool’s antics in 1777 during the Revolutionary War having caused major problems resulting in steampunk crab-like-tanks and robot soldiers in the 1860s! Cable dashes between time zones to try to correct the problem before facing the Merc with a Mouth himself and, as if the story wasn’t complicated enough, winds up in ANOTHER different era!

Deadpool Vs X-Force #2 is a fast-moving and entertaining enough comic – you get all the action you’d want from a Vs comic with enough variety to keep from becoming a boring read. Is it an amazing comic though? Nah. It’s Deadpool being Deadpool, X-Force being X-Force and Marvel trotting out yet another time travel storyline (ie. Marvel being Marvel).

In the end it’s more of an ok issue in a series that doesn’t look very distinctive – just another Deadpool mini-series where our anti-hero does bonkers stuff. But if that’s all you’re looking for, you’ll get a kick out of this one.

Deadpool Vs X-Force #2

Velvet #6 Review (Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting)

The second Velvet story arc, The Secret Lives of Dead Men, kicks off with a bang as Ed Brubaker shows us why Velvet Templeton was removed from active service as an agent and put safely behind a desk as a secretary in ARC-7 HQ.

Flash forward to the present day – 1973 – and Velvet’s circuitous journey of revenge has taken her from the Eastern Bloc to Monaco, back to Blighty and straight to the wolf’s door – she will find out who is setting her up for the murders of fellow agents and she will do it with a gun pressed against her former boss’ head! 

Velvet is an absolutely wonderful series. It’s spy thriller/noir done perfectly with Brubaker and artist Steve Epting producing some of their best work in years with this comic. Brubaker unfolds the story at a good clip and keeps its momentum while creating a brilliant character in Velvet, and Epting’s art has never looked better. There hasn’t been a weak issue yet and #6 is no exception.

Epting captures the period well with the seedy back lanes of Soho providing the backdrop for most of this issue, gorgeously drawn, particularly with the gaudy lights against the urban night – the colour effects are striking.

And of course there’s some awesome Bourne-esque action as Velvet takes the fight to her pursuers. I’m glad Brubaker finally addressed why Velvet was stuck behind a desk when she’s so clearly better than that mundane life – it was the one aspect of her story that felt underdeveloped. 

Velvet #6 is another strong issue in what is easily one of Image’s best titles. If you love spy stories, with the twist being the spy is a kickass woman than a tuxedo’d womaniser, you’ll love this series. And with the paperback out now collecting issues #1-5, it’s the perfect time to jump onto the monthlies.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

She-Hulk, Volume 1: Law and Disorder Review (Charles Soule, Javier Pulido)

Charles Soule must be able to harness the power cosmic or something because his schedule is unreal - writing 7 monthly ongoing comics yet still retaining a high quality?! 

I’m about to make She-Hulk sound really boring by saying it’s heavy on the lawyering front but, hey, John Grisham’s popular, right? People like courtroom dramas and lawyers hunting down stuff for their cases (I’m guessing - I’ve never read a Grisham and probably never will) and there’s plenty of that here - with added superheroes, so it’s even better!

Jen Walters is Bruce Banner’s cousin who had some of his blood transfused after sustaining a serious injury. His gamma-irradiated blood turned her into a milder version of the Hulk - She-Hulk! In this new series, Jen sets up her own law practice and butts heads with Tony Stark over a patent case, Doctor Doom over immigration, and finally (part of) the Sinister Six in a mysterious case she was involved in - but has no memory of. 

Soule is himself an immigration lawyer in real life (you see what I mean about the power cosmic? 7 monthlies AND his own law practice - goddamn overachiever!!) which lends a lot of realism to the lawyering angle, especially when Doom’s son, Kristoff Vernard, tries to claim asylum in the States, a situation Soule must deal with frequently. 

And therein lies the brilliance of the series - Soule has found the sweet spot with the material by merging his own experience and real world cases of immigration and patent rights cases with the fantasy of the Marvel Universe. It’s distinctly Soule’s own book but with a heavy dose of classic Marvel. 

Each issue sees Soule building upon Jen’s character more and more - especially good if you’re a first-time She-Hulk reader - as well as her world, which Soule is creating himself. This includes Jen’s wonderful deadpan paralegal Angie Huang (and this being Marvel, Angie of course harbours some secrets of her own) and her monkey Hei Hei, her landlord, who used to be a mutant student at Xavier’s before M-Day took away her powers, and her investigator (and drinking buddy), Patsy Walker aka Hellcat. 

Soule follows this up with the requisite superhero action as Jen fights Doombots aplenty, takes on Tony Stark’s impossibly Kafka-esque legal counsel Legal, and flies across Manhattan in a Fantasticar! It’s a great balance, to have the character and world building stuff sit alongside the action so you’re never bored with just one aspect as Soule keeps things moving quick-smart by knowing when to speed up and slow down the story. 

The first four issues of this book has one of the best art teams ever in penciller Javier Pulido (who did amazing work on Fraction’s Hawkeye) and colourist Muntsa Vicente (whose colours have made Vaughan/Martin’s digital comic The Private Eye a feast for the eyes!). Their work on most of this book is nothing short of incredible, from Pulido’s character design for Jen, to his imaginative presentations of Soule’s script - look at the layouts, the playfulness of the panels - and Vicente brings it all to glorious life with her wonderful choice of palette. Each page is utterly gorgeous and I’ve gone back and looked at them again and again (I’ve actually read all the issues twice in as many days!). So good - and Kevin Wada’s covers are just amazing. 

Ron Wimberly replaces Javier Pulido at issue #5 and though I’m not as excited by his artwork - his She-Hulk is much too mannish - the title still retains this unvarnished, indie feel to it that I think makes it stand out from the more polished Marvel titles. 

She-Hulk is an absolute triumph! Whether you’re a first time reader or a seasoned Shulkie vet, you’ll love this title for its ability to be fun and clever in equal measure and always entertaining. You’ll especially like this if you’re a fan of Fraction’s Hawkeye and Wilson’s Ms Marvel with Soule’s She-Hulk fitting in nicely amongst those titles as one of the gems of the Marvel NOW! lineup. If only all superhero comics were this good all the time!

She-Hulk Volume 1: Law and Disorder

Monday, 28 July 2014

The End of the Fucking World Review (Charles Forsman)

First of all - amazing title! Second of all - AMAZING BOOK! 

The End of the Fucking World (or TEOTFW) is about two teenagers, James and Alyssa, who decide to run away from home together. Their journey starts out somewhat romantic then becomes increasingly more desperate and tragic until they become like the modern Bonnie and Clyde. 

I read Charles Forsman’s Celebrated Summer a couple months ago and loved its quietly devastating intensity in such a relatively short comic about a couple of friends whose friendship dissolves over the summer and they never see each other again afterwards. But that doesn’t prepare you for how chilling TEOTFW is, which is a much, much darker read! 

Told in 8 page chapters (these were originally published separately as micro comics) with alternating viewpoints of our two protagonists, we see the same story from two perspectives. James, who we learn early on displays sociopathic tendencies and only gets worse as the story continues, and Alyssa, the girl who falls for him and does her best to turn a blind eye to his disturbing behaviour. 

The story explores the two characters’ loneliness from their remote families to their small town, and the despair they feel at their encroaching adulthood as well as their frustration and fear at their aimlessness and the unknowns of the future. James and Alyssa’s actions slowly become more foreign, at least to most of us, but Forsman reminds us of their humanity and their youth in scenes like when Alyssa meets her estranged father for the first time in 10 years - suddenly, she’s just a kid wanting to be with her dad. Other times, like the title, express the kind of heightened drama teenagers feel - what could be more fitting for a pair of desolate teenagers than to star in a book entitled The End of the Fucking World? 

On a surface level it could be read as a crime drama as the two start out stealing things like cars and breaking into houses to James turning to much more destructive acts. It’s a twisted love story between two people who don’t really understand what love is, having never experienced it before, but feel something - maybe the only thing they’ve ever felt - between them, and Forsman questions whether James, who is clearly a sociopath, is able to find redemption in the end.

Forsman draws the book in the style of Peanuts, almost like he’s bitterly chuckling at the juxtaposition of the subject matter to the cutesiness of his characters’ appearance. It makes the one panel, where he draws James more realistically for the only time in the book, all the more powerful and shocking an image when you see those eyes. 

I hesitate to call a book so bleak “wonderful” but it is enormously entertaining and artistic at the same time - and, yes, that is wonderful. I rifled through this, not because it’s short, but because Forsman told a great story and told it well - he genuinely knows how to build the tension in a comic so perfectly that you’re breathlessly turning the pages by the end, wondering just how it’ll play out. And it surprises you too, in the best possible way. 

Both the story and the characters have stayed with me days after putting the book down - it really is an immersive and unforgettable experience. If you adore comics that tell a great story and pack real emotion in them, The End of the Fucking World is a howl of raw fury at an uncaring and empty world from a truly original creator.

The End of the Fucking World

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Savage Hawkman, Volume 2: Wanted Review (Rob Liefeld, Joe Bennett)

There’s a lot I don’t understand about Savage Hawkman, Volume 2: Wanted. How it got to a volume 2, for example - who was reading this drek up ‘til #20? I don’t understand how Carter Hall, or Katar Hol which sounds like a Middle-Eastern airline, goes from wearing like a suit in one panel to suddenly wearing green trousers and no top, ready for the Nth metal armour to surround him in the next. 

I don’t understand how I was able to read half of this book before I realised it wasn’t worth it and began skimming the rest of it and, yup, could still follow what was happening by looking at the awful art and reading the occasional sentence. I don’t understand why Green Arrow or Deathstroke teamed up with this loser - I guess because losers stick together? I don’t understand why an archaeologist would need to stash clothes and things in hidey-holes because people are after him - he’s an ARCHAEOLOGIST not a fucking mob enforcer! 

Grr… so in the first book (which also sucked) he wanted to get rid of the Nth metal and this time around he kinda likes it, and he won’t stop telling you that other people want it. Every fucking issue in this unbearably long 13 issue weak book opens with Hawkman monologuing about people wanting his fucking Nth metal and how it works, what he’s been up to, oh my god. 

I read all of the Liefeld issues and can say definitively that he is a worse writer than he is an artist - and if you’ve seen his Captain America, you’ll know just how low that is. Most of Hawkman’s lines are made up of cliches: “Stretch my wings and fly”, “Those who can not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, “Patience is a virtue”, “I am done playing your games”, “The moment of truth”, “I thought our love would last for an eternity. A wave of emotions washes over me.”. 

In other instances, the dialogue just doesn’t make any sense: “A sixty story drop would splatter you all over the pavement. You’ll need some sort of cushion to survive a fall that steep”. First of all, it’s storey not story, so good job, DC editors! But what the fuck kind of line is that? Some sort of cushion? Like, a cushion? Yeah, THAT’S what you need when dropping sixty “stories” (it’s actually “storeys”, but I’m sure the other one would’ve made it past DC’s illiterate editors). 

Here’s some other gems by Liefeld: “A hawk is a bird of prey. A hawk hunts and kills in order to survive. Hawks are not hunted. They’re the hunters!”. Duuuuuuuuuuuuuh! 

On Rome: “Don’t be fooled by its rich mix of high culture, art and fashion, though. Rome has its share of scandals and secrets.” Jesus Christ, who the fuck does he think is reading this comic - aliens?! 

On religious zealots: “They usually twist their opponents words from what they are actually saying to the ‘truth’ they wish their opponent had actually said.” And the Hawkie for stating the fucking obvious goes to… Rob Liefeld! 

By far the most jaw-dropping writing came when Liefeld actually describes what a mercenary is. Now - no cheating! - hands up who doesn’t know what a mercenary is? Exactly - NOFUCKINGONE! But, I shit you not, this is word for word what is on the page:

“A mercenary can be defined as a soldier who fights for money rather than a cause. He is motivated by personal gain. His loyalty lies with whoever is issuing his paycheck. From ancient battles to wars ripped from today’s headlines, mercenaries have been employed for battle. Genghis Khan even used them during his sweep across the globe in the 1200’s. History has shown how successful their use can be in settling conflicts. Skilled and experienced, bottom line is mercenaries are stone cold killers... ”

Wow. Just wow. Liefeld must think his audience is thicker than he is. Well… I think I must be for even attempting to read this. But still. Wow. I guess he just resorted to copy and pasting from Wikipedia to fill up the pages?

Liefeld’s plotting is also pitiful. He uses explosions as scene transitions (he IS the comic book Michael Bay) and the issues always end with Hawkman scooping up Emma - a woman who’s only there for gratuitous butt shots - and flying off. Emma by the way is a fellow academic who becomes a crack shot in a handful of pages. It’s so lame and predictable. But that’s Liefeld - he’s stuck in the ‘90s and he’s still making ‘90s comics with lame characters like Xerxes (who?), Pike (who has a flirty bike), and St Bastion - yes, THE St Bastion. No I don’t know who the fuck he is either, but he’s a fucking moron and I hate him. 

Oh, and Carter Hall - Hawkman - spends the first half of the book trying to figure out where the Nth metal originated from and then suddenly he knows at the halfway mark and he’s like “I’m Katar Hol from Thanagar. It was fun being Carter Hall for a while…” - whaaaat?! Was he just faking it the first half - why?! Why travel everywhere with Emma the butt bot trying to figure it out if you already knew!? 

The book ends - I’d normally say SPOILERS but who the fuck cares? - with Hawkman arbitrarily joining the lamest “super” team in the New 52, the Justice League of America. Vibe is a member. No, he’s not a marital aid. I fucking hate him too. 

I couldn’t tell what there was more of - murders Hawkman committed or bird puns. 

I don’t know why I did this. I feel like that guy in the first few minutes of The Sixth Sense who’s in his underpants, sobbing, out of his mind with a gun. 

I think I’m gonna smear “Hawkman made me do it” in blood and shit on my chest and run out into traffic. What’s that? I can read good comics now? Oh, I guess I’ll live then. The promise of Charles Soule and Javier Pulido’s She-Hulk will keep me going. 

Hawkman’s currently fucking things up in Future’s End, a series I refuse to read because Hawkman. Rob Liefeld is building a time machine to take him back to 1992 when he was king and everyone loved his comics. 

I’ll see you both in hell, muthafuckas!!

The Savage Hawkman Volume 2: Wanted

The Goon #46: Occasion of Revenge #1 Review (Eric Powell)

It’s good to see Eric Powell back doing what he does best: making rude, criminally brilliant horror comics. He’s been quiet in the last year and a half or so, putting out a couple of one-shot Goon issues here and there, but he’s returned with the first new regular Goon story arc in ages. He’s adopted the Dark Horse model where the issues will be advertised as contained story arcs rather than individual issues – so this issue is Occasion of Revenge, Part 1 of 4, but it’s also The Goon #46 (though you only find that out on the inside cover).

Goon comics tend to be either two kinds: the silly, irreverent kind where Powell goes purely for puerile comedy and the kind where he writes straight stories that’re often quite tragic in tone – Powell excels at both varieties.

The last couple Goon issues have been the comedy kind so it’s a nice change of pace to see Occasion for Revenge being straight narrative – though Franky brings the occasional comic relief (like a whole new meaning to beer shits)!

A group of magical cannibals have decided to make Lonely Street their new home, but don’t count on the kind of resistance Goon, Franky and co. put up. Meanwhile, Goon meets a new lady friend, and Powell tells the sad story of Fred Paulsey and Sandy Wayne.

While all of the story threads are compelling, the Fred Paulsey/Sandy Wayne storyline feels entirely separate from the Goon’s, though they’re mixed in together. It’s almost like Powell had a short story and included it here to make up the page count, they’re that different. That said, this is part 1 of 4 so maybe the stories will converge in later issues and make more sense as a whole.

Powell’s storytelling skills are as sharp as ever and his art remains unique and gorgeous – he is one of the few creators in comics who can juggle writing and art duties perfectly with his own original style. Occasion of Revenge #1 is an excellent comic and a fine start to a new story – welcome back, Eric Powell and Goon!

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen Review

14 year old Malley is being sent away to a boarding school that’ll displace her from her sunny home state of Florida to the chilly climes of the American North-East – and she doesn’t “do” cold climates. So of course the reasonable course of action is to run away with some guy she met online!

Her close cousin Richard decides to track her down, but, as he’s also only 14, where does he even begin? Enter Skink, the eccentric 72 year old officially “dead” former governor of Florida now turned eco-warrior, who agrees to help Richard track down Malley. Because, unfortunately, the stranger Malley met online has turned out to be a crazy scuzzball but the stranger Richard meets turns out to be a crazy good guy. The mixed message being that it’s ok for a male teenager to run away with a weird stranger but not for a female teenager to, or that you’ve got to choose your lunatic more carefully?

Skink No Surrender is an utterly dismal novel. Its plot is hideously slow and wholly unremarkable as Richard and Skink eke slowly across Florida without a single interesting thing happening along the way, until they blunder across Malley. And when they do, the “villain” is so laughably incompetent that the novel starts and ends with nary a sign of conflict to be seen.

The biggest mistake Carl Hiaasen makes is to treat young adult readers as if they’re a completely different type of audience. Most readers – whether teenager or older – prefer fast-moving, exciting stories over slow, eventless ones, and all readers, I’m sure, dislike being talked down to as if they’re generic idiots. So when Hiaasen lobs in some “young people” terms, they sit awkwardly on the page – it’s clear Hiaasen’s pandering to his audience and hoping that by doing so, they’ll be more invested in the non-story. Hey, kids, Wikipedia, chat rooms, YOLO!!!, Google, Dumbledore, Bruno Mars. That’s the checklist to show that a 61 year old writer “gets” the youngs, right?

Also, just because Skink is a young adult novel, doesn’t mean Hiaasen can be sloppy in his work, like being artlessly heavy-handed with the eco-messages. Whole pages read like excerpts from Wikipedia, “educating” the reader in the midst of the snoozy story. Listen up kids, it’s not cool to litter or disrespect the nesting habits of sea turtles, dig? And then there are more mixed messages as the main characters are told to care about nature and animals, but gators and wild pigs? Kill as many as you like!

The single-saving grace of the book is the character of Skink. He enlivens the story whenever he appears with his unpredictable behaviour, nuggets of homespun wisdom, and general awesomeness – he lives a rough life but he’s smart with his own distinct code of honour. As a recurring character from Hiaasen’s adult novels, he’s a complex and charismatic person – it’s just a shame that level of effort is missing from Hiaasen’s young adult characters.

But though Skink’s a great character, it’s not nearly enough to make Skink No Surrender worth reading. It’s a humourless, tedious, unimaginative stew of non-scenes and endless empty chapters that’ll test both your patience and your ability to stay awake at the same time.

Whether you’re an adult or a young adult, you can do better than this lazy, poorly conceived effort – Skink No Good.

Skink No Surrender

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Supreme: Blue Rose #1 Review (Warren Ellis, Tula Lotay)

Warren Ellis’ latest Image series is a new story arc for Rob Liefeld’s ‘90s creation, Supreme. Diana Dane is a troubled young woman with strange dreams that seemingly bleed over into reality. But then it’s not her fault - she can’t afford all her meds as she’s an out of work investigative journalist. Out of the blue, she’s hired by the mysterious and wealthy Darius Dax (what is it with DD names in this series?) to look into an airplane crash - except it wasn’t an airplane. It looked like a man caused the damage: Supreme? 

I’m not a huge fan of Liefeld reboots though I know Prophet and Glory were both critically acclaimed. That said, Supreme: Blue Rose is an intriguing start to the series as Ellis approaches the fantastical via the mundane. The issue’s story mostly focuses on Diana’s problems paying the rent, and not knowing what she’s going to do next given that her career is made obsolete by the current trend for click bait articles in lieu of comprehensive and thoughtful content. 

Dancing around the edges of normality are hints of a much more colourful - and dangerous - world with the issue opening in a dream-world where Diana talks to a man wearing a helmet but doesn’t know he’s wearing a helmet. Dax’s office is full of futuristic technology and later Diana encounters a man whose blurry face is one big “birth defect” only she can see. 

Tula Lotay’s incredible artwork enhances the feeling of magical realism in the comic. Every page contains colourful lines zig-zagging across it like someone’s gone through the comic with a box of crayons and scribbled on each page - the zig-zags appearing in both the dream sequences and her waking life, underlining Diana’s increasing inability to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. Or is that someone trying to communicate with Diana? Besides the snazzy effects though, the artwork is out-and-out gorgeous. The character models, the landscapes, both real and imagined, and the exquisite colours are all amazing. 

Ellis’ recent work on Moon Knight has downplayed the superhero angle and focused on the more street level aspects of the character and the kinds of stories he’s in; Ellis’ other Image series, Trees, is a sci-fi story that ignores the aliens and their invasion, and instead looks at how human society adapts in the aliens’ wake; with his Supreme series, Ellis continues to shift aside the more dramatic elements - in this case the superhero himself - to look at the everyday characters and, once again, it works. Also, if you’re unfamiliar with the series, you can still pick up this series and follow what’s happening. 

Fans of Supreme might be disappointed with the lack of the character in this issue- there are a couple of glimpses and nothing else - but there’s plenty of other material to appreciate as well as some extraordinary artwork to enjoy. Supreme: Blue Rose #1 kicks off what looks to be an exciting journey that tackles the superhero story from an unusual but interesting angle.

Supreme: Blue Rose #1

Batman #33 Review (Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo)

Batman #33 is the bombastic crescendo of the massive Zero Year storyline. The Batman origin story launched over a year ago, and, like most of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on Batman, has been a massive success, creatively and commercially. 

I will say though that Savage City has been my least favourite of the three arcs - Secret City and Dark City were both fantastic and, while Savage City has had plenty of highs, it’s the first part of the series where I’ve noticed lots of contrivances and found myself questioning Snyder’s direction. 

For some reason, fighter jets are coming in to bomb Gotham and it’s up to Gordon and Fox to alert them to stop them. This storyline feels necessarily urgent and exciting but had me asking myself - why? Why is Gotham under threat of being bombed - because the Riddler has the city under his thumb? Surely there are better ways than exploding the place? And while Gordon and Fox use famous Batman tokens in their plans, it’s unclear just what a Bat signal would mean to a fighter pilot - assuming they could see it at speed. 

Meanwhile Batman’s stuck in Riddler’s laser grid and has to answer a dozen riddles before he’s able to save the city. This part was fine with Riddler’s conundrums requiring Bruce to think hard for his answers, showcasing his intelligence and cunning besides his physical prowess, and his answer to the final riddle was inspired. 

And like so much of this series, Snyder and Capullo cram the final, oversized issue with references to Batman’s mythos, both current and future. Gordon mentions Fort Robbins, he encounters an owl, the giant penny plays a big part of the final plan, Gordon creates the Bat signal, Alfred returns and the shot of him cradling Batman in the spotlight echoes the cover of A Death in the Family. 

But I mentioned contrivances and I found the whole “How do I turn the city on?” a bit too simplistic. I love the symbolism of how Batman turns the city on, tying him and Gotham together as if they’re symbiotes or almost organically one and the same, but still… very simplistic and it felt rushed too. 

And then the whole speech Bruce gives about wanting to change his personality via shock treatment was so silly. This is one of Snyder’s ticks that’s getting more and more pronounced in his recent work: he’ll have an incredibly relevant story from the past that perfectly ties into the current storyline in an uncanny way - and it’s getting really contrived now. 

(I did like the line that Bruce thinks a reboot of his personality was unnecessary - was that a sly dig at DC for the way the New 52 has played out?) 

By far the best part of the issue is two small panels in the “One Month Later” section where Bruce and Alfred have a quiet moment together. Bruce looks at Alfred in a way that’s almost sad as it is hopeful and says “You have to know… I’ll never quit”, and Alfred’s wordless look back at Bruce - wow. Those eyes, you could see his heart breaking in those eyes - that killed me. That look said so much and was so powerful and full of fatherly love, you have to just give it to Greg Capullo - the man nailed it. 

But whatever my problems with this issue and the Savage City arc as a whole, Zero Year concludes as an unquestionable triumph. By the time the issue’s over, Batman’s world is set - the entire series has been as much about the creation of Batman as a character as it has his world, his city, and we see Arkham Asylum slowly take shape, and the city looks like the city of the current Batman (even with those daft Bat ears at the top of the Wayne building!). 

Snyder and Capullo went into this arc with readers expecting a travesty of Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s masterpiece, Year One, and they got something totally different but also completely true to the spirit of the character. It might not be the best ending but most of this arc has been so transcendently good it can be overlooked - Batman #33 concludes this astonishing story very satisfactorily.

Batman #33 (Zero Year)

Trees #3 Review (Warren Ellis, Jason Howard)

Based on the issues so far, Trees isn’t so much about the giant alien pillars (“trees”) that’ve popped up around the world or the aliens who created them, so much as it’s about what would happen to societies around the world in the wake of such an incident. Which is unexpected and has (pun attack!) acres of potential – but then clever and unexpected is what Warren Ellis delivers, so, having read a ton of his books, I shouldn’t be that surprised.

This issue takes us back to Cefalu, Italy, where the young woman we saw earlier in the series, Eligia, is tracking down the weird old man who was sketching a tree and then suddenly disappeared. Also, we’re back in the Chinese cultural city that’s (pun attack 2!) sprouted up around the tree as Chenglei, a young artist, meets a young woman called Zhen who encourages him to leave his room and sketch the rest of the city. 

Trees #3 is a more enjoyable read than the last issue because of the great dialogue between Eligia and Luca. Nobody writes fiery female characters quite like Warren Ellis and Eligia’s a lively and witty person with Ellis’ biting brand of humour. She and Luca Biongorno (the weird old man she’s tracking) have a delightful back and forth when they finally meet at the end. Ellis weaves in more world-building as through Eligia we discover more about the gang culture that’s arisen in Italy since their tree arrived and how people survive there now. There’s also a hint of a fight back against the trees if that final panel is anything to go by.

One of the series’ accomplishments so far is the way Ellis has told a global story, switching from one location to another effortlessly, and managed to tie all of the various stories together into one coherent whole. That said, some of the stories are more interesting than others and that’s where the series loses its footing. The Cefalu and Brazil stories are compelling, the Norway and China ones less so.

Nevertheless, Jason Howard’s art is consistently strong and this issue sees his best yet, drawing beautiful Italian architecture amidst the gorgeous coastline. I also really like how the credits page merges onto the first page, as it’s done in all of the issues so far. Ellis’ script has helped establish a realistic world post-trees but Howard’s art has brought that realism to the page in a big way.

I’m curious to see the aliens and want to see humanity fight back against the trees but I’d also find it funny if Ellis simply disregarded them at this point. They were the setup, they’re not the story – you’ll never see the aliens! The real story is how humanity manages to make life happen around these inconveniences. That might even be more interesting. So far though, Trees is an uneven series but definitely one of the most original being published at the moment. 

3.5 stars

Trees #3

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Amazing Spider-Man #4 Review (Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos)

The dullest subplot ever of Peter using his new company, Parker Industries, to create an Electro trap is put on hold while the series crosses over with Original Sin, Marvel’s Summer Event of 2014. Taking place sometime during Original Sin #3, Peter is zapped by one of the Watcher’s eyeballs and discovers a hidden secret - he wasn’t the only one bitten by the radioactive spider! 

A girl called Cindy Moon was also given spider powers but unlike Peter she was taken away by a shady man called Ezekiel who has kept her locked her up for years. Peter tracks her down, sets her free, and the two canoodle (of course - Peter, you handsome devil)! But a dangerous fellow called Morlun is now on his way and he wants Cindy all to himself... 

I’m really trying to find positives with this series but Amazing Spider-Man is getting less and less amazing the further in I get. The Electro/Black Cat storyline is completely uninteresting, this new Cindy Moon(aka Silk)/Morlun plot is average at best, and that old trope about Peter retiring Spider-Man and ceding the role to someone else is so played out at this point. 

I did like that Silk spun her own costume out of webbing (no web shooters for this gal!) which is something I’ve always felt Spider-Man should do. Though I suppose he’d have to keep spinning it if he was on a lengthy mission as the webbing dissolves after a few hours, so that’d be impractical! 

If you’re one of those readers who feels they have to read everything tied into a Marvel Event, you really don’t need to bother with this issue - it barely references the main story and adds nothing to it at all. You can definitely skip this. 

And that unfortunately goes for readers of Amazing Spider-Man too, or at least if, like me, you’ve found the series so far to be seriously lacking in inspiration. I’ll see the arc out to the end of the next issue but it looks like I’m going to drop this title from my pull list. Amazing Spider-Man #4: what a bland comic!

Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Original Sin)

Adventures of Superman #41 Review (Max Landis, Jock)

Max Landis’ character assassination of Superman concludes in this issue and he even manages to bring down Joker as well! 

So after Joker’s “insult comedy” at Superman in the last issue, he decides to just blow up Metropolis but of course fails because Superman’s already gathered up all the bombs. Now it’s Superman’s turn to criticise Joker. 

If I didn’t like Joker’s/Landis’ critique of Superman before, I like Superman’s rebuttal even less as it essentially makes him a dick. Superman/Landis’ response to Joker is that he doesn’t care if Joker lives or dies, then he intimidates him by shooting his eye lasers at him, and implies that he’ll kill Joker because he doesn’t value life the same way Batman does. Dickhead Superman then says “Being Superman doesn’t mean I’m greater than anyone. But it does mean I’m better than you. (Eyes glow red) Now get the hell out of my city.” 

Yeah, it’s a pretty horrible representation of Superman. More Charles Bronson than Superman. 

Landis writes Joker poorly as well, portraying him as this slow-witted goon whose status as the greatest Batman villain is totally undeserved (it must be early in Joker’s career as he doesn’t know how fast Superman is or even know about his eye lasers). Superman’s line - “You’re a goofy idea that only a child would think is cool” - is the dumbest argument against Joker that completely fails to understand the character. 

Landis’ two part story is a poorly written conversation between two classic characters that shows the writer doesn’t understand either and can’t write them convincingly at all. Both of these issues read like a high schooler wrote them for all the insight and art they show. 

Once again, Jock’s a fine artist but because of the limits of this issue - it takes place mostly on top of the Daily Planet - his talents aren’t utilised to their fullest, and once again it’s unclear what Joker was doing in Metropolis in the first place. Worse, it’s implied Batman had a hand in it, making him seem like a psychopath for running the scenario of Superman vs Joker in real life. 

The Sound of One Hand Clapping has been an awful two-fer all round. Superman laughing in the end at that unfunny “hot topic” joke says it all - it’s been amusing for one man and only one man: Max Landis.