Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Walking Dead, Volume 15: We Find Ourselves Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)


Hello? Hello, story? Where did you go?!

You were there during the whole Governor thing, and even for a little bit after but these last couple volumes, you’ve been totally absent. And what’s worse is that this volume doesn’t even have a zombie herd attacking – the characters are stuck doing nothing!

The zombie herd has been eliminated and Rick decides to create defences for their colony, so a group begins digging a trench around the fence while others move cars in the way to provide another obstacle, and a different group goes out food scavenging.

That’s the whole book.

There’s a half-hearted “rebellion” led by a lone nut with a gun which fizzles out so quickly it may as well not have happened. For so little to be stretched out into an entire book is really disappointing. In earlier volumes, this kinda material would be going on in the background while a plot would be playing out.

Carl isn’t dead which also annoyed me – the kid had a chunk of his head blown away and yet a non-surgeon doctor with limited supplies in a house could somehow save his life?!

Robert Kirkman thinks that focusing on the characters is more interesting which it would be if the characters were interesting, but without facing any dangers, they’re not! I don’t care about Rick talking about his feelings or the non-romance between Andrea and some guy, or Rosita finding out Abraham’s been sleeping with Holly – I don’t watch soap operas, I sure as hell don’t want to read one, especially in a book about the zombie apocalypse!

Kirkman’s strength is plotting and story, not character work which is more than evident here. I’ve made it 15 volumes into this series because the story is compelling not because I want to see Kirkman’s ham-fisted attempt at a character portrait in Rick – he isn’t talented enough to do that. But tell an exciting story? He can do that – he just isn’t doing that here, so we’re left with a load of nothing instead.

I dearly hope you return soon, story, you are sorely missed.

The Walking Dead Volume 15: We Find Ourselves

Friday, 30 May 2014

Rover Red Charlie Review (Garth Ennis, Michael DiPascale)


Garth Ennis returns to the world of Crossed to tell the story of what happened when humanity imploded only this time from the perspective of three dogs, Rover, Red and Charlie! 

If you’ve never read Crossed (and to be honest it’s not one of Ennis’ best), it’s a bit like the zombie apocalypse except rather than shuffling about mindlessly and rotting, humanity becomes deeply disturbing after their inhibitions switch off and they lose control of their actions, murdering and doing terrible things to everyone and everything. 

Rover, Red and Charlie see that the feeders (humans) have gone nuts and decide to leave New York City and head west to the big splash (the Pacific Ocean) where they hear things are more or less normal. So begins our trio of canine heroes’ trip across the North American continent - but things don’t go easily for them as they face dog-eating groups of cats and a giant evil dog called Hermann who wants them dead. 

The story is never dull and Ennis knows how to keep it lively and moving at a steady clip, but by far the standout reason to read this book is the character work - Rover Red Charlie is one of the best character books I’ve read in ages. You start the book not knowing who any of the dogs are but by the end - a mere six issues! - they’re so well-defined, you’ll swear they’ve been around as long as Batman and Superman. 

You’ve probably heard the writing mantra “show don’t tell” but if you want to see how that works in practice, check out this book. In the opening scene, Charlie, a helper dog, is trapped on the subway. His leash is caught and he can’t move, his owner has died, the other humans are dead or trying to kill one another, there’s fire everywhere and you think he’s doomed. Then Red and Rover appear, running down the steps to Charlie, along with another dog. Red, Rover and Charlie chew through the leash while the other dog runs off to save his own hide - Charlie is finally freed and they run to (relative) safety up to street level. 

Right away their relationships is established - you know Red, Rover and Charlie are friends, and true friends at that, willing to put their lives on the line to help one another, unlike the other dog who selfishly thought only of himself. If Ennis were a lesser writer he’d simply write a caption box that said “Red, Rover and Charlie were the best of pals”; instead we see exactly that in an exciting first scene. 

From then on, we see their individual personalities emerge. Red is the biggest and strongest of the three and also the dopiest, but he has the biggest heart, like when they encounter a dying dog who’s been infected with whatever got the humans, and he fills his mouth up with water, walks over to the dog, and dribbles the water into its mouth. It’s such a beautiful moment of compassion.

Rover’s the smallest and weakest dog but the smartest (and whose voice sounded to me like the late, great Bob Hoskins - RIP), while Charlie’s transformation over the course of the book from servant to the feeders to an independent dog is glorious. 

But Ennis goes even further than the great characters by establishing a canine lexicon that seems lived in and convincing. The dogs speak english to one another but with subtle differences like when they call their brains “thinkers” and their hearts “thumpers”; cats are “hisspots” while chickens are “bork borkers”, and my favourite description of them all is for lamp posts which are “light trees”. And when they bark, it isn’t “woof”, it’s “I’m a dog!” which feels closer to what dogs seem to be saying when they do bark. 

And that’s another thing - Ennis knows not to keep things too cerebral and make the dogs behave like dogs, so they have moments when they just have to play with one another, or roll around for no reason, and when lightning strikes, hide and whine because they don’t understand what’s happening. It’s a tremendous balancing act between keeping the characters true to themselves while also driving the story onwards and yet he pulls it off effortlessly. 

What’s surprising is how after a while you stop thinking of the dogs as dogs and rather like relatable characters, so when the story turns unexpectedly anti-human, you wind up actually thinking the world would be better off without humans to screw everything up, and it were all dogs instead! Like at the end when Charlie discovers Hermann’s sad past - why he became an evil dog - you realise you can’t really hate the villain, like you normally would, because you’re too busy hating humans for being the scumbags we can be, hurting animals for no reason and turning the Hermanns of the world into the monsters they become thanks to us. 

It is Garth Ennis so expect swearing and a lot of violence, much of it gory, and yes animals do get harmed, so prepare for that. 

Michael DiPascale’s painted art is gorgeous and emotive. Dogs don’t have the same facial muscles humans do so their expressions are limited - it’s a fantastical concept but DiPascale’s art is rooted in reality - yet he’s able to coax out exactly the right emotions from the characters with perfectly placed body language and the right look in the dogs’ eyes. It’s not a breathtaking art style but I think it’s simplicity is suited to the story and characters in a way that a more involved artist might end up making the pages look too cluttered and busy. 

If you’d told me that after The Boys, Fury MAX and Battlefields, that Garth Ennis would do a dog-focused story set in the Crossed world, I’d be unconvinced that it’d be worth reading; having read that book now though, I’m more surprised that I doubted Ennis could pull it off. Rover Red Charlie is a book that draws you in with its masterful character work and propulsive story and keeps you hooked right up until the end. It’s ambitious and, doggone it, it pays off!

Rover Red Charlie

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Super Ego: Family Matters by Caio Oliveira Review


A comic about a psychiatrist for superheroes? It’s not the worst idea for a comic but it’s also not the best. Plus the creator would need to have something interesting to say about superheroes’ psychology for it to be worthwhile – and unfortunately he doesn’t.

The Iron Man facsimile has a drinking problem and Dr. Ego’s advice is to only use his robot suit when sober. The son of the Superman and Wonder Woman facsimiles is a mess because his parents are always busy saving the world and weren’t cut out to be parents anyway. The Batman facsimile has rage issues.

Um… oh, that’s it? Well, that was boring and obvious!

Moving past the lack of insight into popular superheroes, what little story there is jack-knifes from one small thing to another haphazardly until it ends completely incongruously.

When the Iron Man facsimile fights a giant monster, I did like that he literally wears clothes rather than has colours sprayed onto his robot exterior. So he actually has to climb into his robot suit and THEN pull on his luchador outfit, zipping up the front - hilarious!

But we’re supposed to believe that the superheroes would trust their deepest secrets and fears to a “reformed” supervillain? I don’t buy that. No matter how much Lex Luthor changes, he’ll always be the bad guy and no hero in their right mind would trust him, reformed or not. So, because I don’t buy that weird setup, the ending falls flat.

Super Ego is a book that takes the psychological angle to superheroes and fails to deliver on it. The story fails to make much of an impression as it’s poorly constructed and executed, the art is unremarkable, and the characters are forgettable and one-dimensional. Super Ego? Super meh…

If you want to read an excellent dissection of superheroes from a subversive angle, the ‘80s staples Watchmen and Marshal Law spring to mind but I’d recommend Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s The Boys for a brilliant and funny savaging of Marvel and DC properties!

Super Ego

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Li'l Depressed Boy, Volume 1: She Is Staggering Review (S. Steven Struble, Sina Grace)


Remember that dire time about 10 years ago when indie movies were everywhere? Movies like Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State ponged up movie screens everywhere with their emo, precious crap, and Zooey Deschanel built her career on the backs of breeches ’n ’dungaree wearing hipsters with curly mustaches by being their Ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Girl - see her Apple commercial for maximum irritation! 

Li’l Depressed Boy is the comic book version of an Indie Movie. Our literal sad sack “hero” (he is a beany doll walking around in obscure band tees) meets a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the two… fall in love? Even though there’s nothing this girl would find attractive about this mopey, self-absorbed personality vacuum. Whatever. 

They go for a meal and even though she looks like a runway model all we see her eat are burgers, fries and cookies because “cool girls” eat like crap and remain rail thin - they don’t show the bulimia she most definitely has because that’s too real, right?

She holds a fry like a cigarette. They go see some obscure band play in an obscure club or basement or something. They talk about playing zombie tag, flying glow in the dark kites, going to arcades and bowling - these are twenty-somethings, I think. 

She reads comics because she’s a “cool girl”, they try clothes on in a thrift store - they don’t even know each others names yet, how romantic!. They pretend they’re in a zombie movie, they play “style bowling”. 

I’m sorry, I can’t go on. It just becomes overwhelmingly annoying. 

These hipster twits and their posing, their bullshit, and every single they do, were too much for me. This book is a mere four issues long but I had to stop after issue two when she reveals her name is Jazz (!!) because I couldn’t take how twee it all was. 

Look at us, we’re cool, we’re amazing, we’re… not real people. 

Li’l Depressed Boy is an incredibly obnoxious hipster comic about hipsters. The ironic thing is hipsters who read comics won’t read this, they’ll read Justice League or something awful and corny because that’s a hipster-ish thing to do. And y’know what? Green freakin’ Lantern comes across as a more grounded character than these cartoons! 

Zach Braff’ll probably turn this into another one of his terrible movies. 

Fuck this book so much!

The Li'l Depressed Boy Volume 1: She is Staggering

The Walking Dead, Volume 14: No Way Out Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)


This bleedin’ colony…

Rick and co. are so cosy in their walled-in compound that the story has become about the various characters hooking up, like a post-zombie apocalypse Big Brother – argh, true horror! Thankfully Robert Kirkman stirs the pot a bit by throwing a massive zombie herd at them which manages to breach their walls and kill off a bunch of the survivors.

There isn’t much to say about the first two-thirds of this volume – Rick gets some, other characters get laid, everyone spins their wheels – but the final third saves this volume from being a total waste. If you’re like me and find the paper-thin characters’ dying off hilarious, you’ll be chuckling quite a bit in this one!

It says a lot about Kirkman’s shoddy character work that I didn’t care while watching one after another die gruesomely and found the earnestness with which the other characters’ reacted to their deaths be funny rather than tragic. I know that makes me sound a little crazy but I just don’t buy half of these characters as even halfway real so it’s not like seeing people I care about dying. Oh, and the arm-chopping in this book felt more slapstick than anything else too – great comic timing, Charlie Adlard! 

That said, a character who’s been here from the start gets killed and I still laughed – maybe because of the double splash page over-announcing its importance and the way the character looked when they got it? Either way there’s no way the character lives after that injury and if they do I’ll be seriously annoyed – I didn’t like them much anyway! 

This volume raises a lot of questions about the zombies themselves.

These zombies move slowly right - they’re not like the rage zombies from 28 Days Later, sprinting towards you? They shuffle forward in droves. So why, when it comes to running away from them, does Maggie say that she can’t do it? Why can’t Maggie outrun a bunch of shuffling, braindead corpses? They can’t run, you can – what’s the problem? Even a light jog seems sufficient to put distance between you and them, so you don’t tire yourself out too soon. Plot hole?

And why does it take this long for Rick to realise that the survivors don’t have to cower before the ranks of the zombies, that they can raise an army and fight them back? It’s taken him 14 volumes to realise that he and others like him, with their wits about them and all the weaponry they could ask for, could perhaps stand up to unarmed, shuffling corpses who can’t think! Michonne was doing this by herself before she joined the group – how thick is everyone in this world?!

Like the Kevin Costner movie of the same name, No Way Out is a really dull and repetitive volume in this increasingly stale series. The group finding this safe colony was by far the worst thing to happen to the story and we’re seemingly stuck with it for now. I really hope the series improves from here on out but until they have this sanctuary taken from them, I’m not sure how it will.

The Walking Dead Volume 14: No Way Out

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Survival of the Fittest (Space Monkey): A Review of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club


Like most people who read this book, I saw the film first. 

The Fight Club movie had a notoriously bad publicity campaign - what few TV spots I saw showed a topless Brad Pitt whaling on some poor sod surrounded by other guys cheering them on. Everything about it screamed “dumb guy action movie”. Which is why I was last in my circle of friends in high school back in ‘99/2000 (I forget which year exactly - probably the latter) to get the laserdisc of Fight Club (to those too young to remember, the tech that was soon to be enveloped by DVDs). 

Then I watched it, on my PC because I didn’t have a player for my TV - just a VHS. It crashed around the 50 minute mark and I wasn’t sure how to fast forward but I didn’t care as I was mesmerised with what I was seeing, I just rewatched it from the start. It crashed at least one more time in between discs and probably in total it took me four hours that first time to watch the movie completely. 

Fight Club the movie hit me like a sonic boom. 

Everything about it felt life-changing and new - like the narrator feels after his first fight with Tyler Durden (the 90s version of Sal Paradise), you felt like you could do anything after watching it. 

So, once I found out it was a book first, I immediately set out to buy Fight Club the novel, but my local bookshop was sold out so I purchased a copy of Survivor instead and loved it. Chuck Palahniuk was now my favourite writer. I would read Fight Club after I’d also read Invisible Monsters but because the movie was so faithful in its adaptation, so many lines and scenes as I read them just felt like I was reading the movie - I still loved it though.

I’d read a couple more of Palahniuk’s books - Choke and Lullaby - before giving up on him, dipping into his books every now and then over the years when nostalgia visited me but never completing them (they just weren’t very good!). 

So now that 14/15 years have passed since I read it, and at least 10 years since I last saw the movie, I thought it was due a re-read.

Did it hit me as hard, second time round? No - but it’s still a powerful book that I discovered I now liked for different reasons. 

Our nameless narrator is an insurance claims adjustor who hates his rigid, comfortable little life - and then he meets Tyler Durden, a man living on the fringes of society who introduces him to a more destructive and different lifestyle. They create Fight Club, an underground boxing group where anyone can fight one another. As fight club grows, so do Tyler’s ambitions until Fight Club becomes Project Mayhem, a terrorist group bent on total societal collapse. But who is Tyler Durden really - and will he succeed in bringing down the world?

So what is Fight Club, really? It’s a romantic comedy. 

Huh?! 

Yeah, a pitch black one - and it’s also a brilliant reworking of The Great Gatsby (two guys, one girl, destructive love triangle, one guy gets shot in the end, our narrator is an apostle of one of the guys). 

Marla Singer is our nameless narrator’s love interest, though he doesn’t realise it until the end, and even then he can’t bring himself to say he loves her - in what should be the moment in the movie when boy and girl declare their love for one another, he says that he does “like” her! Along with Tyler, they have a tempestuous love affair that sees three unbelievably damaged people working their way through layers of insanity to something better than they hoped for - peace. 

And it’s a super funny book. Who doesn’t laugh at Big Bob, the big moosie, with his giant bitch tits smothering our narrator as they Remain Men Together at the support group for testicular cancer survivors? Or the silly moments Tyler and Joe (I’m giving our nameless narrator the name Joe because he repeatedly calls himself “Joe’s (insert body part/emotion here)” - you’ll understand the metaphor in the novel) have when they’re peeing in soup or splicing frames of porn into Disney movies! 

When I was reading this as a teenager, I focused on the nihilism and pessimistic side to Fight Club. Tyler’s goals are the total annihilation of culture as a reaction to the frustration he feels is brought about by modern life - men figuratively having their balls cut off as opposed to actually because they were cancerous. His speeches were negative, droning on about how you are not your belongings, and you are not a beautiful unique snowflake, and that you were raised to believe you’d be a celebrity and a rock star - and you won’t, and you’re pissed off at that. What kid doesn’t identify with this stuff, affirming your emo worldview?

Reading this years later, I noticed other things about it. Superficially it’s negative, but underlying it is actually a very positive message. Tyler may say you’re not a beautiful unique snowflake but he’s dedicated to making total strangers feel like they matter - that one man has all the power in the world. One of his homework assignments for Project Mayhem is to go out and start a fight with someone, and lose to them, thus making them feel strong and realising the strength buried within them. 

He wants to cut through the crap in our lives and make us all truly happy by going after what we know we should, but don’t for whatever reasons. He takes the bullets out of a gun then threatens a store clerk that he’ll blow his brains out unless he goes after his dream of becoming a veterinarian. He’s using the tools of violence for positive means, demanding that people realise their full potential and not accept their lot in life - to strive for something more which they can and will achieve with just the right push in the direction of their choosing. 

All throughout the book are moments like this - when they’re in a speeding car, driving down the wrong lanes, the space monkeys (Tyler’s disciples) in the back seats yelling out their dreams as they challenge death to deny them the chance to live them, and it’s thrilling to read but also ingenious when you realise that this is the way you get men to be men and talk about being, and discovering how to be, men. It’s kind of like the male version of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, as men slowly get their metaphorical balls back, no longer remaining men but becoming men together. 

As extraordinary as the book is, the movie is overwhelmingly associated with it, at least to me. Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter ARE Tyler, Joe and Marla. I hear Norton’s droning voice when I read Palahniuk’s words, I see Pitt’s grinning mug whenever Tyler appears, and HBC’s doom-laden appearance is the only way Marla could look. 

The book and the movie are inseparable in many ways but I will say the movie provides a more satisfying finale to the book. Granted the book does lay the groundwork for a sequel - which is in the works, as a comic book no less! - and leaves things deliciously, ambiguously open-ended. But the film’s ending - it’s too perfectly iconic and eerily prescient given what would happen two years after it was released. 

And while it might seem that I’m doing a disservice to the novel by comparing it to the film, I’m really not - it’s like comparing one gem to another: both are undeniable gems, true masterworks of their respective art forms. 

Fight Club is a beautifully written, original novel that remains as fresh today as it did back in the ‘90s. It’s a book that will subvert the reader’s expectations in all the best ways, even if you’ve read it before. In Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk created something... unique. Like a snowflake. 

Slide!

Fight Club

Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome To Lovecraft Review (Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez)


I read this puppy when it first came out a few years ago and really wanted to like it, and didn’t. So, now the series is done, I thought I’d go back and give it another shot - maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, or maybe I was just plain wrong, and this time I’d love it? Nope - still terrible, unfortunately.

Three kids - an older boy, his slightly younger sister, and their youngest sibling, a boy called Bode (and the only one whose name I could remember, purely for being such an odd name!) - have their father taken from them when one of his students comes to his summer home and murders him. The kids and their mum move from west coast to east coast back to the father’s childhood home - a massive, forbidding Lovecraftian mansion in the fictional Massachusetts town of Lovecraft (the thinking seems to be: it’s a “horror” comic so let’s remind readers of it by heavily referencing horror writer, HP Lovecraft). 

The Lovecraftian mansion set in Lovecraft is of course haunted with all manner of ghosts and special keys unlock special doors that can warp space and time, even the temporal planes - when Bode walks through one door, his body is left behind and he becomes a ghost. And while the kids get over the trauma of their recent loss, their dad’s murderer is on the loose - and he’s coming to finish the job! 

It’s definitely cool that Joe Hill is following in his dad’s footsteps and writing his own haunted house story but I have to say he’s certainly not as great a writer as Stephen King was when he was a younger man and Locke & Key isn’t a patch on The Shining. For one, Hill focuses far too much on the kids’ difficulty in getting over their dad’s death which is realistic but not at all compelling to read - I get it, they’re saaaaaaaad! - while failing to make them stand out as characters. 

The older brother is pure emo, the sister is a flatliner - she literally at one point joins a track team and says that she’s running because she’s got a lot to run away from - what cheesy writing! - and Bode is your average Disney kid. Cute as a bug, always being clumsy but in a way that advances the story like he’s fooling around and then - oh, is that a special key that fell out of that jug I knocked off that shelf? How convenient! 

And how on earth can this family afford so much? They have a summer home, separate from their regular home, AND a giant mansion on the other side of the country! Their mum doesn’t work, their dad was a school administrator, and the uncle is a failed artist. Where the hell is the money coming from!? 

The story is completely static. The kids mope about - do we like them yet now that we’ve seen them sob for the millionth time? not even a bit! - while Bode pokes about the mansion and stumbles across the magic doorways and the ghost in the well. Basically the story is, the family moves to the mansion and then spends the whole book waiting for the killer to show up - very boring! 

I do appreciate the supernatural element and that the keys and doors thing is original, but the book really needs things like a plot and characters you care about in order for it to matter. Bode becomes a ghost, then the older brother - so what? I hate both of these clods! 

Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is fine but I don’t think it’s suited to the horror genre, mostly because it’s too cartoonish. The characters are a little too anime-esque for Hill’s over-emotional, horror-leaning script and I can’t say I found the villains in the story very menacing in their depiction. The layouts and drawings themselves are fine and definitely suit mainstream comics, but for a comic that’s supposed to creep you out, it’s not a good fit. 

I’ve tried reading one other Joe Hill book, Heart Shaped Box, which I couldn’t get past page 50 because it was so badly written, so I guess his work just isn’t for me. 

Locke & Key wants to be a horror comic that mixes the old and new to create something exciting and fresh, but instead it’s a very tedious book with completely flat characters, a slow and uninvolving plot, and some supernatural elements that don’t liven up the paper-thin story in the least.

Locke And Key: Welcome to Lovecraft

Monday, 26 May 2014

12th review on Nudge


My review of Weapons of Mass Diplomacy went up on Nudge today - read it here: http://www.nudgemenow.com/article/weapons-mass-diplomacy-lanzac-blain/

Fantomex MAX Review (Andrew Hope, Shawn Crystal)


Wow, this is the worst Marvel book I’ve read since the last Marvel book I read yesterday, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man! 

This book challenges you to pay attention to it even though there’s nothing worth paying attention to. Fantomex, the mutant assassin from, and created by, Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, is stealing valuable and dangerous stuff while being chased by some no-name toughs who’re going to fight and lose to him at the end. 

I literally just paused to google Andrew Hope to see if he was a child and Marvel were publishing this because of the Make-A-Wish Foundation or something (I wouldn’t want to pick on a kid!); nope, he’s definitely a grown man and still this reads like something a teenager wrote! 

Because this is a MAX title you get to read swears - oh, how risque! - and see barbie doll women grope each other - heavens to betsy, how daring! - while the men actually punch each other’s brains out - I know how this feels now having read this. I’m definitely not prudish, it’s just this stuff is trying too hard to be “cool” and “edgy” and coming up short on both counts - it is utterly pathetic to read. 

Francesco Francavilla’s covers are amazing and Shawn Crystal’s art is actually ok - it’s very cartoonish but I think if he had a decent script, I wouldn’t mind seeing his art in another book. 

Fantomex is actually a decent character and deserves far better than this tripe. Remember this name: Andrew Hope - and stay away from any book with it on! 

Out of nappies and need something for your baby to crap in? Need something to wrap chips with? Ever just feel like punching a comic? Don’t use sawdust for that puke - pick up a copy of Fantomex MAX, coming soon to a bargain bin near you!

Fantomex MAX

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Vincent by Barbara Stok Review


Maybe it’s partly because I know so little about him, but Vincent Van Gogh has always seemed a bit distant and cold - a genius but an isolated and seemingly unknowable one. So I’m thankful that Barbara Stok has created Vincent, a wonderful graphic novel looking at the last few years of Van Gogh’s life, which brings a warmth and character to the artist. 

The book opens as Vincent leaves Paris for Provence, an area of France where he would go on to create his most iconic paintings from the sunflowers to Dr Gauchet to the starry night, and of course, die. 

By far the most striking thing about the book is Stok’s art style which, if you can see the cover, is almost childlike in its uncomplicated approach but attractively simple - almost achieving that spareness that artists strive for as the highest level of their art. Couple that with the vivid and enormously effective use of colours and you have an utterly beautiful comic! The simplicity of the lines and the bright colours are qualities I feel Vincent would approve of - he certainly talks effusively about the use of strong colours quite a bit in this book. 

Besides the art is the excellent writing where the reader learns about Vincent and his brother Theo’s close relationship - Theo was his benefactor his entire life, sending Vincent money which allowed him to paint full time - as well as Vincent’s own neuroses about paying his brother back his money, something Theo always told him he didn’t need to do. 

However, this obsession with money drove Vincent to create painting after painting. Getting up early, he would set out and paint fields, plants, the skyline and the landscape, all of which led to the perfection of his style. He hated the image of the lazy artist and devoted every waking moment to his work - when he encounters the artist Dodge, he chastises him for wasting time not painting! 

Unfortunately his admirable work ethic and incredible production rate led to his already fragile health debilitating further. While the country air and change of scenery seems to have done him good in the short term, his unresolved physical problems came back to haunt him. Nobody is really sure what Van Gogh suffered from but in this book it’s put down to epilepsy and severe anxiety where he would black out and then come to hours later, unaware of what he’d done (it’s during one of these episodes that the famous ear-mutilation episode happens).

Stok also highlights Vincent’s obsession with setting up an artist’s studio in Arles, one that would attract painters from around the world as a hub and continue for generations. This leads to him inviting Paul Gauguin to stay with him which saw the two artists create great art but also fall out for good - Vincent was not an easy person to live with! 

Stok’s approach to the book is superb - several pages go by at a time without words as we see Vincent going for a walk, looking for the best spot, and then paint; some pages are filled with words as Vincent writes to Theo; some pages are a pleasing blend of words and imagery. Stok knows when to write exposition, when to introduce dialogue, and when to let the pictures speak for themselves - it’s a masterful balancing act that works perfectly so the reader is never overwhelmed with information and the pages have room to breathe. 

She makes the inspired choice to show Vincent’s psychosis as dots around his head - when he is slightly manic, she peppers dots around his head, and the dots increase the more he loses control, so that when he’s in his most disastrous phase of self-destruction, the entire panel is filled with dots! 

Also, she doesn’t reproduce Van Gogh’s work but depicts them in her own style which is delightful in its own way. The page where Vincent holds his paintbrush like a bow against a violin while his starry night plays in the background as if he’s conducting a celestial orchestra of colours is absolutely beautiful. 

It’s not the most informative book though as the last few pages’ significance was lost on me until I went and read up on Vincent’s last days. Stok closes the book by drawing one of his last paintings - Wheat Field With Crows - which is gorgeous but is important as it’s possible that’s the place he committed suicide, by shooting himself with a gun, a scene we don’t see. 

He wouldn’t die in the field but the bullet would remain lodged inside him as the country doctors weren’t qualified enough to perform surgery and an infection, brought on by the wound, would kill him. Then again, this book doesn’t pretend to be a definitive biography of the artist, but as more of a look at a certain period in his life, through an artistic lens of its own, and chooses to focus on the art and his life, rather than his death. It closes on the landscape he loved, not the drab room he passed away in and that was definitely the right choice. 

Vincent is an enormously enjoyable look at one of the greatest painters of all time, rewarding the reader with glimpses into his life and mind thanks to Barbara Stok’s gifted storytelling. It’s also (importantly for a book on art) one of the most beautiful comics I’ve read all year - an absolutely brilliant graphic novel which I’d recommend to anyone and everyone with an interest in this artist.

Vincent

The Walking Dead, Volume 13: Too Far Gone Review (Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard)


It’s fine to give Rick and the survivors a respite - they’ve definitely earned it after what they’ve been through - but it’s wearing a bit now and I’m beginning to think this safe colony is the worst thing to happen to this series as it completely neutralises any menace and momentum the story had. 

A whole lot of nothing happens in this volume, the biggest of which is probably Rick taking it upon himself as new constable to deal with a case of domestic abuse by beating the crap out of the abusive husband on his own lawn! This scene of course underlines once more that, yes, Rick is kinda losing it after all he’s been through… and? Do we really have to keep pointing out that they’ve changed and aren’t yet ready to settle down to “normal” life - wasn’t that what the whole last book was about?

Glenn and Rick pilfer some guns from the colony’s lockup (weapons are forbidden) which involves Glenn surreptitiously sneaking in and unlocking the outside window so he and Rick can climb in, grab what they need and climb back out. And then Rick says he’ll somehow get back in to lock the window from the inside - a scene we never see. How does he do that? It took a lot of effort for Glenn to make it in with a group who were heading out and needed guns and he was being watched nearly the whole time - how would Rick do it alone? It’s a small detail but felt like a plot hole because if it were just that easy, why spend the time to have Glenn go in, in the first place, to unlock the window? 

Another small thing that irked me was Charlie Adlard’s art when he was drawing Michonne - when she and Rick are talking as they walk their beat, he draws part of her face completely white with a line separating the white from the darker skin. I think he’s going for a lighting effect but it completely fails and looks like she’s wearing a plastic jaw or has painted her face partly white for some reason! Either way, very poor artwork from Adlard, who’s normally pretty good. 

They’re building a new wall (because construction work is so fascinating to read!) and Abraham shows how tough he is by taking out a bunch of zombies by himself; Glenn and a new person head into D.C. to grab some medical supplies; and finally some idiots with guns try, and fail, to storm the colony’s walls. This volume feels like a retread of stuff we’ve already seen, and done better, before. 

The Davidson backstory - the former leader who had apparently turned evil - was mildly interesting and I’m already guessing that it was fabricated by Douglas and he’s really the evil one, but we’ll see how that plays out. Meanwhile there’s just a lot of dull moments - some characters we barely know die, Andrea goes on a first date, Glenn and Maggie have relationship issues… zzz...

I really hope this colony blows up or something so they’ll be forced back out into the wilderness soon because a whole lotta nothing is going down right now and it’s super boring to read! Too Far Gone? More like they’ve been here too far long - let’s kick it up a couple gears, guys!

The Walking Dead Volume 13: Too Far Gone

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Marvel Knights, Spider-Man: Fight Night Review (Matt Kindt, Marco Rudy)


Is Matt Kindt a real person or a writing programme for companies like Marvel to churn out product with? I’m serious because it says Matt Kindt wrote this book but it reads like someone input the regular Spider-Man elements into a programme and it spit out this POS script. 

Spider-Man’s going to fight 99 villains because dumbass comics readers only want to see the hero socking a villain as often as they can - they’ll clap their drool-inflected paws together at this and love it! Remember, it’s Spider-Man so have him mention Uncle Ben several times, quip quip quip, and then throw Mary Jane in there so he can kiss her and make it seem like the story has a semblance of a heart. Have we hit the required page count? Ok, send it off to an artist who can hit deadlines, print and SELL SELL SELL! 

Kindt’s writing really is that shallow. The whole “hero running the gauntlet” storyline has been done before and can be interesting to read - Bane makes Batman go through multiple villains to wear him down before he steps in and breaks his back in Knightfall, and Jason Aaron sent Vietnam-era Punisher into that good night after he’d killed his way through his rogues’ gallery once and for all in Punisher MAX.

But here? It’s so rushed and inconsequential that it barely matters whether you read the words on the pages or not, and the ending doesn’t make any sense at all - it’s so contrived and cynical a book, you can tell this was something Marvel just wanted to throw out there. Kindt doesn’t care about this story, it’s not something he’s always wanted to tell, it’s just crap product designed to make money from Spider-Man fans who’ll read anything starring their favourite wall-crawler. 

I won’t say anything more about the script except that it’s so bad, it makes Jeph Loeb’s Spider-Man work look good in comparison.

The art on the other hand looks flashy but feels derivative. Spidey gets drugged and sees things hazily so Marco Rudy goes for an art style that feels exactly like Dave McKean’s in Arkham Asylum - very art school-y and “avant garde”. Elsewhere, Rudy utilises page layouts that feel like inferior versions of JH Williams III’s or Yanick Paquette’s, and other times his figures feel like they were drawn by late ‘90s-era Paul Pope. 

I felt that Rudy’s art was a composite of other artists’ styles rather than his own so while technically it’s pretty good - though the pages look a little too busy at times - I can’t say I was impressed much with it. But he does an ok job with the book considering how little he was given to work with from Kindt. 

I kept reading because I was fascinated with just how bad this was, wondering how on earth this script got approved in the first place before realising that so long as Spider-Man’s in it, Marvel will print ANYTHING, no matter the quality. 

Don’t bother with Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, guys - this is one of the worst, most forgettable Spider-Man books ever created.

Marvel Knights: Spider-Man - Fight Night

Velvet, Volume 1: Before the Living End Review (Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting)


What if Miss Moneypenny was more than just a secretary – what if she was actually deadlier than Bond? And what would happen if she was backed into a corner?

Velvet Templeton is a desk jockey in an MI6 facsimile called ARC-7 at the height of the Cold War in 1973. X-14, the agency’s best spy, is killed by an unknown assassin, as is the retired agent who trained him – and Velvet has been framed for the murders! 

Hunted as a traitor by her former employers, they quickly realise she’s far more accomplished than she let on and is extremely dangerous. So begins Velvet’s investigation to find the real killer and clear her name, a journey that takes her deep into the Soviet bloc, the world of double agents and her own past – who’s working for who?

The first, last and only thing that needs to be said about Velvet is, oh lordy trouble so hard, Steve Epting’s art is INCREDIBLE!! His work on previous collaborations with Ed Brubaker over at Marvel, like their amazing Captain America run which included The Winter Soldier, as well as The Marvels Project, has always been first class, but his work on Velvet - man, who knew that by taking away the masks and capes, Epting would find a near-zen level of art? 

It’s photorealistic in a way that’s not too real and not too unreal either - it’s a perfect balance that mixes comics with reality in an enormously pleasing way. And, unlike other photorealistic art styles, his figures never look clunky or stiff, which is crucial because there’s a lot of fast-paced action in this book. The car chase in the second chapter is something else, he plots it so well, panel by panel, that it’s like watching a film - in fact there’s something to say about every set piece here in the way Epting’s chosen to execute it, but it’s the quieter moments that you get to see the genius in his work through his subtlety. 

There’s a scene in the rain at night when a subordinate goes to his boss at the front door of a gentleman’s club where he reports to him that Velvet got away. The rain’s coming down, their conversation is lamplit, and… it’s breathtaking. You can almost hear the rain in that scene and I swear, if you look at the panels askance, the characters freaking move! 

You know what, I’m going to stop there because I’m starting to foam at the mouth (and I haven’t even mentioned the Carnival of Fools sequence!) but my word, Steve Epting - his work on Velvet is a career best from an already impressive career. 

Let’s talk about the story because the “spy on the run” thing has been done before and yet somehow Ed Brubaker’s managed to breathe new life into it. Brubaker really proves that it’s not the originality of the concept but the execution that matters, and, despite noting plot elements from other spy stories, Velvet’s journey into the dark hearts of international government affairs is never less than riveting every step of the way. 

Lest you think it’s all spies sneaking in shadows with tiny cameras, Velvet proves she’s got the goods several times here, destroying groups of armed soldiers and assassins in hand-to-hand combat, driving insanely into oncoming traffic, leaping off of buildings, going to casinos, using cool experimental gadgets, even bedding hot younger men - she IS the female Bond! 

Spy stories can sometimes get a little convoluted when double agents are introduced and the reader has to follow who’s really working for who and who’s selling out who, but Brubaker is able to keep all the threads straight so that when he utilises flashbacks (sparingly), it’s to full effect, fleshing out the current scene while keeping the plot propelling forwards. 

And while I’ve mentioned Bond, Brubaker’s Velvet highlights the dark side of the spy game showing the effects it has on the spies themselves rather than just focusing on the flashy, exciting good times. It really is Brubaker’s best work in years. 

Velvet’s creative team fires on all cylinders with both Brubaker and Epting spinning their most compelling collaborative effort yet with an outstanding original character. It’s also one of the best spy thrillers I’ve ever read - comics or prose fiction - and easily the best looking one too thanks to Epting’s work. Do NOT miss this masterpiece in the making!

Velvet Volume 1

Friday, 23 May 2014

Monsters! & Other Stories by Gustavo Duarte Review


With Godzilla currently tearing up movie theatres around the world, what better time than now to read a book of monster comics? I say “read” but Gustavo Duarte’s collection of three stories are actually silent (that is, wordless) so you’re really watching more than reading.

Duarte’s Monsters is an excellent book of three masterful comics. The first story features a pig farmer who has a strange encounter with an alien one night before he sips his vodka; the second stars some birds working in an office who’re slowly being picked off, one by one, by an unseen killer – and Death is literally lurking outside the office walls; and the third and final piece is the title story where a Getafix the Druid-lookalike bartender saves the world from hordes of marauding giant monsters with his own magic potion.

Duarte’s stories sound dramatic – and they are – but they also have a strong sense of humour to them too. The pig farmer’s transformation after his bizarre alien encounter is just the beginning of his surreal and funny journey, while the bird office workers’ story is given a brilliant twist in the final panel. And I loved the chipper fisherman character in the Monsters story who inadvertently saves the world.

The art is gorgeous - very cartoony and exaggerated but a keen understanding of how bodies move, whether they’re human or human-ish animals or fictional monsters. The lines are very confident and clear, while the perspectives are always just right - you see what you need to see, when you need to see it, before moving onto the next panel where you see a bit more of the story, and so on. 

The stories are really well-paced and superbly told. You don’t read a single word throughout but you know exactly what they’re about and you even notice subtext to them - the second story in particular could be interpreted many different ways, especially with that final panel. And the Monsters story really delivers on the title - you get lots of great b-movie monster action from lots of different monsters tearing up a coastal city.

I’ve read plenty of silent comics and they’re always absolutely brilliant. I think this is because, due to the lack of writing, the artist has to make sure the reader understands everything that’s happening on the page through the pictures so extra care is taken to make sure everything flows perfectly and precisely – not a single panel is wasted. Because it takes a more accomplished artist to pull off a successful silent comic, the few that get published tend to be of a much higher quality than your average comic with words.

So why aren’t there more? Probably because they’re a minor genre within comics which is itself a minor genre of literature, and because they can be read relatively quickly and so don’t sell as much as most people don’t think they’re getting value for money over comics with words, and yet they cost the same to produce so they cost the same to buy – all understandable, if a shame.

Do check out Gustavo Duarte’s Monsters & Other Stories, whether you buy it or borrow it, it’s a truly delightful comic that’s both entertaining and artistic in equal measure.

Monsters! & Other Stories

Big Nothing: A Review of DC's Forever Evil (Geoff Johns, David Finch)


If I were to match the intelligence level of Forever Evil in this review, I wouldn’t even be typing this; I’d be posting a picture my minder snapped of a frowny face I smeared with my poop on the fridge while I grinned with a giant booger dangling off my nose under my spinning propeller cap. But I’m going to do something Geoff Johns didn’t do and put some effort into writing somewhat coherently about DC’s latest, oh, let’s charitably say angry fart of a comic event: Forever Evil. 

Before I start, let’s clear the room first of some people who aren’t going to like or appreciate what I have to say. So: if you haven’t read, or are planning to read, Trinity War, and you don’t know anything about Forever Evil, and you don’t want spoilers - stop reading this review. Forever Evil’s premise is Trinity War’s finale. I wouldn’t recommend Trinity War either - if Forever Evil is an angry fart, Trinity War is the bowel movement that preceded it. 

Also don’t read this if you haven’t read Forever Evil and are planning on doing so - I will talk spoilers. And finally all DC fanboys and fangirls who don’t like hearing their favourite limb-tearing comics publisher being smack-talked, you can safely walk away still believing the New 52 is the greatest accomplishment in comics - you won’t agree with what I say anyway, I have some very unflattering things to say, all of which are true, so here I am saving you some time so you can go read the latest issue of Savage Hawkman (unless it’s been cancelled, which is a high probability - seriously, have they cancelled more titles than they’re publishing in the New 52 at this point?). 

Or, if you’re just one of those people who’re just looking for a recommendation one way or the other, here it is: no, I would not recommend Forever Evil. It is a terrible comic. Maybe you got that from the first sentence but if you didn’t I’m saying it explicitly just for you. 

Ok, so I’m assuming if you’re still with me at this point, I’m safe to say…. 

… I WAS KIDDING, I LOVE FOREVER EVIL!!! GEOFF JOHNS IS THE GREATEST WRITER EVER! DC, YOU ARE AMAZING AND KNOW EXACTLY WHAT READERS WANT!!!

Heh - can you imagine after all those disclaimers? No, fuck this book really. This is the last DC Event book I ever read, they’re too unrewarding.

The Crime Syndicate, who’re the evil opposites of the Justice League from Earth 3 and put the Trinity in Trinity War, have somehow killed the Justice League and taken over the world because that’s what villains do in them stories what tells you about heroes and them folks the heroes fight. It’s up to Lex Luthor - oh, the irony! - to gather a handful of villains together to defeat the Crime Syndicate.

Let’s start with the Crime Syndicate and what a weird group they are. Who are they? Well, keep in mind they’re opposite so: Ultraman is the evil Superman who gets his strength from snorting kryptonite like cocaine - which he does on more than one occasion in this book! - and is weakened by the sun. Power Ring is the cowardly Green Lantern whose ring poisons and controls the wearer; Superwoman is evil Lois Lane with a barbed wire lasso; Owlman is Thomas Wayne; evil Alfred is Joker; Grid is the robotic half of cyborg, made whole; Johnny Quick is the evil Flash; Atomica is the evil Atom; and finally Deathstorm is the evil Firestorm.

Why are they here? Because they’re running from something more evil and powerful than they are. Do we find out what that is by the end of the book? We do. Do we see that evil power defeated? We don’t. So, much like Trinity War, Forever Evil doesn’t really have an ending and is a lengthy tease for the next big DC event. Cynical? Annoying? Yup to both.

But it is a complete story if you take it to be about Lex Luthor’s arc of realising he can be a hero. It’s that banal. Because, while there are lots of nit-picking, irritating things I found with this comic, the real problem with it is how boring this book is. Honestly, I’d read an issue and then, not even a month later but an hour later, struggle to recall what I’d read - they’re that forgettable. And then I realised: oh yeah, NOTHING HAPPENED! One issue is Lex and Batman fighting over who’s gonna be the leader of their little group - seriously.

Lex goes from being the evil corporate businessman at the start to saving Superman and the Earth at the end and realising there’s something to be said about being good (by the way, no mention of how he got out of prison - when last we saw him in Action Comics, he was locked up). Along the way he meets other disenfranchised villains, they team up, and they fight the Crime Syndicate - nothing else really happens. But I can see why it needed to be this straightforward because DC spun about 20 different titles out of this event to soak up as much sales as they could and, though I didn’t read any of them, I’m certain none of them were worthwhile.

So let’s get to the bizarre focus of this series: Nightwing. Because for some reason… Nightwing was important to the Crime Syndicate in a way that’s never explained. He’s kidnapped by Superwoman in #1, he’s unmasked as - shock! Dick Grayson! and then tied up to the Murder Machine, a device from Apokolips, where he waits to die while Batman struggles in vain to save him.

But whyyyyyyyyyy?! Why was Nightwing so important to the Crime Syndicate. Simply put, he wasn’t. They got nothing out of capturing him and tying him up - nothing! And yet they used the Murder Machine, an almost impenetrable holding device, to keep the unpowered Grayson in check while elsewhere, they had Earth 3 Shazam tied with rope to a chair with a piece of tape over his mouth in a broom closet - and they were way more scared of him than Nightwing. Really their positions should’ve been reversed but, out of the two, Nightwing is more popular with readers so I guess that’s why?

I mentioned earlier the nitpicky details of this book, so here they are, rapid-fire style: if there’s no power, how are they able to broadcast “This World Is Ours” on literally every screen in the world? Ultraman doesn’t seem to realise the moon orbits the Earth and yet moves the moon in front of the sun anyway thinking it’ll stay put. Why are the villains’ orders to level entire cities - to what end? Just seems like brainless, generic evil-doer stuff - if this “world is yours”, then you want it to be in good condition, right? Who wants to rule a smouldering heap? How has Cyborg survived being separated from the machine parts of his body? For that matter, how does he manage to survive being dragged along the floor by Batman without picking up some serious infections, given that his entire body is one giant gaping wound? In #3, David Finch can’t decide what level of disintegration Batman’s mask is so in one panel it looks barely scratched, in another it’s partially removed, in another a large piece is missing, and in the final iteration, half his cowl is missing! Awful artistry, David Finch, no consistency whatsoever. Plus, you can clearly see Batman’s identity - and yet NO-ONE clocks that it’s Bruce Wayne! Y’know the playboy billionaire who’s seemingly always on the front page of every newspaper in the DCU? Is everyone blind and stupid?! Also, he takes time to go to the Batcave with Catwoman to get the contingencies he created if he ever needed to battle the Justice League, even though he knows the Crime Syndicate are opposites and so none of those contingencies would work on them! So what was the point, Bruce? Why is Luthor continuously monologuing about his sister?! If Earth 3 Shazam is so feared and dangerous, why keep him alive - what purpose does he serve in being the Crime Syndicate’s prisoner? How does Wonder Woman’s lasso wrapped around Firestorm release all of the trapped heroes? Why does Owlman want so desperately to be besties with Dick Grayson? How is Superman not dead after having a piece of kryptonite lodged in his brain for so long?

Ahhh, that feels better!

I’ll give it a couple positives because I can be objective sometimes: the way the Justice League are defeated by the Crime Syndicate was interesting - it wasn’t just a straight fight but something tactical - and the way Lex defeats Earth 3 Shazam was also clever. Two things - the only two things I can commend Forever Evil on, and that’s it.

There isn’t much more to say about Forever Evil. It is another piss-awful event book. It is riddled with holes and tells a totally worthless and unengaging story in a dreary way. It will leave you wondering why you bothered in the first place and, if you’re like me, decide to give up on DC event comics for good. Moreover you might even end up questioning whether you even want to keep reading DC Comics if this is the kind of bilge they keep pumping out in high volumes each month.

One final thing (he says in his Columbo voice): if Trinity War was billed as the event the New 52 had been building to since the start (and was totally underwhelming), what was Forever Evil? The event nothing was building toward and, by the end, achieved nothing.

Forever Evil = nothing.


Forever Evil (The New 52)