Tuesday, 10 November 2015

By Chance or Providence: Stories by Becky Cloonan Review


By Chance or Providence is a trilogy of previously published short stories – Wolves, The Mire, and Demeter - by Becky Cloonan collected together in one volume. I reviewed all three individually in 2013 – those reviews are below. Enjoy!

(The publication order was Wolves first, then The Mire, and finally Demeter but I read The Mire first, then Wolves and then Demeter which is why I’m referencing The Mire in the Wolves review. Regarding the Demeter review, Cloonan was calling this series Ink and Thunder but obviously changed it to By Chance or Providence for this book. I’m also still ranting about Marvel’s AVX in The Mire! I’m over it now, honestly…)

*

Wolves – 4 stars

Wolves is a moody supernatural fantasy that reads like a graphic poem than a straight story. Set in a time when people lived in castles and used swords on a daily basis, we meet our nameless narrator, naked and desperate, stumbling around in the woods. He tells us his sad story of being sent to kill a monstrous wolf in the forest by a king whose wife he is having an affair with. Somehow the two are connected as our narrator descends into a hellishly dark place from which he may never emerge.

The story isn’t as straightforward as The Mire as it jumps around a bit and Becky Cloonan keeps vital information unspoken. That said, it’s by no means a tough story to follow and the ending has a quiet devastation all of its own. As with The Mire, the best part of this comic is Cloonan’s incredible art. Her expressive use of black and white, the swirling figures blending into the impossibly romantic scenery and the perfect use of panel progression to tell the (albeit brief) story all make reading this a treat for the eyes.

But even more simply, it’s gorgeous to look at. Wolves is a comic whose high quality of artwork you rarely see in comics as quite often artists are pushed to hit monthly deadlines. The benefit of Cloonan taking her time drawing this comic is this stunning artwork that I find myself looking at every moment I have some downtime. That scene with the werewolf…

It’s also dead cheap. A full length comic for a handful of pennies? This is what digital comics should be instead what Marvel and DC charge which is 4, 5 times this at least. Wolves is a wonderful comic that readers of Mike Mignola and Dark Horse comics will especially respond to. More please, Becky!

*

The Mire – 5 stars

On the night before an epic battle will be fought, Sir Owain, a knight, sends his teenage squire Aiden on a mission to deliver an important letter to a castle, far from the battlefield. But what is the real reason for Aiden's journey? And what does the letter contain?

In just 24 pages Becky Cloonan creates an enchanting world of magic and chivalry, recalling the stories of King Arthur, Prince Valiant, and George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. It's a really well told story, paced nicely with utterly beautiful art throughout. The twist ending was something I'd guessed more or less from the start but Cloonan manages to throw in a rogue element to make the story seem that much more eerie and interesting.

I would say this comic contains better art and writing than entire Event series put out by DC and Marvel - The Mire is easily a more quality read than Blackest Night and Avengers Vs. X-Men combined. And I bought this on Amazon UK for 38p - a 24 page digital comic for half the price of a chocolate bar! It's less than a dollar on Amazon US and Comixology, while Marvel and DC routinely charge three or four dollars for a 20 page comic. I say, support this artist for the next-to-nothing cost of this excellent comic and pick up The Mire today. It's well worth it and is a far better read than half the crappy, overpriced New 52 and Marvel NOW! titles crowding the shelves.

Comics Rule Everything Around Me, says Cloonan on the copyright page, and it's paid off with this comic - Cloonan deservedly won the 2013 Eisner Award for Best Single Issue or One-shot for The Mire. It's a brilliant comic and shows that Cloonan can not only draw great comics but can also tell a great story too. Here's looking forward to her first full length graphic novel!

*

Demeter – 4 stars

Demeter is the latest addition to Becky Cloonan’s Ink and Thunder series of black and white digital comics and, though this is the third in the series after 2011’s Wolves and 2012’s The Mire, each is a standalone one-shot so even if you haven’t read the previous two, you can still jump straight into Demeter. 

Set in an indeterminate time in the past (definitely pre-Industrial Revolution), Anna and Colin are young lovers living in a small cottage on the coast. Colin is a fisherman and Anna the housekeeper/farmer of their small land, and the two are very much in love (lotta sex!). But a strange figure haunts Anna in the night, looking in through the windows and watching them as they sleep. Anna holds a dark secret at the heart of her seemingly perfect romance, and their idyllic love is anything but…

Cloonan’s Ink and Thunder comics have this wonderful fairy-tale quality to them, set in a fantasy land where werewolves, ghosts, and this time, magic and spirits of nature, exist alongside ridiculously beautiful humans. Maybe it’s because of the doomed romance angle and the fact that magic and the sea are central to the tale that I kept thinking Demeter read like a comic Samuel Taylor Coleridge would’ve created if he were a comic book artist today. It’s got a very lyrical narrative tone alongside the haunting imagery that makes it really attractive to read as well as ambiguous in all the right places to keep the story lovely and mysterious. 

Though the comic is 30 pages, its peculiarly complex storytelling structure where Cloonan leaps about at different points in the story and leaves on an open-ended note means that this is a comic you’ll want to flick back and re-read to tease out its puzzling meaning. And, like all of the Ink and Thunder series, Demeter is available only digitally though the price is far cheaper than most digital comics, longer too at 30 pages compared to 22, and of a much higher quality, so it’s excellent value for money. 

Cloonan’s art is absolutely gorgeous, there’s no other description for it. I love her mainstream work on books like Batman, Killjoys, and, most recently, Harley Quinn #0, but her art in her own comics is the best it is and is so good, it’s unreal. Her manga influences are still there in her human characters’ faces, but her layouts and designs are distinctly her own. There are fantastical elements to the comic, and they look amazing, but even domestic scenes are rendered in breath-taking ways. 

Demeter is another triumph for Becky Cloonan and a fine addition to her amazing series. Wonderful art coupled with a haunting tale of love, lost and found, Demeter is a brilliant fantasy/romance/supernatural/Cloonan comic, well worth a read.

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