Y: The Last Man – Volume 1 – Unmanned – Brian K. Vaughan

The premise is that every living male (human and animal) dies at the same time leaving the planet populated entirely by females. This is a unique idea and allows for a lot of introspection on the role that sex or gender has played in shaping our culture and societies across the globe. It also allows for speculation on what kind of a brave new world would a single sex forge. This is science fiction at its best.

For the sake of drama one man has survived, naturally an American, and naturally an aimless, twenty-something slacker. His male pet monkey has also survived too. We follow our titular hero, Yorick, as various people want to get their hands on him, for good or ill, and as he journeys halfway across this woman-filled globe to meet up with his fiancé. He is well-read, cynical and wisecracking enough to make a good guide through this dysfunctional new reality.

The art is expertly drawn but quite understated having a very clean, almost pop-art flavour to it. The layout is superb. With several stories being told the choice of when to cut between them and when to show them all on the same page is spot on. The writing is good but the storytelling, the way in which facts are revealed, the jumping backward and forward in time is exemplary. The introduction and payoff in the first issue alone is superb. There is a lot of show don’t tell in which questions are asked and the only answer is the character’s expression, which is just how this medium should be used. Even the lettering steps up its game with speech bubbles overlapping each other to help you know what order to read them in. And when many people talk at once the letters encroach on each other making it impossible to read just as in a real conversation.

This is technically the perfect comic with a bold concept, incredible structure, real innovation and a unique style. It is very Americentric however. Many of the political and cultural references might be lost to the overseas reader. I also got the sense that the author was definitely soap-boxing about his politics too, which would be fine in a subtle way, but too heavy handed in this instance. Having such a large, almost all female, ensemble cast does put a strain on both the writer and artist to differentiate them and make them unique. Hopefully they will establish their independence as the issues progress.

This is an amazing start that effortlessly sweeps a bold Thumbs Up!

52/313.

Tomorrow: Y: The Last Man – Volume 2 – Cycles – Brian K. Vaughan

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Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle – Garth Ennis

Star Wars was a fine film that didn’t need any sequels. It wrapped everything up in a neat package with a very satisfying ending. That is what Wormwood did too. It is the kind of story that needs to stand as a single thought-provoking work that stays with you and keeps you thinking long after you have read it.

The strange thing about this third volume is that it retells the same story as volume one but with much less sex, violence and originality. This is like the parent friendly directors cut with all the swearing bleeped out. Pope Jacko pops up to wreak havoc, Danny’s relationship is placed in jeopardy and the glaring holes in the fabric of organised religion are pointed out to the reader. We have had all this before.

Things are slightly different and there are some interesting advances in our characters’ lives but the same message that the first story trumpeted is still the same. To quote that fantastic 80’s film Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other.” That’s all that needs to be said and talking three volumes to do it isn’t necessary.

The art is pretty spectacular. A lot of time and effort has been put into each panel and the rich colours are a joy to look at. Great use of lighting and shadows make this a very cinematic work to view. It is a shame that the dialogue does all of the talking and this is such a wordy book. This feels more like a pub conversation or maybe a party political broadcast, as no matter how great the art, it doesn’t change or enhance the message. Because there is so much colour and shadowing the faces can sometimes look soft and occasionally give that rotoscoped look as featured in the film Through a Scanner Darkly.

Whilst it is a pleasure to read anything by Garth Ennis you have to wonder why he is staying in his comfort zone and reworking existing titles as opposed to innovating and creating new storylines. A Thumbs Up, but not for much longer.

51/314.

Tomorrow: Y: The Last Man – Volume 1 – Unmanned – Brain K. Vaughn

Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Enemy – Garth Ennis

Sequels. Generally a bad idea. Wormwood wrapped things up nicely. The world got saved and our heroes were left on firm ground to get on with their lives. Why do we need to return; particularly for a single issue special. Is it because there is some unfinished business or does Mr Ennis need another gold plated yacht? Well it seems that he is a bit of a softy and couldn’t help but revisit Danny’s love life. We all wanted him to get the girl and our hearts bled for him when he didn’t. This tale didn’t need to be written but we are glad it was. The single issue works as he has enough time to re-capture the emotions between Danny and Maggie. Plus you can’t get enough of Pope Jacko now can you. The art is the same high quality stuff but isn’t Jacen Burrows! I really didn’t notice this until it was pointed out to me. The new artist Rob Steen does a great job preserving the style and generating great facial expressions necessary to convey the strong emotions in this work. Another Thumbs Up!

50/315.

Tomorrow: Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Battle – Garth Ennis

Chronicles of Wormwood – Garth Ennis

It’s easy to pigeonhole an established writer’s new works. This is Garth Ennis’ zombie book; this is Garth Ennis on sex, on consumerism, on superheroes, etc. You could say this is his take on religion but that would be an unjust simplification. Can the man who wrote a nine volume epic about religion really have more to say? As an Irishman he probably does have a lot to say about religion and no qualms about shouting it from the rooftops. With his uncanny skill however this is a complex, multilayered work that you can’t just typecast.

Ennis uses all of his tools such as humour, horror, irony and originality with sublime effect to make us look, really look, at religion and how we perceive it. Rather than the snap judgement that most people exhibit when discussing belief this work slowly peels away the arguments that we have all heard before and lets us see what lies beneath. Religion, like most weapons, is neutral and is only as good or ill as the hand that wields it. All this complex theology is seamlessly interwoven into a gripping tale with the anti-Christ as the hero and featuring an Australian pope, a black Jesus and a talking rabbit. There is even time for a touching love-story.

The art by long term collaborator Jacen Burrows is superb with his depictions of hell making him a natural choice for the later book Crossed. All the characters are distinct and well defined and his use of colours is superb. He also draws the most realistic rabbits I have ever seen. Disney is clearly missing a notable talent here. As an Ennis work there is plenty of sex, violence and gore and he manages to push the envelope just a little bit more each time so I wouldn’t read this on the bus or take it to Sunday School.

This is an excellent work that unlike many official pieces of devout literature seems to make a lot more sense and contains much more of a humanistic and compassionate view of what religion could and should mean to us. An Almighty Thumbs Up!

 49/316.

Tomorrow: Chronicles of Wormwood: The Last Enemy – Garth Ennis

Big Numbers – Alan Moore

There are many writers I am sure that have wacky, crazy ideas that their publisher’s tell them will never sell. Alan More doesn’t have this problem as no matter how far out his ideas someone will publish them. At first glance this does seem to be a vanity project with pages filled with nonsensical dialogue-free randomness. As the pages go on and the dialogue appears we get an interesting glimpse into the everyday lives of quirky random strangers just like us. Like an overheard phone call, or sitting behind two people conversing on a bus, we are privy to the private moments in the lives of several ordinary human beings. By the end of it we feel richer and almost privileged to have glimpsed something not shared with others.

The art is quite unique and seems to be photographs that have been copied or traced leaving black and white drawings. Some are vividly real and others become more impressionistic. It all adds to the authenticity of what we are witnessing. It has the impression of those photo stories from teenage magazines of the seventies.

This isn’t an easy read and it doesn’t hold your hand so you may feel like you only understood part of the story. I did get enough of it to give it a Thumbs Up!

48/317.

Tomorrow: Wormwood – Garth Ennis

War of the Undead – Bryan Johnson

We’ve all seen stories of Nazi’s messing with the occult and even raising zombies to do their bidding. How do you raise the stakes? By adding Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman of course. These three are the good guys too. Not enough horror? How about a cameo by Jekyll and Hyde? Or the Invisible Man maybe? This is stuffed to the gills with classic horror goodness and despite the occasional jarring Godzilla quote it all seems to work very well. Oh and I almost forgot the Mummy. And Satan.

The plan is to resurrect Hitler so you get the obligatory – if clever and amusing – testicle reference. It is quite a brief romp but wraps up nicely and previews the sequel which promises to do for B-movie sci-fi what this volume did for B-movie horror. It does switch from film script to internal monologue halfway through but is cleverly written and engaging.

The art is mostly blood spattered panels but there are some exquisite gems such as Dracula’s coffin bathed in eerie green light or faces lit by an orange flame. The stars are the various portraits of Hitler in the background inserting him into paintings of the renaissance, medieval and antiquity.

Over the top enough to warrant a Thumbs Up and to make me want to check out the sequel. 

47/318.

Tomorrow: Big Numbers – Alan Moore

Singularity 7 – Ben Templesmith

This is an interesting piece. I wouldn’t describe it as a traditional graphic novel more an idea or a memory expressed visually. The art is definitely the attention grabber as the narrative is quite loose and basic. If you imagine the offspring of Geiger and Dali being given some crayons after a nightmare then that will give you an idea of the punchy, anarchistic style at work here. More visual food fight than feast. This is the artist that illustrated Warren Ellis’ Fell: Feral City.

Here is a short tale concerning alien invasion and extermination with a dirty dozen mission to get some payback. Picture an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon set in the Terminator universe. There is also a mini-tale at the end which I think is better than the main work. The covers and concept art included also have more impact than the narrative. It is not a Thumbs Down but it’s just not my cup of tea.

46/319.

Tomorrow: War of the Undead – Bryan Johnson

Inferno – Mike Carey & Michael Gaydos

This is an interesting tale that has you working hard to put the pieces together as the action thunders along. A man is murdered, up in hell and everyone there knows him; but as someone else he has no memory of. He must work to find out who he really is or who others think he is. It explores the themes of identity and what makes us who we are against a backdrop of the ticking clock thriller.

It is set almost exclusively in Hell and there is no fire or brimstone in sight. The infernal realm is an infinite city where people live forever endlessly plotting and scheming to advance themselves or at least ease their suffering. Magic is rife and demonic creatures of varying powers are also common. The setting is believable and displays its own internal logic and consistency.

The art is pure black and white like Sin City and whilst this isn’t my favourite style it does a great job of conveying the bleakness of an eternal hell. The characters and action are all well enough defined that you have no problems following along.

This was a good story that operated on many levels simultaneously. You initially start off as confused as the lead character and go on a real journey through this alien landscape. Both of you peel away the layers of what has gone before and who the antagonist truly is. Thumbs Up!

45/320.

Tomorrow: Singularity 7 – Ben Templesmith

The Cleaners – Mark Wheaton

This is an absolutely astounding read from a team I was not aware of. The story concerns a man who cleans up crime scenes. That’s not a euphemism, he actually mops blood and viscera off the walls post police investigation. Why? Well it gives him a chance to do some investigating of his own particularly if the case is of the unusual or unexplained variety. He along with his friends and associates poke their noses where the police fail to.

It is an interesting premise that works well. The author was either a doctor or CSI technician or is the king of research as everything feels absolutely authentic. As well as a cracking plot you get to learn a lot about forensics, medicine and decontamination but in an interesting and engaging way that does not hijack the flow.

The art is breathtaking with superb colour pallets. While this doesn’t look like a polished big budget title the art is lovingly painted and not rushed or skimped on. The layout is unusual as throughout the piece there are random frames that cut away from where you are now to somewhere else. These are little flashes of somewhere or some-when that allow you to put together the clues to figure out what is going on in a race with the hero. It is distracting at first but really rewards a patient and thoughtful reader. This isn’t mindless escapism this is a taught thriller.

It is so refreshing to find something that departs from its peers and tells a story on its own terms. I really hope to see more and have no hesitation in giving this the Double Thumbs Up!

44/321.

Tomorrow: Inferno – Mike Carey & Michael Gaydos

Union Jack: London Falling – Christos N. Gage

How disappointing. The previous volume introduced a lone hero with a gun and a motorbike. It was a great example of how one man can make a difference. It was British of a sort. Now we have flying cars and super teams. Our one man army has now been joined by three foreigners we don’t care about who are barely more than cardboard cut-outs and fighting twice the amount of stereotype super-villains. Worst of all the only way to save the day is to phone up Captain America.

What we have here is a submarine designed by someone who has never seen the sea. Putting in the odd “bollocks,” or “innit,” does not make a character British. Neither does watching Mary Poppins and raiding Wikipedia qualify you to write Union Jack. The whole book is a mess. All the additional characters have no chance to develop or contribute and only serve to deprive Jack of much needed time in the spotlight. More attention is spent referencing other stories and titles in the Marvel Universe than revealing Jack’s.

There are some sparks of inspiration, the odd surprise and funny joke and the ending is certainly a good try but it is too little way too late. The art is fine and the London landscapes look like they are based on photographs which is a pleasing technique. There are some nice elements of framing and composition but you are too busy cringing at the text to appreciate them. It is my patriotic duty to give this tragic disappointment the Thumbs Down!

43/322.

Tomorrow: The Cleaners – Mark Wheaton