Welcome to the month four roundup.

Has it really been four months? Really? That means I am a third of the way through. This feels like both a long and a short time to have been doing this.

This month we also had no Thumbs Down titles thankfully. I wonder if I am going soft?

We had one No Thumbs title.

Even the mighty Warren Ellis has bad days.

Stormwatch Volume Five: Final Orbit – Warren Ellis

We had twenty-six Thumbs Up titles.

Everything has gone all middle-of-the-road it seems.

Crossed Volume 3: Psychopath – David Lapham

Chew Volume Two: International Flavour – John Layman

Chew Volume Three: Just Deserts – John Layman

Chew Volume Four: Flambé – John Layman

Chew Volume Five: Major League Chew – John Layman

The Interactives – Peter Rogers

American Vampire: Volume One – Scott Snyder & Stephen King

American Vampire: Volume Two – Scott Snyder

American Vampire: Volume Three – Scott Snyder   

Hero 9 to 5 – Ian Sharman

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Alice & Joel Schick

Malcolm X: The Angriest Man in America – Wayne Massop

Seven Miles a Second – David Wojnarowicz & James Romerger

Yuri’s Day – Andrew King

Video Clips – Gaetano Liberatore

Stormwatch Volume One: Force of Nature – Warren Ellis

Stormwatch Volume Two: Lightning Strikes – Warren Ellis

Stormwatch Volume Three: Change or Die – Warren Ellis

Stormwatch Volume Four: A Finer World – Warren Ellis

Stormwatch Team Achilles: Book Two – Micah Ian Wright

Stormwatch Post Human Division: Volume One – Christos Gage

Stormwatch Post Human Division: Volume Two – Christos Gage

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Martin Powell

Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover – Sean Michael Wilson

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – Herge

Tintin in the Congo – Herge

This month we had just three Double Thumbs Up titles, less than ever before.

Chew Volume One: Taster’s Choice – John Layman

Incognegro – Mat Johnson

Stormwatch Team Achilles: Book One – Micah Ian Wright

It has certainly been a varied month with three strong series, a lot of nonfiction works, some British smaller press titles, and some really bizarre reads.

My star was probably the Chew series.

See you next month (hopefully).

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Tintin in the Congo – Herge

You read a book as a child and think it’s great. Then you read it as an adult and think oh my how incredibly racist. Enid Blyton, Robert E. Howard and now Herge it seems. There would be as much chance of publishing this book as a new work as there would be of bringing back the Black and White Minstrel Show. The black inhabitants of theCongoare definitely the butt of all jokes. There is humour within but should I feel guilty about laughing?

This work is typical of the 1930’s in which it was published. Attitudes to other cultures were a lot different then. At least we like to think they are. This is quite a valuable work providing a telling glimpse into a less globalised and less politically correct society. This book was redrawn in colour from its original drawings in the 1960s and to my knowledge none of the dialogue was changed, meaning even then we were still laughing at ignorant foreigners.

If anyone comes off worse than the natives it’s the animals. Tintin thinks nothing of blasting away at antelope, monkeys, lions, elephants and so on, accumulating skins and ivory at a frightening rate. Another example of how attitudes have changed.

Having said all that it’s not a bad little story although it is never explained why Tintin goes to the Congo and as for the villain trying to kill him there is no way you will guess his identity in a million years.

Thumbs Up for showing us how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.

122/243.

Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye – Robert Kirkman

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – Herge

Having fond childhood memories of Tintin I thought I would succumb to nostalgia and revisit the books starting with number one. I got quite a shock.

This story is entirely in black and white with simple outline drawings. Like the early episodes of the Simpsons, characters are recognisable but the style is still forming and growing. Tintin has a much rounder head and there is less definition in the character’s features. However, the simplistic method and the monochrome texture means you don’t stop to admire the view and are whisked along by the story.

It was originally a newspaper comic strip so the regular cliff-hangers mean that Tintin is getting shot at, blown-up, or in car crashes every other page. Whilst this gets a bit fatiguing after a while it means the story moves along at a fair old pace. You won’t get bored and can finish the book very quickly.

Herge wrote this in 1929 meaning the politics are just as black and white as the pictures. The Soviets are evil. Like the Nazis in Indiana Jones they have no redeeming features. This conjures the feel of an old Saturday Morning serial like Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers. Much of the humour wouldn’t look out of place in a Charlie Chaplin movie either. This is definitely a fascinating snapshot of a bygone era and quite an accomplishment for a 22 year old amateur with no formal art training. Whilst the English translation can sometimes get a bit patchy it is still an interesting read.

Thumbs Up!

121/244.

Tomorrow: The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye – Robert Kirkman

PS: Later tonight – Tintin in the Congo – Herge

Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover – Sean Michael Wilson

There is no doubt that corporate greed and malpractice is a worthy cause to publicise. A graphic novel would be an excellent way to do it too. Unfortunately this is only a half hearted attempt to use the medium.

It starts well with a man returning to his family in Iraq from England. He learns of the poor situation there and starts to write a blog. It then becomes statistics heavy, then we tangent off into Israel, and we no longer care about the characters involved. This is propaganda. Fair play for being intelligent, artistic and even necessary but it could have been so much more.

It is published by the campaign organisation War on Want and there are ten pages of text about them and the work they are involved in. As a recruitment tool this is certainly one of the best. As a graphic novel then this falls a little short. With such sophisticated titles as Exit Wounds and How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less showing us the subtle route to education and information we know it can be done.

The art is black and white and really good making great use of tiny panels of random details that would stick in your mind if you were a stranger visiting Iraq. There are some fine silhouettes too. The lettering changes when transitioning from fiction to facts and there is a nicely stylised sequence of a public demonstration.

Because of its important content it just scrapes in as a Thumbs Up!

120/245.

Tomorrow: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets – Herge

The Hound of the Baskervilles – Martin Powell

This an enjoyable conversion of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ best known Sherlock Holmes stories. At only sixty-four A5 pages it still seems to feature all the main characters and plot points. Although marketed to children I found it an engaging read.

The art is great and has a Manga quality to it, presumably to help appeal to the young audience. The colours are really good and there are lots of candlelit interiors and bleak, overcast moorlands.

At the back there is a section about Conan Doyle, a short biography of the adapter and artist, details on Sherlock Holmes, a glossary, questions for discussion, writing ideas and a safe internet site to learn more. Really good ideas for young minds.

In short this would make the perfect children’s gift, the first tentative step to exploring Conan Doyle’s work or a handy refresher or aide memoir of the story.

Thumbs Up!

119/246.

Tomorrow: Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover – Sean Michael Wilson

Stormwatch Post Human Division: Volume Two – Christos Gage

This volume kicks off with the missing issue 5 from the last book. You didn’t know there was a missing issue did you? Well it explains how people came back from the dead. You don’t need to know and would happily accept this is what happens in a reboot. The explanation is so-so and potentially sets up a good future storyline but this is the last volume in this series. The art for this issue is really different. It is clean and shiny with minimal detail making the characters feel poorly defined.

The next two stories are murder mysteries. One of the team members is shot and you will never guess who did it. Then someone is bumping off retired Stormwatch members. But you won’t care who did it. These are good stories that keep you guessing but without the continued character depth of the previous volume or the dark politics of the Ellis era they don’t feel like Stormwatch. The art for these two stories is more like volume one but not like the rich gritty textures of the classic Bryan Hitch run.

Could, and in fact should, have been more but still a Thumbs Up!

118/247.

Tomorrow: The Hound of the Baskervilles – Martin Powell

Stormwatch Post Human Division: Volume One – Christos Gage

Christos Gage is the man who ruined Union Jack. I’m just laying out my prejudices before reading this book as I dread to think what he will do to Stormwatch.

Actually he does a really good job. There are some strong ideas, great characters, funny dialogue, thought provoking issues, and enjoyable action. It is also told at a wonderfully controlled pace allowing plenty of time to get to know the characters and setting and allowing things to build strong foundations.

This is a reboot set after the events of Stormwatch: Final Orbit. Some characters that died in the WildC.A.T.S/ Aliens crossover are back or referenced without any explanation of how. The premise is simple. The US government needs a team to help deal with post human mischief. But there is no money so you get no weapons, no orbital space station and no teleport. And no powers either. The goal is if this team works and normal humans can deal with supers all by themselves the idea can be replicated across America.

Jackson King, former leader of the last big budget Stormwatch, is chosen to head up this taskforce. Without his amplification suit and with literally no money he must set up shop in a New York police station. He recruits humans, has-beens and ex-cons including a depowered Fahrenheit from his original team.

The mix of characters is great. Everyone makes sense and is given equal time in the spotlight. Proper relationships form and you see genuine human emotion at work. Some very effective stories are told and you feel real empathy toward these people who don’t really count as superheroes. They behave plausibly and not like stereotypes with the female characters coming across particularly well.

The art is good stuff, all the panels have straight edges but there are some strong colour choices. Gimmicks have been dropped in favour of good storytelling. Something more writers should do.

Stormwatch has always had a political message and that seems to have been dropped in favour of human drama: although it does have a lot to say about the strength of ordinary men and women. All of the characters are faced with a crisis of confidence and it is interesting to see how they deal with it in different ways. The new or established reader should have fun with this and I am looking forward to seeing the next volume. Thumbs Up!

117/248.

Tomorrow: Stormwatch Post Human Division: Volume Two – Christos Gage

BONUS REVIEW Stormwatch Team Achilles: Book Three – Micah Ian Wright

This is the book that never was. It has cover art, an ISBN number and listings on various online retailers. Sadly it was never released so after purchasing the single issues here is my review of what the books would have contained.

This is a troubled work. There are lots of great ideas, a few laughs, some good art, plenty of imagination and a political sledgehammer to the nuts. It just isn’t put together very well. There are basic errors such names of places and things changing from one issue to the next. Colouring errors mean shoelaces or medals change between panels.

Character has been thrown out of the window for action and plot. The pacing is bogged down by huge swathes of dialogue. The political message isn’t subtle and thought provoking but like a rabid dog ripping out throats. The likeness of a serving politician of the time is uncanny and only subtle changes to the names of actual corporations, news networks and moguls have been made. I don’t know if I am supposed to but I found myself supporting the villain/ antagonist throughout most of the book and hoping his plan succeeded.

The art is equally hit and miss. Flint’s skin tone seems to fluctuate wildly and it seems the colourist didn’t realise she was black for a few issues. There isn’t the innovation in layout or technique we saw previously but there is a fight sequence in the rain that is expertly delivered.

This isn’t consistently bad and there are some very rewarding moments but someone behind the wheel was drinking and driving. All the characters you love are there but they aren’t people just handlers for guns. All attention has gone on the axe to grind which, whilst worthwhile, is hard to stomach.

Stopping after volume two and wondering how it would play out is probably the safest way to go.

BONUS REVIEW

BONUS BONUS REVIEW Stormwatch Team Achilles: Issues 20 – 23 – Micah Ian Wright

Stormwatch has always had a reputation for radical ideas but this one has to take the biscuit. Who is the latest target in Team Achilles sights? Jesus. The son of God.

You have heard the theory that Jesus was a spaceman so why not a superhero? Certainly a unique idea. Whilst the messiah doesn’t turn up in person his blood descendents do and are turning water into wine and raising the dead.

Straight out of a Dan Brown novel we have the whole Priory of Sion, Knights Templar, Freemasons, Illuminati, Medici and the Vatican Inquisition. This is definitely not your run of the mill superhero story. It genuinely pulls the rug out from under you and keeps you guessing.

The art is good although the artists and colourists seem to change every issue so it is certainly variable. After the raw state of the last volume this seems to be a lot more polished and coherent and a break from the bulldozer politics is a welcome change.

BONUS BONUS REVIEW

Stormwatch Team Achilles: Book Two – Micah Ian Wright

This is a very different animal from the previous volume. It is six stand alone stories that focus on a single or limited number of characters. These are good stories with one or two of them making for great Twilight Zone episodes. We get to learn more about our members and about the world around this new Stormwatch team.

But it doesn’t feel like the charged political arse-kicking of the first volume. Wright is a very good satirist and very politically aware. The screw-you is much more subtle. Throwaway dialogue, clothing choices, historical references are all clues to the bigger picture of our own world. It might be too clever or obscure for some readers but they are definitely there.

Each story has a different artist and you get to see a lot of impressive styles. The most outstanding is Tomm Coker on Winter War and 40 Winks. His panels are almost mono colour with depths of tone and saturation providing the details. All of the artists bring it and there is great work from everyone.

It does suffer a bit from this bold change of direction and fragmented storytelling. Flint from the previous Stormwatch run pops up and The Midnighter, out of costume, and looking and behaving nothing like his usual character which was weird. There is a shocking cliff-hanger and it is criminal that the scheduled third book was never released. Thumbs Up!

116/249.

Tomorrow: BONUS REVIEW Stormwatch Team Achilles: Book Three – Micah Ian Wright & Stormwatch Post Human Division: Volume One – Christos Gage