Comics. The clue is in the title. They should be funny right? Yet most of them are dramatic, powerful, moving, angsty stories. This book makes up for it. It is the funniest thing you will ever encounter. It is insanely funny – because it is insane.
This was written/ inspired by a five year old and illustrated by his professional artist older brother. As such it untroubled by grown up sensibilities of structure, narrative, logic and consistency. Morals, the laws of physics, reality itself all go out with the bathwater in this anything-goes romp. It is the adage “children say the funniest things” made print. And it is unlike anything you have ever seen. The surrealism and unpredictability is so refreshing and so genuinely funny.
It starts with little one page sketches, as kids have short attention spans, but grows to longer and longer stories. Readers have also been sending in questions to “Ask Axe Cop,” and we see a plethora of wacky zany answers from a single panel up to two pages.
There is also a commentary with notes on each of the strips and a biography of the Axe Cop phenomenon which started as an internet joke, went viral and now has all manner of products. The real life story of this accidental sensation is just as interesting as the entertainment. You can really see this grow and evolve into a more sophisticated work before your eyes.
The art is black and grey with the perfect balance of detail to give a childlike freedom but still be realistic and cohesive. No matter how wildly fantastic the action gets the art always manages to catch up and has a humorous charm all of its own.
For sheer uniqueness and unprecedented laughs-per-second I give this a lightning high-five; or a Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Axe Cop Volume Two – Ethan Nicolle & Malachai Nicolle
There is a brief text recap at the start of this book as we are joining the action mid-fray. Even then you will probably want to go back and re-read the last one.
Dialogue. That’s the name of the game here. It is great, snappy, realistic dialogue, but it would be more suited to a movie or a radio play. The endless string of, admittedly clever, speech bubble spaghetti tramples all over the wonderful visuals. This is a slow and dense read to start with lots of talking heads and linear interviews. You could easy spread this book out to twice its length – but well done to Bendis for not doing so.
By getting the words out of the way early on the art gets a chance to breathe and flex its muscles when it counts – the art, which is in fact, superb. Oeming uses so few lines and so little fine detail that his work is almost impressionistic. The inking and colouring does such an amazing job of bringing these characters and locations to life. This is a very dark book, set mostly at night or indoors. This allows Oeming to show off his wonderful understanding of light and shadow making it beautiful to look at. Even the lettering works so much harder than in other titles.
Although part police procedural, part superhero action-fest, we do get to explore some big themes here. Whilst not quite Alan Moore territory Bendis does raise good questions about his subject matter and gives you all the poking you need to think on some weighty issues.
It has been an awkward transition from the much loved previous Powers era to this new direction but this book is the equal of many you have read before. A POWERful Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Axe Cop Volume One – Ethan Nicolle & Malachai Nicolle
This is one of those odd books that is linked to a series but isn’t actually part of it. This book is labelled volume zero but should be read after reading the rest of the ten book Transmetropolitan series.
What you have here are a series of excerpts from Spider’s columns. All the things he was writing unseen during the series. Some of these tie in directly to the Transmet plot and others seem more like rants directly from the author. What makes this brilliant is each of these snippets has a full, or double, page of art to accompany it. And each is drawn by a different artist. Really big name artists too – dozens of them. It is fun playing guess who drew this or simply looking up your favourites and kicking yourself for not spotting their style. These are a cornucopia of funny, clever, beautiful, disturbing, detailed, images forming a really diverse selection.
This isn’t necessarily a must own but it certainly is a must see particularly for the budding artist or Transmet fan. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Powers 14: Gods – Brian Bendis
This is the end of Warren Ellis’ political/ journalistic satire. Is it a worthy ending? It is. You won’t be disappointed. You aren’t assured of a “good guys always win” platitude here. There is real danger. Spider does have some surprises but they aren’t startling Deus ex Machina. All the pieces fit together nicely.
This is a solid volume that can give you some home truths about our own world if you care to look for them. Its politics is clear but not rammed down your throat. You get the feeling of Watchmen or V for Vendetta in that this is proper grown up reading. The whole thing also unfolds just like a news story and you can easily picture this happening sometime in our future.
The art is good but Robertson appears to have motion blur fever. During a car chase scene this digital trickery really detracts from how good an artist he is and breaks your immersion. Other than that it is solid work.
It’s a textbook brilliant piece of writing and a great ending that you can’t be certain of predicting. The perfect Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: Tales of Human Waste – Warren Ellis
If Transmetropolitan were a movie this would be the chase sequence. You know the credits will soon be rolling and this is the final mad dash to get the girl/ bad guy/ McGuffin, before it is too late. Despite this rapid pacing Ellis is still smart enough to slow down for characterisation and to pay attention to the minor characters. There is a bit of exposition as the final cards are revealed and we do seem to spin our wheels for a bit but the last page makes for such an incredible ending.
The art doesn’t have as much free reign as the last book but still does a great job. Talking heads and necessary dialogue can become a chore for an artist but Robertson keeps things fresh and vibrant with his creative angles, wonderful facial expressions and collage-type layouts.
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: One More Time – Warren Ellis
This is a fantastic volume full of great art and mature storytelling.
There are no zombies, aliens or supervillains here. Our antagonist, the president, is truly diabolical and may even be mad but he is still human and very credible. There will be no technobabble, silver bullets or magic potion to save the day here. Spider is a hero in the classic sense of the word and like Odysseus he can only triumph through his own skill and courage. This is proper grown up writing, completely relevant to our lives today.
Spider is genuinely in trouble. His illness is a wonderful ticking clock turning up the tension and reminding us that the hero need not survive the battle for it to be a great story. With just a few volumes to go we are in the final act and you wouldn’t want to miss this for the world.
The art which was crazily good before just goes off the scale. There a lot of wordless pages leaving the pictures to impart a sense of epicness that would only be diminished by text. The first part of the book is entirely black borders then after an important story point it changes to white. This subtle transition is an amazingly effective device. At one point borders and panels are abandoned almost completely with the elements of each picture dividing up the page artistically and effectively. There is an internal monologue scene with Spider that just uses grey and black with his lone figure peering out of the darkness that is simply breath-taking.
This is the volume that confirms you never want this story to end. Double Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: The Cure – Warren Ellis
It’s hard to describe this volume as it is so varied. There is the entertaining and increasingly dramatic storyline of Spider’s one man crusade against everything. And there are heartfelt treatise on child prostitution and the abandonment of the mentally ill. These are truths which our society so urgently needs to hear yet feel so out of place here.
Is it Spider’s struggle against a fictional government of Ellis’ rants about our own? A skilled writer would seamlessly blur them into one biting satire. But as readers maybe we aren’t clever enough to appreciate such things any longer. Just look at any film of Gulliver’s Travels.
This is the most poignant of the volumes so far and you are able to get a tiny glimpse of just why Spider is so driven to change the world around him. Before we turn the page and shovel food into our parasitic consumer faces of course.
The art is brilliant as always and seems to have a little bit more room to breathe. For a series with a lot of dialogue to cram in we have a lot of mute panels and even silent pages as the pictures get a chance to do the talking. Dynamic layouts, incredible lighting, detail packed backgrounds, vibrant colours and more all work superbly to bring this wretched future to life and make it relevant and believable.
The very highest Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: Dirge – Warren Ellis
We are approaching Spider Jerusalem’s finest hour; and by extension Transmetropolitan’s too. This is a great story well told. It has thoughtful writing, powerful themes, strong references and some great dialogue. It strikes a great balance between intellectual and entertaining.
It begins with some great parodies as we see Spider become a victim of his own success and get turned into a cartoon, a biography and even a porno. Each of these mini-strips has a guest artist including familiar names such as Bryan Hitch and Frank Quietly. Then there is a spin-off issue with the filthy assistants before the main three-part story: a formula that seems to work very well.
The art is great and it is fantastic to see the guest artists showing different styles which perfectly complement the writing. There are wonderful angles and composition that looks effortless yet makes such a difference to what you are seeing. Part of the book dips into heavy narration and rather than cram it into the frame it appears in the thick borders between them in a perfect white on black epigraph.
This is a great read and to date its strongest Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: Spider’s Thrash – Warren Ellis
Be careful what you wish for. Just as the last volume goes all mainstream and accessible, tempering Spider’s pathological belligerence, this one swings back the other way with single page musings on subjects that you aren’t quite sure are fictional. Kind of Alan Wicker meets Terry Gilliam.
Next is a single issue story which sees Spider and Filthy Assistants practice some aggressive journalism. Then onto the main three part story focussing on police brutality which really ramps up the tension initiated in the last volume. It has a powerful ending and you can’t wait for the next part.
The art starts to experiment with digital techniques with the odd focus pull and motion blur. Whilst used appropriately these are still a jarring new sight. We are used to our weirdness hand-drawn. Other than that it is on top form displaying its broad creative prowess.
This volume and the series in general seems to be trying to be all things to all people; from mainstream political thriller to surreal tone poem. It won’t please all of the people all of the time but when it hits your spot it is very good indeed. There is even an introduction from Patrick Stewart. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: Gouge Away – Warren Ellis
This title is changing and growing. Like a rebellious teenager you might not like what it is becoming. It is becoming more mainstream. The narrative is clearer, easy to follow and loses its anarchic punch. Spider is – unfortunately – also becoming more relatable, and even in danger of being a nice guy. Being kind to small children seems a step too far. But it is still an enjoyable tale with Spider making some real enemies.
The art is great and there is a wonderful conversation with Spider and the president, reminiscent of the Frost/ Nixon conversation, which is wonderfully lit and superb to look at.
It is better than other writers can do but not as good as Ellis is capable of. No need to jump ship just yet though. It does promise to get even more interesting.
There are also two short Christmas stories. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Transmetropolitan: Lonely City – Warren Ellis