The opening volume of The Boys had some shocking gratuity and a subtle moral message. Volume two switches these around in that the shocks and profanity have almost disappeared and the morality and complex and wordy story has come to the fore. This seems an abrupt change of pace. We learn little of our established characters in favour of telling two self-contained mysteries. The first is a murder mystery which unsubtly pokes a finger at how homophobic our society is and second is a lament on the passing of Mother Russia and an extended cock joke. The two stories are quite bold statements but feel like a detour, allowing us to catch our breath after the first traumatic instalment.
The art is as good as ever with strong characterisation, some good visual storytelling and sight gags. Some nice panels here and there but the art is more serviceable than ground-breaking. There are an awful lot of talking heads so maybe in future there will be more time to shine. Thumbs Up.
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 3 – Good for the Soul – Garth Ennis
The postmodern genre of superhero bashing is now firmly established but this was one of the titles that helped create it. The premise is that people who acquire superpowers, like people who win the lottery or are elected to positions of power, tend to go off the rails. When society can’t tell you what to do any more you tend to give in to base human weakness. When you have superpowers you are opened up to a whole new realm of excess and depravity – and with Garth Ennis at the helm this gets very depraved indeed. To combat these untouchables a special team is needed and these are the “boys” of the title.
It has a slow, but shocking, start as we are introduced to the team and what they are up against through the induction of its newest member. There are lots of references to things that have gone before and people who are no longer with us. This builds up our interest as we are drip-fed enough information to keep us guessing. The characters are intriguing and the superheroes are less than heroic making them easy to deplore. As the storyline progresses the methods the Boys must use get less wholesome and it does make you think if the watchers will become as bad as the watched.
The art is superb with great facial expressions as there is a lot of shock and disgust to portray. The depravity mentioned is frequent but not pornographic. It manages to horrify and titillate in equal measure as there are enough visual clues to make your dirty mind run riot.
This is a good start to what promises to be a grand spectacle of a story that is both shockingly entertaining and subtly thought provoking. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 2 – Get Some – Garth Ennis
This is a beautiful work indeed, both visually and emotionally. It is a simple enough tale that gently meanders along but has some secrets for you to work out.
It really puts the “graphic,” into graphic novel as the words are sparse and carefully chosen. It reminds you of a storyboard for a film as it has a very dynamic feel to it. You can see Lepp’s training as an animator used to great effect. It looks hand drawn but there are very subtle digital tricks at work to massage the images and bring tangible motion to the page.
The colouring is outstanding with the entire book painted in sepia. This gives it a wonderfully old, nostalgic feel to it. The story has futuristic elements but is bathed in the trappings of the past. You have never seen brown work so hard.
This oozes quality, from the canvas-covered proper hardback binding to the premium quality paper it is printed on. The inside covers also feature mocked-up photographs from the story. All of this is so appropriate to feel of the piece.
Despite being almost 200 pages and an inch thick this is a rapid read as the pictures do most of the work. It is one of those subtle and universal stories that adults and children can get along with just fine and it definitely has you wanting more.
Double Thumbs Up!!
Tomorrow: The Boys: Volume 1 – The Name of the Game – Garth Ennis
This is a collection of short stories from a single artist/ writer. Each is a small fragment of someone’s everyday life, with most of them centring on younger people. With this kind of shotgun anthology you probably won’t click with all of them but they are amazingly good.
Tomine is an outstanding writer with a definite gift for words. He can evoke real emotion and attachment within the reader in an incredibly small amount of time. The shortest story is just four panels and the longest more than a dozen pages. Each is just long enough to allow you to feel another person’s life.
The art is black and grey with a very traditional feel to it. The drawing is plain and honest with nothing fancy to distract you from what is important. Some of the stories could work without the pictures and others rely on them heavily. Both writing and drawing this work Tomine brings a real synchronicity between the two disciplines.
It feels like a Susan Hill anthology; or perhaps even Usagi Yojimbo, as you aren’t sure how the stories will end.
Excellent writing, a joy to read, Double Thumbs Up!!
Tomorrow: Rust – Royden Lepp
This is an amusing adventure concerning modern day vampires and the government forces that hunt them. This isn’t a new idea but it is always interesting to see the neat and quirky tricks that authors bring to this scenario.
It is an entertaining read that, whilst not very deep, grows on you. It is quite a detailed story that is unfortunately delivered at maximum speed. There are no pauses or real use of pacing. The characters are more like action figures but you do warm to them, or at least their plight. It is set in London and makes good and faithful use of the setting.
The art is super-shiny all digital. It is restrained however and there isn’t any motion-blur or garish techniques to spoil your immersion. There are some inspired frames and angles that display great creativity and imagination.
Might work better as a movie or a cartoon but an entertaining read. Shame it never continued.
Tomorrow: Sleepwalk and Other Stories – Adrian Tomine
This isn’t the dramatic conclusion or frenetic final act of DMZ, we have already had that. From page one this feels like the epilogue. It is a quiet and reflective look back at everything we have learnt. A chance to catch our breath and take stock of where were have come from and the road we have taken.
There is one dramatic payoff that you have probably forgotten about and fair play to Wood for sticking to his guns and doing it his way. This isn’t a volume you have to read but if you are a long term fan and you really “get” DMZ then you defiantly should.
The art meets its usual high standard with Burchielli drawing the whole book. There is nothing innovative or spectacular but big mute panels do a great job of slowing the pace right down. This also has one of the most perfect sunsets ever seen in comics. The final page is also a fitting sight, if a little cheesy.
A calm and peaceful end to this turbulent series. Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Half Dead – Barb Lien-Cooper & Park Cooper
As DMZ is winding down the trademark hot topic of the week theme is receding into the background. We are moving from education to entertainment as we begin to wrap up the characters we have been following for so long.
This volume sees a back story for a supporting character and the reappearance of someone we thought gone for good. A third story sees a catch-up of what has been happening with Zee. There are some nice surprises and some questions answered.
The art is great with some really inspired palette choices making fantastic use of colour. This might be down to the addition of Martinbrough as co-artist. There are a lot of TV screen snippets giving us clues as to how it all began.
A solid Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: DMZ (12): The Five Nations of New York – Brian Wood
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on Ice? No it isn’t some crazy Disney idea it is the follow-up to Greg Rucka’s masterful Whiteout. Actually this is more Ice Station Zebra with a modern day twist.
Whilst Whiteout didn’t need a sequel it is nice to see more of the great character Carrie Stetko. It starts off with an intriguing premise, which is a little James Bond, but sadly becomes far too predictable. You know who the bad guys are and are just turning pages until the good guys win. This isn’t a mystery, there aren’t any twists, and if you were uncharitable you could call the sex scene gratuitous. You do get to see more of Carrie Stetko if you know what I mean.
This is such a shame and so different from the original you would think it was penned by a different writer. There are lots of facts and a strong hook at the start but it just fizzles out leaving you disappointed.
The art is just as good as previously and you can see Lieber putting a lot of effort in, developing myriad techniques for drawing snow and visualising a palpable polar atmosphere. His style feels very old school and evokes the feel of popular war-comics of yesteryear.
So disappointing that it gets No Thumbs up here.
Tomorrow: DMZ (11): Free States Rising – Brian Wood
This is a detective story set in Antarctica. Certainly an unusual location and one that Rucker uses to full advantage. The unique group of people that live here and the almost alien environment make a superb backdrop. A lot of research has gone into this piece and you do learn a lot, both in terms of hard facts and figures, and the feeling of what life is like down there.
There are two female protagonists and although this is a short four-part volume you do get to see some firm characterisation and feel warmth towards them. You aren’t told who did it but are one step ahead of the investigators and get the chance to solve the mystery just before they do. You will have to wait for the end to get the full explanation though.
The art is black and white newspaper strip – rough around the edges and with block shading. Whilst this monotone is perfect for the albino setting you don’t get as much detail as you might like. It is incredibly dialogue heavy but the art is well thought out with clever framing tricks and cinematic angles. Even in black and white you can get a broad visual palette allowing for day, night, snowstorm, flashback, hallucination and so on. All this and not a single shade of grey in sight.
An enjoyable Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Whiteout: Melt – Greg Rucka
This is one of those oh-so-simple kick yourself ideas. What if the Orcs were good and the humans were bad? Genius yes? Absolutely. We follow a warband of Orcs enslaved to a human nation that seems hell-bent on destroying the land, its inhabitants and each other.
Nichols has written six successful novels with this premise and this graphic novel is different from many other novel tie-ins for two reasons. Firstly it isn’t an adaptation, and secondly it is written by the author himself. This means there is no compressing, cutting or botching an existing story to fit it into a smaller space.
Whilst fairly standard pulp fantasy it is certainly enjoyable and you could easily see this being made into a fantasy action movie for the big screen. There is lots of war, fighting and bloody brutality. Having non-human characters as protagonists means you empathise with their cause more than them as individuals. There isn’t a lot of characterisation or growth but they are easy to root for.
Beneath the surface you can easily find a message about the destructive nature of human beings. How they will exploit their environment, invade other countries, subjugate different groups and twist religion to evil ends. It’s there in black and white but never overtly trumpeted.
The art has that digital webcomics feel with thick lines, minimal shading and bright CGI colours. There is plenty of action and the words know when to shut up and let the dismemberment commence. With a 30 strong warband it is hard to create distinct faces for everyone so you can get confused as to who is who occasionally particularly as this is in digest format and thus using smaller panels.
There is a brief sketchbook at the rear and an author introduction describing how he came up with the idea and an introduction to the world and characters. This should really have be placed afterword as the story gives you all this information as you go along and you feel a bit cheated not being allowed to work things out for yourself.
All in all a Thumbs Up!
Tomorrow: Whiteout – Greg Rucka