Richard Matheson’s Hell House: Volume Three – Ian Edginton

Hell House 4From the end of the last volume and the cover of this one you know what is going to happen. Edginton skilfully makes you wait until the very last page of what is otherwise a very bland volume. That page turn however is a cracker.

The mysteries of the house are still unsolved but they are skilfully building to a climax. One volume to go and you are ready for the final curtain.

Another Thumbs Up!

Richard Matheson’s Hell House: Volume Two – Ian Edginton

Hell House 2This volume flashes by even quicker than the last. There is a lot of dialogue but that doesn’t seem to bog things down. We learn more about the characters, but in clever and subtle ways, ensuring that these are complex people not just shallow victims.

The art is just the same high quality rendering. There is a lot of nudity, which is tied into the plot. There is also some cleverly obscured debauchery as well which will no doubt have you squinting at the page.

Another good volume. It’s just a shame this isn’t in a single book.

Thumbs Up!

Richard Matheson’s Hell House: Volume One – Ian Edginton

Hell House 1With good source material, a talented adapter, and a great artist this is a great haunted house story.

Richard Matheson, author of I am Legend, A Stir of Echoes, The Shrinking Man and lots of other books that were turned into films, wrote a horror story in 1971. It was filmed in 1973 and adapted by IDW in 2004. This is the first part.

It has a really creepy vibe to it typical of the horror fiction of the 1970’s – the era of The Shining and The Omen. The story is intelligently delivered with a good framing device which instigates the characters entry into the proceedings.

The art is black and white ink that, through good lighting techniques, really captures the shadowy fears of exploring an old house. The characters have strong and expressive faces and there is a robust sense of movement on the page. Good use is made of the lettering which is very expressive, but not without the odd typo.

The story is collected into four parts, each of which is 48 pages long, which seems an odd choice. We do get a lot crammed into this first volume with intelligent pacing and page turning excitement. Unfortunately the history of the house is delivered in a couple of pages of talking heads which is a let-down.

A strong start and a well-deserved Thumbs Up!

Mandy 57: House of Fear – Unknown

Mandy 57This is a collected digest of one of the stories serialised in the weekly version of Mandy. It was part of D.C. Thompson’s broad range of titles targeted at female readers and was published in 1982.

This is a simple story that plays a neat little trick on you from the beginning. The start of the story, and in particular the horror themed cover, suggest you are reading a supernatural tale, a common subject for this genre. It is actually a mystery reminiscent of a Famous Five or Secret Seven adventure. There is no date given but the fashions, servants, talk of workhouses, and horse drawn carriages all point to something set more than a century ago.

The art is typical of the genre with rigid panels and black and white line drawings. The backgrounds do seem to have more attention and detail than most and there are some strong light and shadow effects.

A Thumbs Up!

Debbie 144: Harrow House – Unknown

debbie144This volume was published in 1990, four years after the last volume I reviewed (#101). Nothing has changed in theme, tone or art style. The story concerns twelve year old Betty Larkin who is sent to an orphanage in 1889. Naturally it is a terrible place, but there seems to be a friendly ghost helping the children. There is some Dickensian mystery with lost deeds and missing relatives and you can work out how it will end.

The art is the same with the usual page split but this seems to have more borderless panels and diagonal divisions. The drawing is really heavy black ink with thick clunky lines but a lot of hatching and background effort. The features and costuming also convey a sense of the period.

Once again the message, typical of this genre, is that pluck and courage will win the day and there is a happy ending waiting for all the poor and downtrodden. Definitely no anti-heroes here.

Thumbs Up!

Debbie 101: School of the Shadow – Unknown

Debbie 101This is a collected digest of one of the stories serialised in the weekly version of Debbie. This is a boarding school story that is a very common theme in this area of fiction. Despite being published in 1986 the school is very different to the Grange Hill comprehensives more familiar to its readers. This is something more at home in the 1950’s or an Enid Blyton book.

The story is actually a clever one and contains a supernatural element also common in girl’s comics. Whilst there is no real horror the thought of being picked on and not being believed when you are telling the truth are strong emotional anchors. The girls win through by using their heads and taking risks to outwit misguided authority. Resource and perseverance are the key qualities rewarded here.

The layout is the very rigid two or three panels per page so typical of these books. The art is black and white line drawing but with a fair amount of hatching and solid black fills. All the characters appear different from each other and enjoy a fair amount of expression. When supernatural influence is at work you get a gargoyle’s face pop up as an insert into the frame. This ruins any suspense or mystery and it would be interesting to have read the story and worked out what was going on yourself.

An interesting read, well thought out and well put together.

Thumbs Up!

Judy 120: Wendy of the Wastelands – Unknown

Judy 120This is a collected digest of one of the stories serialised in the weekly version of Judy. It was part of D.C. Thompson’s broad range of titles targeted at female readers and was published in 1973. Unlike many of these titles this has a real-world feel eschewing a school setting or supernatural elements of many of its peers.

The story concerns Wendy Wilson who fights to save a patch of Marshland important for local wildlife from oil drilling. The ecological movement was in full swing in the 1970’s with The Good Life appearing on TV and encouraging a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Whilst there is no character development or real depth to Wendy other than her sensitivity and enthusiasm she isn’t a perfect heroine or a cardboard cut-out. She has doubts and makes compromises and it is her belief in the cause that convinces others to join her so it is not a singlehanded fight.

The adults, and other children, are shallow and those opposing Wendy are seen as mean and spiteful people. There are grownups who help at each stage but don’t take over. Her campaign features petitions, exhibitions, protests, and visits to managing directors and parliament. Showing the age of this work even the vicar, who had popped in for tea, gets involved.

There is no mention of Wendy’s mother and she lives at home with “her crippled artist father.” This line appears in the opening narration but neither of those attributes are ever seen or mentioned again. There is a Jayne Eyre moment when the kindly local businessman turns out to be the man who owns the land but as a reader you suspected this all along.

The art is very creative considering the period and compared it its contemporaries. There are lots of full page panels, diagonal borders, unframed panels, round highlights, and bleed between frames. Nothing too wacky but still better than symmetrical repetition. The narration is kept to a bare minimum and comes from an external narrator with an occasional thought from Wendy. The rest is dialogue which is age appropriate and feels naturalistic.

A good story with a positive but not preachy message.

Thumbs Up!

Bunty 266: Rachel’s Runaways – Unknown

Bunty 266This is a girls comic from 1985, published in digest format, containing one complete story in 64 pages. Bunty began in 1958 and continued to 2001.

The story is set in a Victorian mill and concerns the plucky Rachel who at thirteen leads the ill-treated orphans to run away. Constantly on the run from the mill foreman the kids stop at local farms, orchards, inns and circuses doing good deeds and hard work for food. Despite being malnourished and brutalised by adults they never steal or cheat or drop their immaculate politeness.

Having a lone girl of such a young age as a competent leader, who never cries once, is a bold and welcome choice. It is a step beyond Enid Blyton’s day where the boys were in charge and you had to be a tomboy to compete. Rachel is clearly very bright, constantly outthinking her pursuers, and shows amazing integrity.

As readers we learn that the mill owner has softened his attitude and intends to treat the children properly. The cruel foreman chasing them is actually trying to bring them back to a better life. This removes any real drama and suspense as we know there is the safety net of a happy ending when the children are caught. It also undermines Rachel’s heroic efforts to safeguard her charges and stand up to unjust treatment. Maybe there is some subtext about obeying adults who clearly have your best interest at heart.

The art is the crudest of black and white line drawings with occasional hatching but no real shading. There are two, occasionally three, panels per page. Early on there is a diagonal division and vertical one but these are swiftly replaced by horizontal divides. There is virtually no narration but the odd thought bubble from a character helps the reader along. The story is told through the dialogue as there isn’t a single mute panel. But the artist is clearly talented in this medium and there is nothing to dislike.

This was an enjoyable read. It was surprising how independent and adventurous the children were and the female lead was superb.

Thumbs Up!

Bomb Queen VII: The End of Hope – Jimmie Robinson

Bomb Queen 7This volume proves, as if there was any doubt, that Robinson has both imagination and talent – in spades. From the apocalyptic ending of the previous volume we jump forward 100 years to see a society of the future.

Part Matrix, part Demolition Man this world is a satire of our own information age. A cruel look at the way digital technology is undermining our values and rendering us shallow, petty, ignorant and lazy. It succeeds wonderfully from the speech patterns and vocabulary of the youth of tomorrow to the idea of librarian terrorists.

The art is top notch stuff and as we now have the age of instant information and the heads up display Robinson goes mad with his wonderfully intrusive graphics and info bursts. Would you like to know more?

This is a wordy book and the additional pop-ups do slow things down but the concepts being discussed carry you through. There is a cover breakdown and a selection of Robinson’s other books from his wide variety of genres.

Definitely a Thumbs Up!

Bomb Queen: Gang Bang – Jimmie Robinson

Bomb Queen Gang BangThis is a collection of the four Bomb Queen one-shots making it both convenient and handy.

In my opinion crossovers are at worst a cynical cash-in and at best a bad idea. There are a reasons why characters appear in separate books and separate universes. Never the twain shall meet.

Having said that, so many of the Image/ Shadowline characters intrude into the regular Bomb Queen book you are unfortunately getting used to it. There are four stories and the two written and drawn by Robinson are certainly the best culminating in an appearance by Sarah Palin and the Queen of England. Both of whom get off lightly considering Robinson’s wrecking ball wit.

Bomb Queen is more the Deus ex Machina or plot stick that drives the other characters, operating off-stage for most of the book. The hack/ slash crossover has the most new characters and does a great job or introducing you to the inhabitants and feel of that particular title. Everyone else you have seen before.

Robinson draws the two stories he writes and he is certainly on top form. The Blacklight story has a similar style but with less detail and fine-line work. The “All Girl Comics” doesn’t try and ape the established look and so unfortunately fails. BQ is a rich, crisp and exquisite experience. A true visual feast. Rendering that world in low-res, chunky black marker style really contrasts just how much effort and love goes into BQ and makes you appreciate Robinson’s passion and talent all the more.

There is a two page interview with Robinson, a work in progress gallery, and some promotional art for ComicCon. Most interesting are the fan commissions and the selection of characters he is asked to draw BQ with.

A Thumbs Up!