Walking Dead 23: Whispers into Screams – Robert Kirkman

WD23How does he do it? There are so many balls in the air in terms of the philosophy, ideology and practicality of a post-cataclysm world, so many questions. This is truly the area that Walking Dead set out to explore and as other zombie stories never get to 23 volumes they never pay any heed to.

Any normal writer would have run out of BIG idea by now and it is hard to believe that Kirkman is still pulling the rug out from under us with things we never even considered. There is genius at work here. But he is limited by his canvas. A monthly comic is not big enough or regular enough for him to keep up with the massive world he has created.

What has Negan been doing? What happened to the new arrivals? What about the other settlements? All the things that piqued our interest last volume are missing in favour of the new big idea. And it is a killer idea. But we as readers are greedy and want it all.

I can’t say anything about the art as we have all grown so used to it that it has replaced reality. It is a testament to Adlard that with the high turnover of characters new people still look different and existing characters grow and changeup their appearance.

Thumbs Up!

Walking Dead 22: A New Beginning – Robert Kirkman

WD22The title says it all. Time has passed and the communities are thriving. Our characters finally have time to more than catch their breath and you begin to see them (as they themselves get to) finally remember they are human beings.

The dead haven’t gone away, there are some strangers just arrived, and of course you know the ticking time bomb that is Negan will eventually blow it all to hell. But Kirkman shows you just what we have been fighting for, the valuable peace that All Out War has secured.

We get to see emotions other than fear, grief and terror, and that is very valuable in storytelling. Characters get to show their wants and needs and so become much more rounded and dear to us. Making it all the more tragic when Kirkman decides we have had enough of our happiness ration.

The art is superb and Adlard clearly pushes himself hard using lots of strong techniques in lighting, framing and visual exposition. He must also do a lot of research making the characters, props and environment look just right.

This volume simmers. It is the perfect blend of gentle storytelling and lush characterisation contrasted with building tension and subtle danger. It does seem to cut sharply and almost haphazardly between the different threads but not to the point of frustrating you.

We also have another superb cliff-hanger as Kirkman’s imagination pulls another rabbit out of the hat and shows us something terrifying.

Thumbs Up!

Walking Dead 21: All Out War part two – Robert Kirkman

WD21This is the conclusion of the war. Just like the first part, horrifying new weapons are revealed as the humans show us just how much worse than the dead they are.

The ending is what will really surprise you. Kirkman specialises in his shocking twists and sudden moments of terror but now he manages an intellectual or ideological sleight of hand. Negan has been a great antagonist not because he is a bit crazy but because, in a distant way, you can see his point of view and his motivations. Rick thrives on him and his contrasting philosophy and grows as a character and a leader. It’s not weapons but ideas and belief that are the keys to victory.

The art is great and seems to have more splash pages than normal. This does feel more as if it is to hit the issue breaks rather than for dramatic tension but more art and less words is welcome. Particularly for a volume emphasising concepts and sociology.

Thumbs Up!

The Fuse Volume 2: Gridlock – Antony Johnston

fuse 2This is another excellent police procedural that builds on the strong characters and setting of the first volume.

It is just the right length for us to hit a few dead ends and mysteries in solving the crime as well as learn more about the station and pick up titbits about Earth and Mars too. The characters were well defined in the last book so now we get to follow their developing relationship. And there is another almost epilogue as Dietrich advances his own agenda.

The art is the same as the original and all our regular characters are well drawn and expressive. The book is basically talking heads but the art and layout don’t take it easy with creative touches sprinkled throughout.

This is a superb work. The only weak point is the reveal of how it was done at the end. This isn’t bad or clumsy but considering the elegance and flow of the build-up it feels less sophisticated than it should with the pacing grinding to a halt.

Thumbs Up!

The Fuse: The Russia Shift – Antony Johnston

Fuse 1This is a cop buddy movie. But on a space station. In the future.

This doesn’t stretch for any new concepts or big ideas like say Powers, but it refines the procedural drama to as shiny as it gets. We are all so postmodern we are expecting aliens or magic to pop up but this is just human drama. The twists are subtle and believable and the plot rock solid.

The worldbuilding – with a future and an unusual location – is top notch. You feel as much of an outsider as the newly arrived protagonist, yet not confused or lost. There is no clever hook, it just hits the ground running and it isn’t till a few dozen pages in that you realise this is basically dialogue between two characters.

The art isn’t minimalist but sparing. Good colour brings depth to the page and a smaller palette allows colour to entice emotion. The lack of detail ensures a streamlined read and snappy pacing.

The ending is a bit Agatha Christie with a massively detailed explanation of the murder to make sure you know what happened and that feels a bit out of place considering the light and energetic pace of the rest of the book.

It never tries to overreach itself but that guarantees a solid, and entertaining, read.

Thumbs Up!

Kick Ass 2 – Mark Millar

Kick Ass 2This is a good continuation of the story and the themes of the previous issues. With a returning villain and a clear plan the stakes are definitely raised here.

Romita’s art is excellent. Children, animals, and graphic violence are all handled with style. A strong colourist capable of great lighting effects and a confident panel structure make this a visual feast.

Millar puts out his social soapbox but there is less of him pimping his own products so the delivery of his moral message is smoother than it has been previously. The seven issue length also makes a big difference allowing room for the story to breathe and the emotional beats time to resonate.

Thumbs Up!

Kick Ass 2 Prelude: Hit Girl – Mark Millar

Kicks Ass - Hit GirlThe title for this book is odd and it makes you think this is some spin of done for cynical dollars whereas it is a proper chapter in the story arc. Granted it is a short chapter without the ambitious achievements of the first book but it definitely delivers the same heart and humour you demand.

Romita’s art is perfect. His style fits extremely well for a title that is chiefly about children yet expresses ultraviolence with equal ease.

This is a series that is primarilly Millar’s personal “disgruntled of Scotland’” letters to the Times about the state of the world. This includes disposable culture, criminality and a large helping of comic books. Whilst not quite breaking the fourth wall the constant comic book references remind you that you are reading fiction yet assure you that the author really is speaking your language.

A Thumbs Up!

Seven Soldiers of Victory: Volume Four – Grant Morrison

Seven Soldiers of Victory 4It all comes to an end in a Watchmen style hammer blow. You have to remember this was originally a multitude of miniseries chronicling concurrent events. Although the tiny hints and references to other stories are there, you are reading this consecutively as a collected work. Other than the grand finale there is no Zatanna or Witchboy to speak of sadly. There is a handy recap of the story so far however for the bewildered or forgetful.

This book, and the series as a whole, seems to be more concerned with detail and intricacy than relatable human drama. The questions it asks and scenes it paints are epic in scale. Having said that there is a profoundly dark scene of corruption and the loss of innocence that is far more tangible than most comics can deliver.

The final issue where all the characters appear for the showdown also has some solid gold Morrison genius. His narrative hocus-pocus goes off the scale as we see the first example of storytelling by crossword puzzle. Literally.

If you have come this far then there is no way you will give up now. And if you have enjoyed yourself then the ending won’t disappoint.

Thumbs Up!

Seven Soldiers of Victory: Volume Three – Grant Morrison

Seven Soldiers of Victory 3Things continue to get even more exciting and accessible as another two of the seven are introduced. This unfortunately means some of our existing favourites are side-lined a little but this is the nature of such a big cast. Opening with Witchboy is always a good move and the Frankenstein story is well grounded in our own modern angst. There is also a handy recap of the story so far.

The art is as accomplished as it is diverse. The introduction of Bulleteer who spends most of her time in her underwear or less veers the title toward an uncomfortable gratuity. But her emotional intelligence and character depth exceed her clothing quota so there is no need to panic.

The rollercoaster has climbed to its peak. Now it is time for the downward rush of the final volume.

Thumbs Up!

Seven Soldiers of Victory: Volume Two – Grant Morrison

Seven Soldiers of Victory 2For those that survived the mind-bending of the first book this has a much friendlier welcome, even showing off Morrison’s British sense of humour. There is a little less weirdness, only a little mind, and more rewarding crossover between the stories.

The portmanteau of artists produces some excellent work with Frazer Irving’s drawing and colouring being the boldest in show.

Things are ticking along nicely in this much more reader-friendly volume and you can’t wait to read more. There is also a handy recap of the story so far.

Thumbs Up!