Seven Soldiers of Victory: Volume One – Grant Morrison

Seven Soldiers of Victory 1Warning: this could leave you scratching your head, or pulling out your hair. Here is one of those deep reads like Transmetropolitan or Sandman that makes you wish you were smarter. But unlike those titles there is no single character guiding you though. There are seven leads and they all start off in their own story against a backdrop that is equal parts folklore and gibberish.

If you are looking for entertainment, excitement and emotion this seems too intellectual for its own good – but do persevere. There will be an idea, a setting or a character that grabs you such as Pirates on the New York subway, or a Kit Kat wrapper in the Fae realms and you are hooked.

The fact that the stories do start as separate tales and every few issues you have to stop and start from the beginning with a new character’s life can work against it. You can feel like you are making no progress or being overwhelmed with ideas. But the little easter eggs that cross between stories give you a smug little boost to keep you reading.

Being a collection of miniseries there are lots of different artists but most veer toward a shadowy palette and the stories tie together thematically because of this. Having different looks and panel structures also differentiates between the characters and their lives. This enforced diversity achieves much more than a single artist could and the shorter page count lets the illustrators be more creative.

Thumbs Up!

Trees – Warren Ellis

TreesThis is quite different from a Warren Ellis book and could shape up to be one of his finest works.

There is a sensitivity and maturity that Ellis has chosen not to reveal until now. Maybe his novel writing experience has changed his creative direction. There is no gross-out humour, in your face politics, or shock and awe of titles such as The Authority or Nextwave. This new string to Ellis’s bow is both unexpected and well received.

Visually this is also an incredibly mature work. Eschewing the digital and the neon this book feels hand drawn and very old school European in texture. You can see the pencil lines and this organic method of creation makes the characters feel much more real and human. The palette is pastel throughout and large blocks of limited tones give a very twilight feel as if the whole work takes place in the golden hour of daylight.

This is the rightful successor to Freakangels, Ellis’s other masterpiece in glacial storytelling. There is a large and global cast that is handled with aplomb and we cut between them expertly. You can feel the weight of research that has gone into this book and the slow worldbuilding creates a proper foundation for what promises to come. The world is ours but one step removed. Not near future, more a jump to the left – with more robots.

You wouldn’t think this was an Ellis book if you didn’t see his name on the title, but the occult references and political astuteness give it away.

Double Thumbs Up!

Caliban – Garth Ennis

CalibanIt’s a very competent work and a pleasing read but definitely not the passion-filled viscera that Ennis is capable of. It looks like his new masters at Avatar have got him on a tight leash as there is no real politics here. It does have the typical Ennis hallmarks of the slow burn start and huge amounts of dialogue however.

The look, feel and story are pretty much lifted from Event Horizon and Alien, so much so the book is dedicated to H R Geiger. There are no grand sci-fi ideas and the characters don’t last long enough to develop or get fleshed out – it’s that kind of tale. Even the love story, whilst charming, isn’t one of the Ennis epics like Preacher or Wormwood.

The art, and particularly the colouring, is spot on. You want the tones to be dark and murky to show fear, suspense, claustrophobia and the grime of industry. But you want to see what is going on and to tell the characters apart. This strikes the perfect balance and although there aren’t any other bells and whistles from the visuals this is enough to elevate it into greatness.

It’s an enjoyable read and it does a good job of bringing horror to the page but you won’t be itching to read it again too quickly.

Thumbs Up!

Cancertown: Blasphemous Tumors – Cy Dethan

Cancertown Blasphemous TumorsCancertown was one of those works, like Star Wars, that doesn’t need a sequel. But like Star Wars the sequel actually works. Although things were neatly wrapped up in the first book and new characters have appeared out of nowhere this does stand up as more than just a cash-in.

There is a new art team but they seem to be respectful to the original ideas. Some of the panels are bigger and bolder and there isn’t as much breadth to the style but you still get the idea you are in the same world.

If you don’t read this you won’t be disappointed. If you do read this you won’t be disappointed either. It’s a win-win situation.

Thumbs Up!

Cancertown: An Inconvenient Tooth – Cy Dethan

CancertownA man has access to a world that may or may not be real. Grant Morrison’s the Filth or Clive Barker’s Nightbreed are similar sorts of dual world stories but you can see its roots go back to Alice in Wonderland.

Although the protagonist might remind you of John Constantine, in look and feel, he develops his own identity and being British you grow to like him.

This book does a good job of balancing mystery, bizarre settings and eager pacing. It drags you through the bumpy disorientation of entering a world that makes no sense and gives you enough breadcrumbs to believe you are uncovering its truths for yourself.

The art is great with firm inking for the real world and ragged pencils for the nightmare locations. Flashbacks, exposition and hallucinations all get their own style so you can see or feel something is wrong or different before you get told about it. Even the lettering has the occasional sparkle.

Some strong ideas passionately implemented by a new creative team.

Thumbs Up!

Eve: True Stories – Daniel Way

Eve True StoriesA graphic novel based on a video game is as dire prospect as a film based on one. But this isn’t really about the world of the game but something the players did within it. A legendary corporate takeover probably won’t mean much unless you play EVE or a game similar to it, in which case you wouldn’t really need to read about it.

For the outside reader this is basically a heist tale in space. There really isn’t any backstory or worldbuilding to show you more about EVE other than dialogue boxes explaining some of the jargon. You could easily replace the spaceships with boats, trucks or stagecoaches and it would read the same.

The art is ok with some good attention to the colouring to try and differentiate as the story jumps backwards and forwards in time in order to try and build suspense. It’s a little bit murky and with a lot of characters, many of whom only appear briefly, which doesn’t help to clarify things.

It’s a fleeting and entertaining read if you know the real-world incident behind it but it won’t stay in your mind for very long.

Thumbs Up, but only just.

Rover Red Charlie – Garth Ennis

Rover Red CharlieIt’s the end of the world as we know it… but from a dogs eye view. More than just Crossed meets Watership Down this is one of those old Disney films like Homeward Bound but updated. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan is the closest comparison here.

This is a satire of our world but Ennis seems to eschew Orwell’s anthropomorphism and delve deeper. He takes the time to understand and show us just how the world appears to a dog and several other animals too. Is the technology and sophistication of human civilisation really preferable to canine freedom?

The wonderful thing is the language. How much vocabulary does a dog need and where does it come from. Looking from a literary and etymological point of view Ennis really hits the nail on the head and is key to making the canine characters plausible and endearingly engaging.

Ennis is not known for his subtlety and there are some visceral punches for any reader who hasn’t grasped the fact that two legs are pretty abominable. The last chapter is incredibly dark and it is arguable that we could take home the authors message without such a polemic delivery. But you sure won’t forget this story or its themes in a hurry.

The art is perfectly suited to the subject matter. The matt colouring has a really analogue feel to it. Dogs are dynamic and energetic creatures and Dipascale captures the feeling of motion that is a necessity in telling an animal’s story.

Thumbs Up!

Mister O – Lewis Trondheim

Mister OThis is a wordless book from prolific French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. It features the titular Mister O – a circle with arms and legs – and his persistent failure to cross a chasm.

Each page features sixty tiny panels which begin with him arriving at a chasm and then employing the latest method to reach the other side. Everything from magic carpets to flatulence is tried but all end in his death at the bottom of the chasm Wile E Coyote style.

The art is very basic but it is incredible what expression and emotion Trondheim can elicit from two dots for eyes and squiggly mouth. There is only as much detail as needed in this elegantly simple masterpiece.

If this was a weekly webcomic or newspaper strip it would certainly keep you coming back for more. At thirty-two pages in one sitting however this single scenario does tend to grind. Try to ration yourself to one a day and it will be at its best.

Thumbs Up!

Stray – Scott Lobdell

Think of this as a TV pilot. You get just enough of an introduction to the characters to decide if you want more. Unfortunately someone obviously didn’t as this was ‘all she wrote.’

Here is a budding actress and an alien scientist, in the body of a dog, teaming up to save the world. Despite being released in 2001 it has that 80’s TV feel. The characters are likeable enough but it’s all prologue without a lot of meat.

The art is good with plenty of talented names. It has a very dynamic layout and colouring and you get the feeling this is a very personal project with plenty of excitement and ideas in the design stages.

Thumbs Up!

Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser: Book 1 – Howard Chaykin

Fafhrd and the Grey MouserThis volume, of which I believe there are no more, adapts Fritz Leiber’s award winning tale Ill Met in Lankhmar. Very much in the sword and sorcery tradition of Robert E Howard this abridgement clips along at a fair old pace. It looks very thin but is so stuffed with dialogue it is a dense but flowing read.

There is a lot of world-building that is accomplished without the need for tedious prologues or narration, and also the emergence of some wonderful characters. Unusually for this type of fiction there are strong and independent women unafraid to speak their minds or chastise the male protagonists.

The art isn’t particularly deep or sophisticated. There are plenty of plain backgrounds, but the colour choices evoke the feel of the dank and treacherous city of Lankhmar.

Thumbs Up!