Crossed: Badlands Volume Eleven – Si Spurrier & Justin Jordan

Crossed 11These Crossed volumes keep coming thick and fast. Eleven books and a spin off series are the worst thing for a visceral horror title. The franchise is a victim of its own success. The Crossed appear smarter and with a larger vocabulary as time goes on and consequently less threatening.

There are two stories here and both of them are based around a single idea padded out beyond their means. Even the great Si Spurrier, despite featuring one of the rare non-white protagonists we have seen to date, builds his story around a solitary groan-inducing punchline. He does introduce blank prose into his tale which, whilst not spinning out the length any more, does feel at odds with the snappy run-for-your-life feel that most Crossed stories have.

Newcomer Jordan makes a brave first attempt with a pair of female characters that aren’t helpless but don’t really develop. They are just a vehicle to deliver you to his (not so) grand finale and for the artist to put in a bit too much T&A for you to feel comfortable with.

The art is fair and along with the colouring certainly isn’t lazy but we have seen it all before. The lettering in the Jordan story could have done with something to help the reader identify when the narrator changes, or is that just us getting lazy.

They aren’t bad stories but the franchise as a whole now feels saggy and deflated. But we still can’t get enough of our Technicolor penny-dreadful so it’s a Thumbs Up!

Crossed: Badlands Volume Ten – Garth Ennis

Crossed 10The creator returns. And you had forgotten just how wordy he is. There is no Crossed action here and minimal gore. Ennis continues his subtle streak of speaking out against modern politics and being nostalgic about the military of yesteryear.

This is an origin story. Oh no you cry. The scary part of all monsters is what you don’t know about them. To have the curtain pulled back or see the wires is always a let-down. But although we meet patient zero and see where it all started the how and why is still satisfyingly vague.

Think of this as the comic book version of Prometheus. It’s the tale Ennis wanted to tell but might not be what you wanted to or expected to read. It is a lot of talking heads. Some famous talking heads. But it is still dialogue. We see the early days of characters we have met before and have a lot of amusing one liners.

If you were going to miss out any book in the Crossed series it could be this one. Not because it is worse than many of the stories that have come before but because it is irrelevant. It does not advance the Crossed mythos. It answers some questions but we really weren’t that eager to ask.

Ennis’s original Crossed book was perfect as it was and is still one of the best stories. Ennis knew that concealing the details in this book made the Crossed a far better read and by spilling the beans now it diminishes the potency and fear of the Crossed as much as over exposure to their violence.

The art is fantastic. This series has been extremely lucky in that every incoming artist has been able to embrace the ultra-chromatic vibrancy of the genre. This is no exception and Zanier does an amazing job. The panels, the composition, the characters and military hardware are all perfect, which for talking heads feels a waste. It is a real joy to see a story set in Britain actually look British.

This is an unnecessary read that adds little to the franchise but it does it faultlessly.

Thumbs Up!

Crossed: Badlands Volume Nine – Daniel Way & Simon Spurrier

Crossed 9First we have seven issues by Daniel Way who is better known for Deadpool and Wolverine. This doesn’t hit the spot and appears to be a rush to get ideas onto the page. Maybe as monthly parts you have time to mull over these ideas but here we just have a jumble of faces appearing and disappearing. We know that normal people go crazy in this setting and the Wish You Were Here title does a better job of examining characters in depth.

The art and colouring do a fine job. There are a few blank backgrounds and the odd style choice though.

Then we have the 2013 Crossed Special by Simon Spurrier. This does a much better job in a lot less pages. Spurrier is clearly the heir to the Ennis kingdom and this is another tale of what people would do in an extraordinary situation.

The art is great and some cool choices are made. He uses the lettering to superb effect. He goes for the abstract when using narration. This definitely makes the most of the visual medium.

After many years of Crossed it’s all getting a bit rapey. I don’t remember it having such a misogynistic undertone in the beginning. Sexual violence and torture porn are shortcuts for lazy writing and any Crossed scribe should know we are immune to it by now.

For the Spurrier story this deserves a Thumbs Up!

Crossed: Badlands Volume Eight – Si Spurrier & David Hine

Crossed 8This volume contains three stories. The last one appeared in the Crossed Annual 2013, the others are from the ongoing Badlands series #37-43.

So, imagine Crossed written by Shane Black. Or maybe the Blues Brothers. This is a road trip movie, that while light on substance is dripping with style. Chunky narration appears between the panels that dovetails into the dialogue in quite a profound way. There isn’t that much depth to the characters but you are certainly intrigued by their colourful nature. The art is good and works in tandem with the narration to give a cool, Indy feel to the storytelling.

The second story is one of the most profound subjects ever tackled in a Crossed book. It deals with rape and what happens afterwards, in the real world, in our world. Obviously we see a lot of sexual violence in Crossed stories, some of which makes us uncomfortable but most we are now hardened to. By having a proper discussion hosted by relatable characters we experience something new.

This is well told indeed. The story opens up like a flower as you read it. Everything gently falls into place at the right time and you get the wonderful feeling you worked it all out on your own. It is set in Japan which is a new location for us to visit and makes an unusual backdrop.

The art is good, and though a little basic, delivers excellent expression and emotion in the key points. The colouring is strong with appropriate digital touches and clear flashbacks.

All in all a bold Thumbs Up!

Rust: Death of the Rocket Boy – Royden Lepp

Rust 3Slow down. Not Royden, you the reader. Remember this isn’t the usual over-wordy, snarky dialogue comic book. This is storytelling decompressed. Lepp uses his words like salt, just a pinch to spice up the pictures. Savour those images because even at 215 pages this will fly by.

In this penultimate volume we have turned a corner and the answers are coming thick and fast. We start with a flashback that sets up the final act and brings the last few characters into play. As our charming protagonists are hanging by a thread you genuinely fear for their future. No amount of optimism and determination can stand up to the coming storm and you know the final volume is going to be electrifying.

This book cements the arc of Lepp’s tale and you see he has understood the bigger picture from day one. This isn’t a sporadic idea muddling through but something that began as a polished and tightly plotted narrative. This volume is true to the Rust themes and the minimalist style strips away everything that could distract you from the heart-aching emotions of living characters.

The art as always is perfect. No two pages have the same panel layout and the undulating frame count signals Lepp’s mastery of time and narrative. As he provides both the words and pictures everything fits together like clockwork. If you are interested in anything artistic look at how the characters are placed in the frame, see how the pictures reveal more than the words and do so effortlessly.

A Double Thumbs Up!

Fishtown – Kevin Colden

FishtownHere is the story of four teenagers that commit a murder. It isn’t too concerned with the how or why but uses this shocking act as a window into their lives. It is based on a true story but you don’t know how far that goes. It is told in an interesting way as a series of talking head recollections by the juveniles themselves.

It is more about the theme and tone and how tales are told than a traditional drama. Its leisurely pace allows you plenty of time to play detective and sink into the mind of these troubled people. It’s very “indie.”

The art is more artistic than realistic. It uses blue and yellow almost exclusively, save for the blood red. Detail is applied sparingly and when it appears is intentionally overdrawn. These interesting techniques give a weird feeling of heightened reality.

Certainly an odd piece. Quick to read, persistent in thought.

Thumbs Up!

The Authority: Rule Britannia – Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning

Authority Rule BritanniaAbnett & Lanning are getting into their stride. They are plucking characters from The Authority cannon to make a surprise return. They are also making the most of the UK setting to delve into its rich folklore and history, although this may go over the heads of many readers.

Peril having driven them to rock bottom the team can only go up and we start to see green shoots appear in the darkest hour. This is textbook plotting and you can’t help but smile when a plan comes together.

Everything is done at breakneck speed. This does make this a real page turner and you are glad this is nine issues. But even this seems to pass too quickly. The ending is optimistic and you can’t wait for another instalment. What a shame the remaining issues were never collected in trade.

There are no less than eight pencillers and inkers on this book and the style can change abruptly. But the frenetic pace and the interesting narrative tricks used early on propel you forward.

A stronger Thumbs Up!

The Authority: Worlds End – Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning

Authority Worlds EndThe latest in a LONG line of Authority scribes is Dan Abnett, the Swiss Army Knife of literature, with some help from perpetual co-author Andy Lanning. They continue the tradition of average to mediocre stories.

The setting does have merit. The Authority have been taken down before, in clever and impressive ways, but always with a brute force they can fight against. Abnett’s utter desolation of UnLondon and in particular how this handicaps each member of the team has potential; as do their quirky antagonists.

The art is fine but like the obligatory sewer level of any first person shooter detail amongst the murky wash of backgrounds is limited. Although it is certainly much better than the pressed for time blank backgrounds and makes the colourful outfits of the Authority a noticeable contrast.

The obligatory crossover with Stormwatch due to the “Worlds End” storyline is handled swiftly and painlessly. It does enough to make you want to keep reading.

Thumbs Up!

Number of the Beast – Scott Beatty

NOBWildstorm just made up a huge bunch of heroes called the Paladins very much in the golden age stereotype. Oh no, nothing to see he… Wait a minute. There’s a twist?

If you manage to survive the scene setting of the first issue and see what Beatty’s novel idea is then you will definitely want to see it through. Some unexpected characters pop up from the Ellis run on Stormwatch so this may get your little grey cells humming.

I read this to better understand the Authority: Worlds End book. I didn’t really need to. The same goes with the Stormwatch PHD: Worlds End book. Both teams are in it but not in any meaningful role except perhaps Jackson King, but he is more convenient than essential.

The art is Wildstorm. Over-the-top colours (in a good way), strong drawing and excitable panel structure.

It’s got some strong ideas but is a shame it was made to include popular characters for sales.

Thumbs Up!

Stormwatch PHD: Worlds End – Ian Edginton

Stormwatch PHD 3
The Wildstorm Universe had one of those infinitely annoying world shattering events. As a result all their books got hijacked.

If you are a Stormwatch fan you could easily be forgiven for missing out this volume. There isn’t really any character development and it doesn’t seek to build on what has come before. It’s just Hollywood action sequences. Poor Warren Ellis must be turning in his metaphorical grave.

The art is fine. What really hits the spot is the Wildstorm colouring. Such vibrant, powerful colours, brilliant lighting effects and expertly chosen pallets make for plenty of style. But it can’t make up for lack of substance.

No Thumbs.