Super Crooks: The Heist – Mark Millar

Super CrooksLike Nemesis this is a self-contained story reminiscent of Millar’s 2000AD roots. There isn’t the originality of Wanted or the scope of The Authority but that doesn’t detract from what is an incredibly entertaining read.

It is very well put together. There isn’t a great deal of characterisation or growth but it really captures the spirit of the heist movie genre. And gives it a super powered spin.

The art is great. It is bold and confident where it needs to be and brings a big screen feeling to the work.

Thumbs Up!

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Usagi Yojimbo: Senso – Stan Sakai

Usagi SenzoThis is a storyline set 15 years in the future of the Usagi Continuity and it is based around the idea of a Martian invasion. The Martians are the same ones H.G Wells created and their plan is as described in his book the War of the Worlds.

Being set outside traditional canon Sakai gathers as many characters as he can to guest star in this epic volume. He gets to resolve events we never thought we would see yet it does not spoil the current continuity. It also means he can make the invasion a deadly one. Lots of popular named characters die. If this was the last ever volume you would be stunned and heartbroken but as everyone is still alive in the current timeline you aren’t traumatised. This is either the best or worst of both worlds.

Sakai’s re-interpretation of this story is great with the aliens being compared to Tako (Octopi) and the Tripods called Three-Walkers. These fit right in with the period anthropomorphic nature of the Usagi world and everything feels highly integrated – unlike Space Usagi. However there are a few Godzilla inspired moments which give you a great laugh.

It is an excellent hardcover that is a joy to hold and read. There are the wraparound covers from the single issues that show you what a master of composition Sakai is and there is an Usagi/ Stan mini strip that explains the origins of the story. There are also details of some elements that were updated for the collected edition revealing just how much of a perfectionist he is.

Thumbs Up!

Usagi Yojimbo 29: 200 Jizo – Stan Sakai

U29If you have forgotten Jizo is the deity who looks after children and those suffering hardship. We learnt about him and the statues used in his worship in the volume Shades of Death. We also get to find out how Soy Sauce is made, how xenophobia affects art, what an ice runner is and much more in this education-tastic volume.

Inspector Ishida returns and we get a great mystery to solve which isn’t too obscure or too easy. The repercussions of this flow into the titular 200 Jizo story. It is great to see everything connected.

Some of the stories are just a single issue. Whilst the Artist raises cultural questions Buntori seems like filler which is rare for an Usagi tale.

The art is great and shows just how much you can achieve with simple line drawings of animals. The expressions are so emotive and when the lines thicken to show anger it is dramatically effective. There are also some nocturnal scenes allowing Sakai to use impressive lighting effects.

There are a lot of extras including mock interviews with Usagi, historical explanations, the creation of an unpublished story and the usual cover gallery. The introduction is by comics artist Guy Davis.

Thumbs Up!

Usagi Yojimbo 28: Red Scorpion – Stan Sakai

U28Although it is not one of the great storyline volumes of the early Usagi era these four tales exemplify samurai high drama perfectly.

They are a wonderful blend and distillation of authentic Japanese culture and folklore, the values of bushido, personal courage, and sacrifice portrayed in themes we can all deeply identify with. The Introduction by actor George Takei pinpoints the spirit of Robin Hood, or the Lone Ranger as being instrumental in the appeal and success of Usagi Yojimbo.

These are standalone tales, although I suspect we may see the titular Red Scorpion in future. Having said that the Lord of Owls and Kitsune & Kiyoko appear giving us some great dialogue.

The background notes tell us all about Toad Oil, Owls and Seppuku, ensuring we are a little more enlightened after our enthralling read.

The art is superb. Despite being animals their faces are mesmerizingly expressive conveying sincere and dramatic emotions. The fight scenes so integral to samurai drama flow effortlessly just as a master swordsman. Sakai also knows when to focus on the little details. A sandal, a rock or a hand in close-up tells us more than a tiny frame should and there is a hysterical moment where Usagi is bouncing up and down in the frame and you have to work out why.

Double Thumbs Up!

Usagi Yojimbo 27: A Town Called Hell – Stan Sakai

U27Here is another superb helping of Usagi action with six stories that don’t need any prior reading.

There is a wonderful three part tale that opens and closes this volume which has all the elements of Samurai drama plus loads of great fight scenes. It’s a two man Seven Samurai.

There are other tales that allow Usagi to show off his skill, his wisdom, his compassion, and teach us a few more aspects of Japanese culture and folklore.

The art is great and the black and white style really focusses your attention on what is going on. The expressions are terrific and really contribute to the voices you conjure to speak the dialogue. There is a cover gallery at the back.

Thumbs Up!

Mind the Gap: Volume 3 Out of Bodies – Jim McCann

Mind the Gap 3There isn’t the conclusion you are expecting but merely the end of Act One. You do find out what happened on the platform and what the family has been up to however. The revelation of an ancestral secret, that has not been foreshadowed or anticipated, is a bit of an awkward change in direction. This story has some great characters and abandoning them for a few issues while the grand plot is wheeled out seems clunky.

There is another new artist with a hugely contrasting style present but this time they are used only for flashbacks which makes so much more sense thematically. Esquejo’s drawings are still perfect with the dramatic splash pages and surrealistic depictions of the world beyond blowing you away.

You are scared that this story will drag on but we have definitely turned a corner and feel satisfied that we are in receipt of some real answers.

Thumbs Up!

Mind the Gap: Volume 2 Wish You Were Here – Jim McCann

Mind the Gap 2How much do you like your mystery? You had better have patience as only the final few pages of this volume start explain things.

This is a nice smooth ride with lots of things happening and new information appearing. This is all about drama. As the next volume is the final one you are prepared to put up with some more ‘Lost’ style bewilderment from this second act.

Esquejo’s art is still breath-taking in every way but for one issue he couldn’t make it so another artist came on board. He chose a style that was the polar opposite to Esquejo’s in every single way. If this was a dream, a flashback or had been used before it would fit into the narrative. But it doesn’t and it chooses not to. Trying to copy the existing art would have been a failure and a mistake so they might as well be brazen about this one issue blip.

It reads slightly shorter than first volume, possibly because you are familiar with the characters or maybe because the world-building is done. This is good as you still have a way to go before (hopefully) all is revealed.

Thumbs Up!

Mind the Gap: Volume 1 Intimate Strangers – Jim McCann

Mind the Gap 1This is a bold and ambitious piece of writing. A woman is attacked and we must piece together who she is and what happened, as must she whilst she is trapped in a coma.

It is a mystery but it is a ride-along one. You aren’t going to solve this until the author wants you to. It reminds me of a more reader-friendly Morning Glories.

Speaking of which the book is drawn by Morning Glories cover artist Rodin Esquejo meaning the art is breath-taking. It is digital and benefits from some sophisticated effects but it keeps that pastel feel and wonderful tangibility. You can see so much effort goes into each panel and the framing and composition are always daring and innovative.

The book hits the ground running and sweeps you along as it sets up its detailed characters and their uncertain relationships. Because there is so much dialogue it does slow down but you really want to find out who did it. There is a satisfying ending to part one that makes you want more. Despite being only five issues this is lengthy and meaty read.

Thumbs Up!

Letter 44: Volume 2 Redshift – Charles Soule

Letter 44 Volume 2Another instalment in this great series arrives. The star of the piece has been the story on Earth as that feels more tangible and relatable. But developments in space start to hot up.

The seven issue volumes do make a difference and although the pacing is pretty rapid you don’t get the feeling things are rushed or have to be ditched for time. There is a slight feeling that some dialogue was tailored to act as a recap which you might or might not appreciate depending on when you read volume one.

The art is just as before and it is great to see another foil cover. Nice to know that wasn’t just a gimmick and that the art and presentation remains a high priority. There are in-character pictures at the back of the volume, some of which are identical to the previous book.

Another Thumbs Up!

Letter 44: Volume 1 Escape Velocity – Charles Soule

Letter 44 Volume 1
It’s the West Wing meets 2001 a Space Odyssey. Pretty much. A new president finds out we aren’t alone in the universe and his predecessor has already sent people into space.

This has an interesting structure. We follow the president on Earth trying to undo the policies of his precursor and fighting political threats while he learns what has been going on in space. We also follow an ensemble cast of astronauts far away tasked with making contact with whatever is out there. These two differing narratives are an unusual pairing as they are kept separate and distinct. Stylistically it is an interesting choice that gives you two tales in one, particularly as each side is keeping secrets from each other.

You don’t need to know anything about either politics or space to follow along but you do get the sense everything is authentic and well researched or at least highly believable. Things aren’t overly detailed and the pace is just right to deliver all the mysteries woven into the plot. There are a lot of similarities between the Bush/ Obama change and you need to decide if this is a distraction or an anchor to reality.

The art works fine. It isn’t too showy or gimmicky but neither does it stretch itself to be particularly innovative. It is full of little touches like numbering the pages for example. Another is making the first page an in character document before you get to all the usual creative and business credits. The star of the book is the cover. It’s a foil printing of a star chart that really brings an otherworldly feel the book.

The high page count and artistic priority means you get a good feeling about this work from the smaller publisher Oni Press.

Thumbs Up!