Divinity – Matt Kindt

What the hell is it? Is it an origin spin-off? A prequel to another book? An issue zero? A pilot?

Here we have four issues which introduce a character and have him fight some existing Valiant heroes, like some 60’s Marvel throwback. This is the kind of preview that Free Comic Book Day was invented for.

Whilst the content isn’t terrible, with thought going into the writing and structure, the purpose of this book with its tiny page count isn’t clear.

The art is fine and there are some superfluous ‘in character’ documents and a designer commentary – which is all about the process and not the purpose.

No thumbs.

Injection – Warren Ellis

Injection This is a great example of science meets folklore that you would expect to find in 2000AD or in the mind of Alan Moore. It definitely has strong echoes of Planetary. It is quite a gentle ride progressing logically and unfolding through flashbacks until by the end of this volume you have the whole picture. It’s a neat premise that works to intrigue rather than entertain you.

The art is great with an incredible matt palette, strong character design and contrasting flashbacks. There are several blank backgrounds but the rest of the panels make up for it. It’s easy to follow with most frames stretching across the page.

An excellent start and a strong addition to the Ellis renaissance that began with Trees.

Thumbs Up!

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth – Pat Mills and John Wagner

Cursed EarthThis was the longest Dredd story to date and one of the longest in his history spanning 25 issues or six months of comics. Dredd must cross the whole of America, which has been turned into a radioactive wasteland called the Cursed Earth, to deliver lifesaving vaccine to Mega City Two. He can’t fly because the city’s spaceports are in the hands of infected cannibals. A flimsy premise that clearly stops him flying and landing outside the city. Or maybe hovering for a bit.

It is actually a collection of standalone stories set in the Cursed Earth where Dredd and his companions do good for those they meet on their travels, much like the TV shows Highway to Heaven or the Littlest Hobo. Some of these are quite thought-provoking and really touching. Dredd enters in his mission log about how “the human race makes me sick.”

The story does a lot to expand the Dredd world. We learn more about the Megacities, the desolation of America, what caused the Atomic Wars, and how the Judges came to power. We see more of Dredd’s compassion and mercy and at the same time witness his dedication to the law.

One of the interesting points about this massive epic is that four issues are missing from the reprints. They have not been lost like Dr Who episodes but because they feature fast food brands a legal settlement prohibits them from being reprinted. This is a shame as having read them they present valuable social satire against the rise of the fast food culture that has its roots in the 1970’s and pervades our entire world today. The story doesn’t suffer their absence but they would be nice to see. You can find them online and in a future release of this story.

The portmanteau style means sometimes we are following Dredd, sometimes we are listening to stories told by other characters and sometimes we are embedded in the consciousness of a dinosaur. This is a rambling and eclectic tale but with enough room to tackle serious, emotional, light-hearted, action or adventure themes.

Such a long story means a lot of switching between artists, notably Bolland and McMahon. These two styles are remarkably different but they are such regular contributors to Dredd that you don’t mind. The fragmented nature of the storyline also means when you change chapter you change artist making the transition much more acceptable. What is missing is the colour as the entire work has been reproduced in black and white.

There is a short introduction that adds some background but not much. The book is rough around the edges but solid gold at its core.

Thumbs Up!

Letter 44: Volume 3 Dark Matter – Charles Soule

Letter 44 Volume 3Here are another six generous issues of this great story. The narrative delivery makes you work hard to digest the material jumping forwards almost a year in order to flashback a decade. This disorientation and the jump-cutting between the two worlds lets you know this is a story for the active reader and not the passive one.

The art is good but the layout might give you the odd misread as you get the panel order jumbled.

The plot is certainly dramatic with plenty of twists and the home straight is definitely a frenetic series of WTF moments.

Thumbs Up!

Womanthology: Space – Various

Womanthology SpaceLike some cheap foreign knockoff this is smaller, thinner and not as good as the original feminist inspired crowd-funded opus. You get the feeling IDW sensed a cash-in opportunity with a new audience and cut as many corners to milk it for all they could.

Some of the stories are just weird mental doodling and some a tableaux of curious ideas. If your goal is to show off the talents of under-represented writers and artists it should be accessible. There are some recognisable names here but you get the feeling they were thrown in to attract publicity. The creator bios are firmly tucked away at the back and there are virtually no links to discover more of their work.

Essentially absent are the essays, interviews and “how to” guides of the previous volume that could encourage and empower potential creators. There is a single biography, which is great, but it cements the case that this is not the wonderful celebration of creativity and ‘art’ that fuelled the original Womanthology.

No Thumbs.

American Vampire Book 7 – Scott Snyder

American Vampire 7Here are two tales that kick off another promising story arc moving the action to the Swinging Sixties. It looks like an uphill battle creating a bigger vampire than Dracula but things look hopeful.

Pearl returns, along with Skinner and a few other supporting cast members in the first tale. There is a palpable sense of danger and mystery and things are nicely paced throughout. The action stops abruptly and you definitely want more. The art is classic Albuquerque and his dark pages do wonders for the feeling of menace throughout the tale.

Then you have a one shot that is related but is more an exercise in storytelling. Sequential art and an in-character journal from 1850 are interleaved in an uneasy mix that does actually work. The diary feels very much like a Lovecraft tale. Unfortunately, mentioning Lovecraft as an actual historical figure does pull you out of the world for a moment. But the whole thing is well told and has you quite gripped considering the low page count.

A great first chapter for a fresh and exciting new chronicle that reenergises the brand.

Thumbs Up!

Retrovirus – Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray

RetrovirusThis is a book funded by a Kickstarter. But it isn’t a terrible vanity project as it has names like Palmiotti and Gray behind it. Although as it is distributed by Image it makes you wonder why they couldn’t get the work published the normal way.

It is designed as a graphic novel so there are no enforced cliff-hangers or chapter breaks as single issues would demand. As such it flows very well and at 64 pages really doesn’t outstay its welcome.

It is no War and Peace but there is a tangible and mildly original story there and the female lead gets to sit, uneasily, between rounded character and obligatory T&A scenes.

The art is luscious and detailed with bright colours typical of an Image book. As a Kickstarter backer you wouldn’t be disappointed. It is also a hardcover which, whilst appreciated, seems an unusual way to spend money. You would think more pages might have been the way to go.

All in all a Thumbs Up!

Bitch Planet – Kelly Sue DeConnick

Bitch Planet 01Yes it’s about feminism. No that needn’t put you off. If you are scared of real world issues this isn’t a Garth Ennis polemic and it is possible for you to enjoy a story where people struggle against adversity. But it is a futuristic satire about women and minorities getting the shitty end of the stick.

It is unquestionably bold and brilliant. The issues that face the characters are the same as those faced today and, arguably, women have always faced. But using the lens of science fiction they become less prone to the knee-jerk braying of our internet culture. There are the spoof adverts for those who need their satire to be so blatant it knocks your teeth in and there is your ‘Great Escape’ prison analogy for those who like things more subtle.

The art is weird retro with the print being made from dots as it was in the 1970’s. Accompanying this are the Exploitation style covers with lurid headlines. There isn’t a lot of detail and the block colouring really doesn’t help either. But the book is very conscious that if it makes things too realistic and too close to our own world people will just switch off or pigeon-hole it as some kind of rant.
Science fiction, and art in general, has a proud and valuable role to expose the underbelly of our world and this invaluable work does so incisively and artistically.

Double Thumbs Up!!

The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy – Michael Patton & Kevin Cannon

Cartoon PhilosophyThis isn’t a graphic novel but a graphic textbook. This work gives you the briefest overview (in 150 pages) of the different areas of this vast topic. The work is narrated by the philosophers themselves ranging from Socrates of 469BC to Chalmers who is still alive today. The narrative structure is a boat journey down a river, the river of philosophy. It covers everything from God to Free Will to Ethics, all with the lightest of touches.

The art is black, white and grey and embodies the “cartoon” nature of the title. This works very well to bring a level of humour and accessibility to the subject matter. If a book has pictures in then it can’t be all that intimidating right?

There are mini biographies of all the great thinkers present and everything is generally in chronological order so you have no trouble in understanding how philosophy as a whole evolved. The discipline is so vast however that you won’t be able to claim any understanding or real knowledge after reading. Think of this as the trailer. It whets your appetite and generally demystifies the concepts allowing you to decide if you want to do any further reading. There is also a helpful glossary and bibliography.

Thumbs Up!

Wayward: Volume 2 Ties that Bind – Jim Zub & Steve Cummings

Wayward 2This book doesn’t just shift up one gear but ten gears growing exponentially from its strong first volume. Brave decisions are made in terms of narrative and point of view and we are treated as intelligent readers but never left behind.

This isn’t all about escapism and supernatural adventure. A new character allows us to explore themes of identity and conformity and empathise with those who suffer because of them. If you aren’t in the mood for a deeper meaning there is action, adventure, mystery and peril that moves along at a cracking pace.

The art is still fantastic with rich colouration and highly detailed backgrounds giving the whole book a lush, animated quality. The digital tools bring a spectacular vibrancy to the supernatural elements yet achieve an almost watercolour softness to the real world.

Every aspect of this from the multipart covers to distinctive lettering to the extensive historical notes contributes to make this a Double Thumbs Up!