Jack of Fables 1: The (Nearly) Great Escape – Bill Willingham

Jack 01You might not think Jack could support his own series, especially one stretching nearly a dozen volumes. But he is the right combination of shallow and stupid to be entertaining. Maybe like Deadpool without the swearing.

This could have been done within the main Fables series and is up to the same high standard but there is so much packed in here it would have bogged everything down horribly. Jack as a character and his action-adventure is definitely enough to hold his own.

The art is great, and despite having a different artist (no Mark Buckingham) the style is very much true to the original. The layouts and framing are top notch stuff with plenty of bold choices delivering great impact. Even printed on the standard matt newsprint of most Vertigo books the colours can be incredibly vivid and really add to the fantastic nature of the Fableverse.

A surprising Thumbs Up!

Fables (21): Happily Ever After – Bill Willingham

Fables 21This is a nine chapter volume that alternates between Fabletown and mini stories elsewhere. As Willingham specialises in battles he has sown the seeds of his final conflict early and tension is rising to fever pitch. Each chapter is marked “the Last Tale of…” so you know things are bad.

Unlike previous battles this will be character against beloved character so no matter who wins we lose. The true story behind Snow and Red is revealed and there can be only one. The book delivers everything a penultimate part should with gusto.

This book has more artists than ever before. Most of the names like Akins and McManus are regulars but Nimit Malavia delivers a superb Noir style meeting between two characters. Nothing disappoints.

There are some great reveals, clever references and fourth wall pokes that combine to make this a Double Thumbs UP!!

Fables (20): Camelot – Bill Willingham

Fables 20This is a meaty volume comprising ten issues of story. We flit all over the place from Geppetto’s machinations to Junebug’s discovery in the cellars of Fabletown. You will be glad there is the cast list in the front to remind you who everyone is. Most of the stories are strong and the single issues set up plot points for the future. The two issue “Boys in the Band” at the end might build to something in the future but seems flat.

The art appears strong and consistent but there are a bevy of artists at work (great to see Gary Erskine at work), particularly in the sub plots. It looks like Vertigo have upgraded their something as the pages appear much more vibrant despite the matt paper.

Thumbs Up!

Fables (19): Snow White – Bill Willingham

Fables 19The first part of this volume ties up what has been happening in Oz. It has a different artist with a not unpleasing style. There is nothing wrong with the story and it certainly has some quirky characters but is nothing special.

The next part concerns someone from Snow White’s past and is a real shocker. It subtly explores sexism and domestic violence and certainly has a gut-punch of an ending. Sadly the constant narration is more annoying than atmospheric.

There are three artists at work on this story and much of it appears soft and lacking in detail.

Thumbs Up!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Dan Rafter

20,000 LeaguesThis is from the same Indian company that did Three Men in a Boat and are slowly hoovering up all the Western World’s public domain literature.

It is an illustrated book rather than proper graphic novel so most pages are sprinkled with narration boxes and there are plenty of thought balloons for internal monologues. It does remain faithful to the story and there is a balance between action adventure and the character study of the original misanthrope (Captain Nemo).

The art is enthusiastic and garishly vivid. The drawings are quite rough but all the backgrounds are detailed and the vibrant colours do most of the work.

Thumbs Up!

Human Target – Peter Milligan

Human TargetThis 4 issue miniseries, based on a DC character from the 1970’s is superb. There is a quality of writing and subject matter that blows most modern offerings out of the water.

Firstly there is an incredible twist that really leaves you baffled and then you have an examination on the themes of identity and the sense of self that is more at home in an Ibsen play than the funny books.

The art is great. Even though the backgrounds are blank or sparsely detailed you don’t notice or care and it seems to project the characters right off the page. There is excellent colouring with strong mood and tone even with the Vertigo newsprint paper.

Terrific in both style and substance.

Double Thumbs Up!!

Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles – Dennis Calero

Ray Bradbury’s Martian ChroniclesThe original work was started in the 1940’s and is a tapestry of short stories which all use the same version of Mars but only a few returning characters. This early example of Sci-fi now appears dry to the modern reader who is more used to space opera.

Whilst some of the poetic language and imagery (which was highly praised by Aldus Huxley at the time) remains, only the ending shows the real impact this commentary on the human condition can deliver. Also excised are the stories about racial tension and religion that would have had a similar profound message. All the stories that take place on Earth have been removed.

The art is very basic and is mostly talking heads with lots of blank backgrounds and thick blocks of dark colours which isn’t how we are used to imagining Mars. This is an illustrated novel rather than a graphic one as none of the storytelling is accomplished by the pictures, they serve merely as a visual soundtrack.

High concept literature such as this is very much tied to the medium it was written in. But if you look at I.N.J Culbard’s H.P Lovecraft works they show that you can pull it off. Even the Rock Hudson TV movie enjoys some success.

No Thumbs.

Scout: Mount Fire – Timothy Truman

scout 2This is the second and unfortunately the last collected edition of Scout. Whilst this is a self-contained story many of the minor characters, and some new ones, are given plot hooks which would have featured in future issues.

The focus is less on Scout’s unusual heritage and spirituality and more on the action and plot. The Native American mysticism never makes it past the first issue and is lost to nukes and giant robots. There is even a gratuitous lesbian scene shoehorned awkwardly in.

The art is still labour intensive high concept work but there seems to be less detail and the sharp lines of the initial issues are lost. In places the hand lettering also chooses style over clarity becoming hard to read. Yet later on there are colour coded speech boxes which seem like overkill.

It’s very much a troubled second album and leaves you wondering what volume three would have turned out like.

Thumbs Up!

Scout: The Four Monsters – Timothy Truman

scout 1This is a comic written in the 1980’s about a dystopian future of 1999 and so it has a certain quirky charm. Unusually, even today, the protagonist is a Native American. This is quite the political tale of what could happen, but looking at the world of today it seems much of it did. There is a supernatural element present but the clever part is that this could be magical realism or allegory.

Truman both writes and draws this work and much effort goes into both. At a time long before digital painting each panel is full colour, with no blank backgrounds and an awesome amount of detail. The layouts and structure are endlessly dynamic and this must have taken an astonishing amount of work. No corners were cut here.

The last issue of this seven issue collection is part epilogue, part recap from one of the supporting characters. The story would have been just fine without it and it might have been better placed within a future volume.

Thumbs Up!

Debris – Kurtis J Wiebe

This is an unexpectedly good short story from Rat Queens author Kurtis J Wiebe. At only four issues it isn’t around for long but does manage to tell a pleasing tale and build a sense of place. With echoes of Wasteland and Freakangels this post disaster missive is mostly a dialogue between pairs of characters. It doesn’t degenerate into talking heads and there are a great deal of mute panels for the action.

The art is distinctive with rough lines that perfectly embody a post-disaster future. The colour palette is most reminiscent of Great Pacific.

Thumbs Up!